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Beer Geeks Across America Running For Westvleteren

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Dec 12, 2012 9:20PM

Two men hold their special cases of Westvleteren trappist beer, at the cash register of a Colruyt supermarket in Brussels, on November 3, 2011. Normally, the Westvleteren trappist beer - once voted best beer in the world - is exclusively sold at the abbey-brewery, but to fund the construction of a new abbey, the congregation decided to organize a special promotion stunt and sell the beer at Colruyt shops in Belgium, to people who cut a coupon from their newspaper. (BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images)

Fans of good beer across the country are treating the release of Westvleteren XII like a Depression-era bank run and for good reason. The Belgian Trappist ale is regarded as one of the best beers on the planet, but it’s also one of the most elusive.

Westvleteren XII is typically available for purchase only at the brewery and a cafĂ© owned by the monks, located inside the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus, and even there sales are limited due to the popularity of the beer, the monks’ explicit desire to curb re-selling of Westvleteren, and the monks’ modest lifestyle. The reason the beer is available now is because the monks need to fund an extensive renovation, including a new roof, to the abbey. Westvleteren Brewery spokesman Mark Bode told NPR this will likely be the only time the beer will be available to American retailers.

"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."

Adding to the craziness is the volume of beer brewed; only 3,800 barrels are brewed, the same number since 1945. TimeOut Chicago’s Julia Kramer was at Binny’s Beverage Depot’s Marcey Street location, where people were lining up at 4 a.m. (and probably earlier) to get their hands on the beer. At $84.99 for a six-pack and two serving glasses, it’s a pretty penny; eBay is already littered with Westvleteren XII auctions with minimum bids starting as high as $300. If the monks had Internet access—we assume their austere lifestyle keeps them grounded in the real world—surely they would be shaking their heads in disbelief.

Is the beer worth the attention, if not the price? Yes and maybe. Having bought Westvleteren XII at the abbey and traded some rare beers in our collection for it, it is among the top five beers we've ever had the pleasure to drink. The Westvleteren monks are truly doing the Lord's Work.