Consumer Staples

Crafty Belgian Monks Have Americans Scrambling for Beer

A customer holds a six-pack of Westvleteren 12 at Ales Unlimited on December 12, 2012 in San Francisco, California
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With lines of people snaking down the block and around the corner, photos posted on Facebook show what look like Black Friday's savviest shoppers, hunting for a pre-Christmas bargain. But these patient customers are no bargain hunters; they are shoppers looking to get their hands on six bottles of beer, each of which would set them back over $20.

A small price to pay for the world's best beer? Fans believed so. Just 15,000 packs of six bottles of Westvleteren 12, including two special tasting glasses, were sold in the United States at $85 each this week.

Available for sale in the U.S. for the first time for a one-time only release, the beer brewed at the Sint Sixtus monastery in Westvleteren, in the northwest of Belgium, was sold at 143 specialist stores across the United States.

The highly popular Trappist Westvleteren 12 is a dark beer that has been named best beer in the world repeatedly by influential specialist websites.

Under normal circumstances, it can only be bought at the abbey store and only after reserving a limited amount of the coveted beer through the "beer phone number", which is often engaged. It is sold in crates of 24 bottles each for 39 euros per crate.

93,000 gift boxes were sold in Belgium, a country with a population similar to the State of Ohio,in just a few days last year.

"There also isn't much profit involved here, as most everybody working on this has agreed to either donate back or forgo profits to help maximize the money going to the Abbey," U.S. distributor Shelton Brothers said.

It added that the proceeds of the U.S. sale would go to the renovation of the monastery and the construction of a new wing, which would mostly consist of the monks' cells.

The 30 or so Trappist monks in Westvleteren lead a quiet and modest life devoted to prayer and manual labor, which includes baking and brewing, but also book binding, gardening and receiving visitors to the monastery.

One fan hoping to get his hands on the beer by Thursday had to be disappointed by "The Beer Table", a specialist store in Manhattan, New York, which tweeted that the ale had sold"extremely quickly".

Meanwhile the Craft Beer Cellar near Boston posted pictures of "happy Westvleteren 12" customers on its Facebook page as well as pictures of people standing in line.

The sale of the monks' lauded ale provides funds for the monastery and is also used help the poor, the monastery's website says. The name "Trappist beer" is protected by law and can only be applied to beer brewed by Trappist monks in their monastery.