Belgian Trappists overwhelmed by world's best beer tag

Fri Apr 4, 2014 4:07am EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop

WESTVLETEREN, Belgium (Reuters) - Having a beer rated as the world's best and selling out in minutes should be a brewer's dream, but for the Trappists who brew Westvleteren ale at a monastery in western Belgium it seems more of a burden.

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.   Continued...

An employee pours a Westvleteren Trappist beer at the brewery in Westvleteren February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir