The world’s best beer?

Sign shows the entrance of Westvleteren brewery

WESTVLETEREN beer has been rated as the world’s best brew but that has become something of a burden to its makers – the Trappist monks of western Belgium.

Monks at the Sint Sixtus abbey have been selling to locals since 1878, limiting production so that brewing never took over monastic life or earned more than the community needed.

After World War Two they even got rid of a truck that once delivered their beers to local cafes, selling instead only at the abbey gates.

“The fear was that the community was devoting more time and effort to beer than to prayer,” said Brother Godfried.

He is one of 21 monks living at abbey, bound by the Trappist code of “Ora et labora” (work and prayer) that requires them to sell products ranging from cheese to soap to ceramics – and beer – to make a living – but not to get rich.

The system worked until the Internet age and the birth of beer fan sites such as RateBeer, which ranks Westvleteren XII, the abbey’s hard-hitting 10.2 percent brew, as the world’s best.

That and other media attention triggered a stampede and now, on most afternoons, a line of cars forms outside the monastery walls at a pick-up point for the latest prized batch.

Drivers stay in their vehicles as staff check registration plates, load two crates and take credit card payments.

Potential buyers must reserve by telephone but even this has had its pitfalls. When the call system was introduced, the volume was so high that the local exchange crashed, forcing the monks to switch to a national high-capacity number.

At their peak, as many as 85,000 calls are made per hour, of which only about 200 get through during a two-to-three-hour window.

Are the monks proud? “It’s good to know our customers appreciate what we make,” Brother Godfried said.

Westvleteren XII is a sweet and rich in flavors, such a touch of caramel, its taste belying its alcoholic strength, which is approaching the level of wine.

Including deposit it costs just over 2 euros ($3) per bottle, and the monks ask buyers not to sell to third parties.

But in Brussels, a Westvleteren XII can command $15 or more, and well above $50 further afield in places like Brazil.

The monks say they are annoyed, but seem powerless to stop this grey market trade.

Income from the beer is supposed to provide for the monks’ upkeep or be donated to charity, not line middlemen’s pockets.


12 thoughts on “The world’s best beer?

  1. Reminds me of that other monastery on the other side of the town that set up a fast-food takeaway, which also had a Brother God-fried working at the counter.
    ……..and the day some smartarse asked him if he was the fish-friar.

    To which he responded no, indicating another monk: that’s him over there.
    I’m the chipmonk.


  2. Some of the Reasons Why Religion Is Better than Beer:
    • Too much religion does not induce vomiting.
    • There’s no chance of waking up in bed naked with an unattractive stranger after too much religion.
    • Jesus is free; beer starts at $2.50 a six-pack.
    • Religion has a lot fewer calories.
    • Holy water doesn’t affect your sense of balance.
    • How many fistfights do you see in a church?
    • Religion won’t give you a hangover.
    • Your spouse won’t complain that your breath stinks of religion.
    • You can have as much religion as you like, and still drive home later.
    • Your religion won’t shatter if you drop it on the ground.
    • You can shake up your religion, and it won’t explode.
    • You don’t have to get your stomach pumped for overdosing on religion.
    • The day after going to church, you can remember everything that happened.
    • You don’t have to worry about getting religion stains on your clothes.
    • Saying “Oh, God!” is much more fun in church than kneeling over the toilet.
    • The police won’t arrest you for accepting Jesus under age.
    • It’s okay to drive and be open to Jesus.
    • Jesus was crucified for our sins — beer is just pasteurized.
    • Jesus comes in a handy one-pack.
    • Jesus is who you need in emergencies — beer is only useful when you find a burning bush.
    • Try driving a nail through a can of beer and see what happens.
    • Beer just doesn’t have the same after-sales service that you get from religion.
    •Too much religion won’t kill you. (Perhaps just the opposite!)


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