The St. Sixtus monastery was founded in 1831 by Trappist monks from the Catsberg monastery in France. The Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus is located in Vleteren, Belgium just a few miles away from the town of Poperinge known for producing hops. The hop plant produces flowers that are used as flavoring and stabilizing agents in the production of beer; little wonder the Trappist monks found a way to put this natural resource to use.
The Westvleteren brewery was founded in 1838 and over the years, the beers produced by the monastery have climbed up the ladder of beer reputation to become known as one of the best beers in the world both in taste and quality. The Westvleteren 12 is acclaimed as the world’s best beer by quite a number of reviewers and consumers. The other beers produced by the Abbey include the Westvleteren 8 and the Westvleteren blonde and they also have high rankings among consumers. The curious or perhaps interesting fact about these beers is that, despite their acclaimed international reputation and the demand from consumers, the beers are not produced in commercial quantities but as the need arises.
While the decision to not brew the beers according to commercial demands may be seen as strange by a number of people, the monks at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus have a ready explanation for their business policy. The beers are sold solely for the purpose of providing financial support for the monastery and also to fuel their philanthropic endeavours. In fact, the brewery does not advertise the Westvleteren 12 or any of its other beers. The beers are sold from the doors of the Abbey to individual buyers who must have made reservations and only in small quantities per week. No buyer can buy more than a specified amount of the Westvleteren 12 and not more than once in a week. So, even if the brewery was established as a business, it does not exist purely for profit motives. This may seem to be a strange business policy, but that’s the way of the Trappist monks.
Over the years the number of consumers of Westvleteren 12 has been on the rise and in June 2005, it was acclaimed as the world’s best beer. This international recognition led to an increase in demand and yet, the monks refused to produce more; instead the amount of beer sold to each customer was reduced. The Trappist monks have maintained their stance that the amount of beer they will only brew enough beer to keep the monastery up and running, no matter the demand or the clamour of consumers.
The monks of St. Sixtus rarely give interviews and if you are not a monk, gaining access to the monastery will be quite difficult, if not impossible. The fact that one cannot just buy the Westvleteren 12 whenever it is desired probably has a role to play in its rising reputation. In our day to day lives, the things we truly value are usually kept hidden away and are only used when absolutely necessary; this may just be the case with the Westvleteren 12.