Monday, June 14, 2010

Respect the Brothers

Orval, Rochefort, Achel, Westmalle, Chimay, Westveleteren and La Trappe are world renowned for being the Trappist beers. Of the seven, I have had the ranges of 4, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel, of the remaining three, I have no idea why I have yet to try Chimay or La Trappe, it certainly isn't because they are difficult to get hold of. Westveleteren is different, I have never visited the monastery, or know anyone who has, so I wouldn't be too surprised if I never try any of the 3 beers available.

To be blunt, the likelihood of never trying Westveleteren isn't something that keeps me awake at night worrying about what I am missing. I fear I will never make a great beer tourist, perhaps that is because I work in a brewery almost every other weekend, and thus have no need to do brewery tours ad infinitum.

One thing which I am fairly sure of is that I have too much respect for the work of the monks of Sint Sixtus to buy their beer in a shop in Brussels or anywhere else for that matter. It is a fair bet to say that most beer lovers are aware of the conditions placed on the sale of beer by the Sint Sixtus community, but just in case (no pun intended) here are the restrictions:

  • Every customer promises not to sell the beer to any third-party
Oh dear, there is only one condition of sale, all the other hoops to jump through are just process. Now, I don't know about you, but I find the kind of people who make promises that they have no intention of keeping, despicable. A tad strong of a word perhaps, but I guess I am overly moral in having problems with people who lie in order to make a commercial profit. Please don't consider me naive though, I am sure many a corporation bends the truth about their products in order to increase revenue, but the lack of respect for a community which is supported financially through the products it sells I find galling.

As I say though, I am not losing any sleep over the probability that I will never try the supposedly best beer in the world. I have blogged several times about keeping one's integrity, and this is another area where I feel that any integrity I may have would be flushed right down the toilet were I to buy Westveleteren from any other source than the monastery, or at In De Vrede, which I believe is the only cafe allowed to sell the beer by the monks.

So people, at the end of this rambling, I can say just one thing. Respect the monks of Sint Sixtus, and don't buy Westveleteren form any other source than the monks themselves.


  1. There's a bit of a gap there where you jump from your morality and your integrity to the imperative that I "don't buy Westveleteren form any other source than the monks themselves"? Can you explain why I shouldn't? What'll happen if I do?

  2. I was given a bottle by a landlady in French Flanders (she did a brilliant beer dinner and all her rooms were named after great beers) once whilst on a visit to some of the biere de garde breweries, where do I stand there?

  3. If she got it directly herself you need to hold her nose and force it down her. If the original purchaser cannot be traced, however, you must return it to the monastery intact (the monks may then sell it back to you immediately).

  4. But you don't understand! We are ENTITLED to be able to get this beer any where and any time we want! Those damn monks just don't understand how to run a BUSINESS!

  5. TBN, why shouldn't you? I can think of no other reason other than the monks have asked people not to, and to buy their beer in a cafe other than In De Vrede means the original purchaser did so. Just because we all seem to believe that the free market (sic) is a good thing, doesn't mean that consumers have the right to whatever they want.

    ATJ, as it was a gift then I have no problem whatsoever with that, just as I would have no problem if a friend told me he was going to the monastery to get a case and asked if I would like to pay for a couple of the bottles. I guess my problem is with people who make that promise not to re-sell and then go ahead and do so.

    Barm, did you ever see Connections way back when? There is an argument that Cistercian monks are the forerunner of the modern corporation.

  6. You seem to be saying that consumers should not have a right to have something that they are perfectly legally entitled to. Society has a redress mechanism in place to deal with problems like this, called "the law". Within this framework, contrary to your above assertion, consumers do have the right to whatever they want. The reverse would not be fair.

    If the monks of Westvleteren really didn't want a grey market in their beer, they could take legal measures to help ensure this. Until then, the question of whether or not to deal in that grey market is a matter of individual personal conscience. I find the unsolicited imposition of one's own conscience upon another person to be highly arrogant behaviour.

  7. I believe the monks have taken redress against cafes selling their beer in the past. But is it a legal entitlement to Westveleteren for the third party when there is a contract, whether spoken or written, entered into willingly by the buying party to not re-sell the beer?

    I guess I am not being clear enough, and that usually comes across as arrogant. If other people don't have a problem with it then that is up to them, I would certainly not want to impose my thinking about anything on anyone, though I reserve the right to voice my conscience.

  8. Ah. It was the bit where you told us to "Respect ... and don't buy ..." that came across as an imperative.

    If the brewery included a written contract with sales, and had traceable bottles, then they would likely have a legal entitlement and mechanism to go after grey marketeers. Though frankly I think there are much easier ways of dealing with the problem (if that's how they actually see it) of selling-on. Get a distributor, for one thing.

  9. That I entirely agree with, a distributor and network would be beneficial. However, would have a distributor take away some of the mystique of the beer?

  10. I'd certainly hope so. Mystique and all the rest of that kind of marketing bollocks is not relevant to me as a drinker interested in beer. None of it improves the flavour, though it can do wonders to drive the price up.

  11. Glad to see you were able to use our homebrew exchange and subsequent conversation as fodder for your blog. I personally believe that the use of words like "despicable" and the questioning of one's integrity are actions more appropriate for situations of much greater gravity than this.

    As a third party purchaser of Westvleteren beer, I made no promises to, or engaged in, any agreements with Westvleteren. They have elected to sell their beer to individuals in exchange for money and thus transfer ownership of the beer with no formal written agreement, and (as far as I know) not even a face to face verbal promise. Again, as the third party purchaser, honoring the monk's "wishes" is much different than honoring a promise and certainly depends on one's individual system of morals or some system virtue they have constructed for themselves.


    The condition of sale is quite clearly there in writing.

    On a side note, this is something that has been bubbling away in the back of my mind for some time, rather than being in reaction to our homebrew exchange on Saturday, I am looking forward to trying your beers and cider muchly!!

    Perhaps I haven't been clear enough in my post, but I have no problem with the third party purchaser of the beer, but rather the person selling the beer, having agreed not sell it on by accepting the condition of sale as stated on the website.

  13. See? Want some comments, just say something that gets people onto the bandwagon and you are away. My next post will be Homebrewers are Robbers.(-:

  14. Don't feel that I have taken offense, while I am surprised at the timing of your post, I am only strongly defending my opinion on the subject that you have so strongly spoke out about. I look forward to sampling your beers as well.

    Although I recognize you are speaking only of yourself, you do seem to imply that third party purchasers of Westvleteren are of questionable integrity when you say:

    "I feel that any integrity I may have would be flushed right down the toilet were I to buy Westveleteren from any other source than the monastery"

  15. James,

    The joys of interpretation! I was about to say "literary interpretation" but I not convinced my ramblings count as literature.

  16. de Struise brewers, based about a mile from Westvleteren, sell the Westvleteren beers online in an attempt to cut down on the rogue trading which happens online. The head guy at Struise goes to the monastery (in the back door, I think), picks up the beer and then sells it with the monks' permission on their website. The monks limit what they give to Urbain at Struise but in return he trades it fairly. The monks seem to be accepting that people want to drink their beer and they have made a first change. I wouldn't be surprised if within a few years they start selling more and more and even exporting. But who knows.

  17. One way to enjoy Westvleteren beers with both a clear conscience and at a reasonable price is to visit Bruges Beer Festival, rapidly becoming one of the best in Belgium. The Trappist Bar sells all Trappist beer incuding Westvleteren as the brothers have given them a dispensation to do so.


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