The WSJ (that’s Wall Street Journal for you uneducated people out there) ran a great story today about the Trappist monks at St. Sixtus monastery in Westvleteren, Belgium.
Monks have been brewing Westvleteren beer at this remote spot near the French border since 1839. Their brew, offered in strengths up to 10.2% alcohol by volume, is among the most highly prized in the world. In bars from Brussels to Boston, and online, it sells for more than $15 for an 11-ounce bottle — 10 times what the monks ask — if you can get it.
I think the complete dichotomy of these monks with some of the bigger brewers is both interesting and amazingly awesome.
The monks are doing their best to resist getting bigger. They don’t advertise and don’t put labels on their bottles. They haven’t increased production since 1946. They sell only from their front gate. You have to make an appointment and there’s a limit: two, 24-bottle cases a month. Because scarcity has created a high-priced gray market online, the monks search the net for resellers and try to get them to stop.
Getting people to stop selling your beer? An interesting marketing tactic… But then again, it’s not a marketing tactic. They just brew to support themselves financially. They brew great beer (apparently, I’ve never had it) and practice, like everything, drinking in moderation. So how does this asking-resellers-to-stop-thing play out?
One day recently, the wiry, sandy-haired Brother Joris returned to his office in the monastery after evening prayers. He flipped on his computer and went online to hunt for resellers and ask them to desist. “Most of the time, they agree to withdraw their offer,” he says. Last year, St. Sixtus filed a complaint with the government against two companies that refused — BelgianFood.com, a Web site that sells beer, cheese, chocolate and other niche products, and Beermania, a Brussels beer shop that also sells online. Both offer Westvleteren at around $18 a bottle.
Thanks to Kurt for passing the article along. You can read the full story here for probably about a week. After that you’ll have to subscribe. Lame.