It was only 18 months ago that the abbey accepted to move into the online age by accepting orders online for their three celebrated beers. Orders were however subject to limits: a maximum of two crates of 24 bottles of beer subject to availability. The beers still had to be picked up from the abbey during the time-slot allotted.
The arcane ordering system – until then orders could only be given by telephone – helped create a mystique surrounding the beer. At the same time, the brewery did not offer press visits, did not engage with the rest of the industry at beer events, and brewed only enough to fulfil its mission, regardless of public demand.
The abbey of Sint-Sixtus is under the Trappist rule of Benedictine monks, whose motto is Ora et labora (prayer and work). Many abbeys produce beer, and many more lend their names to industrially-produced beer, but the Trappist beers are limited to 14 – six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands and one each in Austria, Italy, the UK, France, Spain and the United States.
Under the rules of the order, the abbey produces beer to finance its mission, both spiritual and pastoral. Other producers, such as Chimay, are more prolific, but Sint-Sixtus produces as much as it requires and no more.
All of that to explain how the beer has become surrounded by a mystique born of scarcity. That may be about to change.
“About half of our Belgian clientele lives in West and East Flanders,” said Brother Godfried, prior of the abbey. “The other customers from Belgium often have to come from a lot further away to pick up their order. That is why we have been thinking about a broader range of customers within a working group for some time now.”
Like the rest of the world, the abbey was affected by the dramatic circumstances of 2020.
“We stopped selling Trappist beer at the abbey gate for two months because only very essential movements were allowed. All kinds of alternatives were considered to bring Trappist Westvleteren to the consumer in the event of a new general lockdown. This resulted in a modified e-commerce pilot project, in which we will have part of our beer stock delivered to clients at home via a parcel service. For the time being we are only offering this new service to addresses in Belgium.”
The new delivery system restricts customers to one crate of 24 bottles. It will however run in tandem with the existing online reservation for real-time pick-up, with double the allowance. Details at the abbey website (EN).