Monk Beer: Why the hubub?


On 12/12/12 Westvleteren XII bricks were released throughout the USA… but not in Washington State. Despite the online list of states and retailers carrying the beer, 99 Bottles was inundated with phone calls. Why? It’s a rare beer. And it got national coverage on NPR. And we carry a lot of specialty beer. What folks don’t think about is beer is a controlled substance. This means all the beer we carry is licensed with the State Liquor Board by the beer’s distributor before we can make it available in store.

“Only 15,000 six-packs, priced at $85 each, were sent to the American market (none to Washington State). To help would-be customers find out where to buy the beer, the American importer listed all U.S. retail outlets online. And despite a price that seems stratospheric, the cost is well below what the special release’s “brick” gift pack of six beers and two glasses is fetching on eBay…”

So why all the hubub about this beer?

Normally, the only way you can get Westvleteren beers are at the brewery or the abbey-owned “In de Vrede,” a cafe and visitor’s center opposite the abbey — both are in Belgium. Sometimes there is no Westvleteren beer available at the cafe. Those who purchase the beer receive a receipt with “Niet verder verkopen” (“Do not resell”) printed on it. The abbey is very much against resale of their beer, and wish their beer to be only commercially available at their two locations. Hence, should you see Westvleteren beer available for purchase anywhere else in the world it’s via the black market. That is, the wholesalers, shops or pubs obtained the beer through illicit sales.

NPR asks and answers, Why this sudden blessing for beer lovers? The abbey happened to need an expensive renovation recently. But its 21 monks live an austere life — which means, among other things, that they purposely lack cash reserves. So the monks reluctantly made the decision to export small amounts of the precious nectar overseas for the first time.

Westvleteren Abbey, aerial view © Peter Van Osta, 2008And, says Mark Bode, the longtime spokesman for the Westvleteren Brewery, “I think it will be the last.” Bode is one of very few people privy to the monks’ views, as no visitors are allowed inside the abbey.

“They say, ‘We are monks, we don’t want to be too commercial. We needed some money to help us buy the new abbey and that’s it,’ ” Bode explains. “Back to normal again.”

On December 12, 2012, the Westveleteren XII Bricks sold out within two hours at nearly all locations in the United States.

I want to taste monk beer!

If this is the first you’ve heard of “Monk Beer” you’re in luck. There are several “Trappist Ales” available on a regular basis in Washington State, at 99 Bottles beer store in Federal Way.

The term Trappist describes the source of these ales rather than a particular brewing style. Worldwide there are just eight monasteries — six in Belgium, one in the Netherlands and one in Austria — that currently brew beer and sell it as “Authentic Trappist Product.” Trappist beers are brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the control & responsibility of the monks, with profits dedicated to social service.

TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT: Beer connoisseurs hold the top-fermented, bottle-conditioned brown ales from this brewery in the highest regard. Choose the 6, 8 or 10. Learn more…

If you’re curious about the Westvelteren XII and aren’t planning a trip to Belgium, the Rochefort 10 is likely the closest you’ll find stateside in aroma and flavor.

WESTMALLE: Westmalle is renowned for creating the first Belgian tripel in the 1930s, but their Dubbel was first brewed for consumption within the Abbey around 1836. Learn more…

ORVAL: Orval sells one beer, brewed to unique perfection. It’s in a bowling-pin shaped bottle (called a “skittle” shape) and is traditionally served in Orval chalices to capture the big bouquet and lovely “Belgian Lace.” Learn more…

CHIMAY: Take a bottle of Chimay and pop the top. Breathe it in. The beer is already releasing its subtle aroma. The beers from Chimay are commonly referred to by their label colors: Red (Première), White (Cinq Cents), and Blue (Grand Reserve). Learn more…

LA TRAPPE: The La Trappe beers are developed and brewed in collaboration with the monks of the O.L.V. Koningshoeven Abbey. Their Quadrupel and Tripel are typically in stock. Serious beer connoisseurs keep an eye peeled for their rare limited-release beers: Isid’or and Oak-aged Quadrupel, of which 99 Bottles may receive just a case or two each year. Learn more…

guarantees of the Authentic Trappist Label


Can you get Westvleteren? Sorry, no. The importer didn’t make this beer available in Washington State. This stateside release of Westvleteren XII was a one-time deal to fund the new roof for the abbey. In the NPR interview, Mark Bode, the longtime spokesman for the Westvleteren Brewery, indicated that it’s unlikely the beer will be offered again in the US. Bode is one of very few people privy to the monks’ views, as no visitors are allowed inside the abbey.

Can you get Achel? Sorry, no. The importer doesn’t make these beers available in Washington State.

I thought there were only seven Trappist Monastaries? Prior to 2012, this was true. The eighth is brand new! The monks of Engelszell Abbey in northern Austria are hoping that beer will save their monastery — even if they aren’t huge consumers of the stuff themselves. They obtained the Authentic Trappist Product mark for their first beer, Gregorius. So far, sales have been limited to Austria, primarily to tourists who stop by the monastery’s shop. International distribution is a goal, but their beer isn’t yet available in Washington State. Learn more…


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