How a Tiny Brewery Run By Monks Came To Make the Best Beer In the World

The Trappist monks at The Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium, aren’t in the business of brewing beer for the riches or notoriety — they brew only enough to support themselves and their abbey. However, fame found them anyway in the mid-2000s, when the beer information website named their dark, quadruple-style 12 the best beer in the world. The beer that no one had heard of had suddenly skyrocketed in popularity. Needless to say, the monks weren’t too happy. Westvleteren only produces just under 4,000 barrels, or 126,000 gallons, a year. Large breweries typically produce about 3.2 million gallons a year. The "scarcity factor” is the driving force at the center of Westvleteren mania. Not only does Westvleteren produce the least of all the Trappist breweries, but its beer is also the hardest to get. Beer must be reserved 60 days ahead of time over the “beer phone,” but good luck getting through — the phone receives about 85,000 calls an hour. Westvleteren 12 sells for €40 a case — less than $2 a beer — which is pretty inexpensive for the best beer in the world — again, the monks aren't looking to make a profit off the operation. So why not make more beer? The abbey is fiercely against it, pointing out that they aren’t brewers, and increasing production goes against their aim to make just enough to sustain themselves. It's hard to say whether the abbey is proud of the title, though Brother Godfried, who is in charge of the brewery, once said: "It's good to know our customers appreciate what we make.” In the end, the monks sell to live, they don’t live to sell.