Belgium monks forced to sell prized beer online to beat resellers

Belgian Trappist monk Manu Van HeckeImage copyrightReutersImage caption Belgian Trappist monk Manu Van Hecke is to sell his abbey's beer online

Belgian monks who brew one of the world's most coveted beers are launching a website to prevent unauthorised resellers profiting from their product.

St Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, Flanders, is one of the world's 14 official Trappist beer producers.

Buyers can purchase a crate of its Westvleteren beer for around €45 (£40), around €1.80 per bottle.

As a rule, the monks ask customers not to sell their product to third parties.

The abbey's sales have traditionally been limited to private customers who order by phone before collecting a maximum of two crates in person.

But profiteers have been ignoring their "ethical values" for selling the brew, forcing them to go online to dampen demand on the black market.

Image copyrightReutersImage caption Brother Godfried, a Belgian Trappist monk at St Sixtus abbey, looks at bottles of Westvleteren beer

The monks were dismayed to find bottles of their beer being resold at an inflated price in a Dutch supermarket last year.

The supermarket had stockpiled 7,200 bottles of the abbey's highly sought-after beer, selling them at around €9 a bottle.

"It really opened our eyes. It was a sort of wake-up call that the problem was so serious, that a company was able to buy such volumes. It really disturbed us," said one of the monks, Brother Godfried.

Prices in Brussels and elsewhere can be much higher, reflecting the high demand for a beer experts have described as the world's best.

In Dubai, a single bottle was on sale for $300 (£238), the monks told Reuters news agency.

Trappist monks do not profit from the sales of their beer. Rather, they only produce as much as they need to cover their annual costs.

Now the abbey is turning to an online reservation system, designed to better enforce the limit of two crates per 60 days.

Image copyrightReutersImage caption A glass of Belgian Trappist beer Westvleteren is seen at St Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, Belgium

Under the new system - which is set to go live on Tuesday - buyers will have to register, giving personal details such as their address and the number plate of their car.

Priority will be given to those who have waited longest since their last purchase.

Brother Manu van Hecke, abbot of St Sixtus Abbey, hopes the new sales system will meet "the needs of many Westvleteren enthusiasts".

"We have thought long and hard about a good and customer-friendly alternative. Beer sales at the abbey will remain exclusively aimed at private customers," he added.

Last year, monks in Leicestershire became the first in the UK to brew an officially recognised Trappist beer.

Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, near Coalville, was given permission to brew the beer, becoming the 14th member of the International Trappist Association (ITA).

According to the ITA, the beer must be brewed within the abbey by the monks or under their supervision and must not be sold on for profit.