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An Unholy Fight Over a Saintly Beer

Smooth, complex, soft, salty and strong — yet delicate, luscious and elegant.

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, New York Times

Smooth, complex, soft, salty and strong — yet delicate, luscious and elegant.

Those are just a few of the adjectives used to describe Westvleteren beer, which is often hailed by aficionados as one of the best in the world.

Part of the mystique rested in its exclusivity. For more than 170 years, the beer has been produced and distributed solely by the Trappist monks of Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, a village in western Belgium.

But that changed last week when a branch of Jan Linders, a Dutch supermarket chain, sold more than 7,000 bottles without the monks’ permission, and at 10 euros each, almost 10 times higher than the original price.

The supermarket said it had obtained the beer through “a number of links,” according to Gineke Wilms, its marketing manager, in comments cited by a Dutch daily.

The supermarket sold 300 crates of 24 bottles, Wilms said, but did not make a significant profit despite the markup. The third-party sellers had all wanted to make a profit, too, he said, and that was what had driven up the final sale price.

The monks denounced the sale, saying the aim behind their endeavors was not to commercialize their product, but to finance themselves and support those in need. The silent order calls its brewery a “bread-winning” enterprise.

Jan Linders has since apologized for the one-off sale, but added in a statement on its website that it wanted to thank customers for introducing them to “this beautiful beer.”

Normally, Westvleteren beer is famously hard to get hold of. Customers need to visit the monastery, the only place where it is sold. And requests have to be placed in advance by phone to get more than six bottles at a time.

Once a reservation has been made, customers must give a license plate number to the monks so the pickup vehicle can enter the monastery. The same vehicle is not allowed to buy more beer from the monks for at least 60 days.

Patience, it seems, is a virtue.

“Trappist beer will last for years,” the monks say on their website. “Give the beer time, and it will continue to ripen.”

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