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The store is selling the monks' beer without permission

Tim Nelson
March 15, 2018

It’s not easy to rile up a bunch of peaceful monks, but Dutch supermarket chain Jan Linders managed to find a way to do it. And somehow, beer is at the center of the controversy. The monks of the Saint Sixtus abbey in Westvleteren first took up brewing to pay the construction crew building their monastery in the 1830’s. In the nearly two centuries since, they’ve garnered a worldwide reputation as one of the finest purveyors of Trappist beer, a specific designation that can technically only be produced by a handful of monasteries around the world.

One of the 10.2% dark varieties of Trappist Westvleteren is considered to be among the finest brews in the world, so much so that the abbey fielded as many as 85,000 phone requests per hour once word got out about its quality among internet beer nerds. It's so special that pople are only allowed to purchase no more than 2 cases of the beer once every 2 months. Customers have to visit Saint Sixtus at a prearranged date and time, and even register their license plate in advance.

Or at least that’s how things worked until Jan Linders mysteriously wound up with a massive quantity of Westvleteren in its stores. The company told a Dutch newspaper that the beer was a reward for their loyal customers, who snatched up the 300 cases in a matter of hours, despite an imposed 2 bottle limit at a price of almost €10 each. That’s far above the €1.90 one would pay for the beer when purchasing it legitimately at the abbey.

Naturally, the monks were none too pleased. The Dutch company’s price gouging and illicit sales “goes against the ethical standards and values that the monks face,” a spokesman for the abbey said. “Every beer lover knows that the Trappists of Westvleteren do not pursue profit maximisation, they only produce as much beer as is necessary to provide for their livelihood. All the profits made go to the abbey charity.”

For their part, the supermarket chain claims to have turned little to no profit, pinning the blame on mysterious middlemen. “The beer was purchased through a number of links, which is why the price was this amount,” said Gineke Wilms, Jan Linders’s marketing manager. “We emphasised to the abbey that we had really good intentions. We respect the exclusivity of [their] beer enormously.”

For their part, the Abbey’s website reminds customers that “it is stated on the receipt that you are not allowed to place the beer [for sale] on the market.” So while the staff of Jan Linders may not have to reckon with what they’ve done in this life, they probably won’t have any nice Belgian beer waiting for them at the pearly gates.

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