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Trappist beer a rare commodity
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Westvleteren 12 is a highly sought after beer made by Belgian monks at the Abbey of St. Sixtus of Wesvletern, Flanders, Belgium.

The beer, touted as “the best in the world” and “the craft-brew-to-end all-craft brews” is said to have a sugary- sweet flavor comparable to a “Bon-Bon” or a “boozy fruit cake.”

Now, if you’re anything like me, you perked up at the mention of beer; but beer made by Belgium monks? Bon-Bons?

Where can I get it?

The heavens have opened, for a limited time, albeit, on Dec. 12. For the first time since the monks started brewing the beer in 1940s, U.S. retailers, as well as retailers in a select few other countries, were able to sell a six-bottle pack that includes two glasses, for about $85.

Westvleteren Trappist beer is rare, yet it has been given a 100 in both overall scores and style, by ratebeer.com. A 2005 article from USA Today said illegal imported Westvleteren can sell for $8 to $12 a bottle. “Trappist Beer” is protected by law, according to the abbey’s website. The name can only be applied to beer made by monks at their monastery. Among Belgian beers, there are six Trappist Beer producers: Westvletern, Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle.

 As much I’d like to support the monks and try fruit cake flavored beer, many media outlets are reporting that it will be sold out by the time people know it’s available in the states. There are three South Carolina retailers that are said to have a few packs of the beer.

When I think about drinking beer brewed by monks, an extra calm, Zen-like feeling washes over me; the $85 price ticket snapped me back to reality, however.

Why so much?

We aren’t talking tall-boy PBR’s here people. These monks, who live modest lives with, reportedly, no cash reserve, needed some money to pay for some renovations they made at the abbey. In order to raise the cash, they “reluctantly” decided to export their beer, which is only available for sale at the abbey. The monks’ spokesperson, Mark Bode, said the export is a once in a lifetime occurrence. The monks probably won’t ever do it again, he said. Once they raise the money, they are gong “back to normal again.”

Since 1945, the monks have brewed the equivalent of approximately 3,800 U.S. barrels of beer each year to sustain the abbey. Their sale of the beer is very controlled, according to the directions about how people can go about buying the beer on their website. Any interested buyers must first check the website to find out when and how much beer can be reserved. You then call their “beer phone number” and make an appointment with the “beer phone operator” giving them your license plate number of the car you will be driving to pick up an order. You may often get a busy signal when trying to make a reservation, “due to the fact that beer lines are overburdened!”

“You are not the only one calling at that moment,” according to their website. “That’s means it’s a matter of having a lot of patience as well as a lot of luck.”

Luck is the keyword. Once an order is made the telephone number and car used to make and pick up an order can’t be used for 60 days. The only condition listed on their website is that the Trappist beer is sold to individuals only and every customer agrees not to re-sell the beer to third parties. The monks at St. Sixtus make three kinds of beer, sold in a crate containing 24 bottles: Trappist Westvleteren Blond, Trappist Westvleteren 8, and Trappist Westvleteren 12. No. 12 would sell for 39,00 Euros, or $50.

 St. Sixtus Abbey has about 20 Cistercian or Trappist monks currently. Cistercian monks are members of the Order of Citeaux. The Citeaux monastery was founded in 1098 by three holy abbots, or male superiors in a monastery. The order of the Citeaux is the “cradle of the Cistercian Order,” according to the abbey of St. Sixtus’ website. A Trappist monk is a cistercian monk that “engages himself only to God and leads a monastic and contemplative life.”

Prayer, reading, study and manual labor are the “pillars” of monastic life. Each morning, the monks at the abbey wake up around 3 a.m. to start the first of seven daily prayer sessions. Some of the monks make clothes, bind books, or take care of any visitors as a part of their communal duties. Others are responsible for gardening, cooking; the most fortunate get the pleasure of brewing what is said to be awe worthy beer.