It seems that we underestimated the enthusiasm out there for the Westvleteren XII gift boxes. (We hope that people are at least equally enthusiastic about the gathering of ridiculously awesome small brewers and cider-folk that is The Festival.) We’re also getting lots of questions from Festival-goers about how the Westvleteren deal is going to work. And the Abbey has asked that we explain more about why they initiated this project and why it’s being carried out in an unusual way. Here is a bit of clarification and information…
Yes, you heard right: anyone attending at least one session of the Festival will be offered the opportunity to buy one — and only one — Westvleteren XII gift box. But liquor laws in Massachusetts do not allow sale of the packs at the Festival. Beer can only be purchased on the premises of a licensed retailer. As it happens, Julio’s Liquors, which is about ten miles down the Pike from the Festival venue, has graciously volunteered to be the retail distribution point for purposes of this one-time offer — at no profit to Julio’s. We are currently working to set up a method for Festival attendees to place their orders with Julio’s right there in Mechanics Hall. Tech geeks assure us that it can be done. If they turn out to be overly optimistic, we will have to hand out vouchers, coupons, or something of that sort.
You might be wondering how this could all be so easy. Well, there are a few so-called “catches.”
First, you are going to have to find your way down to Julio’s to collect your prize. We will post a map and/or directions to Julio’s on this site in the next few days. Note that the gift boxes will not be available at Julio’s until the first session of the Festival is under way, and must be picked up before the following Saturday. Note also that people who are not attending the Festival will not be able to buy a gift box from Julio’s this time around. Only people who are attending the Festival can buy them, because people attending the Festival are special.
Second, the boxes are not free. Far from it, in fact. In Belgium, they sold for 25 euro (more than $30), with no one involved making any real profit. All the profit went to the Abbey at Westvleteren, to help the monks pay for extensive building renovations. (Frankly, the place was falling down. We’ve been over to see the work that’s been done, and report it looks nice, but not exactly luxurious. Trappist monks are not allowed luxury.) In the U.S., we have a lovely “three-tier system” of beer distribution and sale that you must have heard about. The monastery and its two U.S. importers calculated that once a gift box had entered the ugly maw of the three-tier system and passed out the other end, the price on it would be at least $85. The Abbey has insisted that that be the price in every retail joint in the U.S. where the boxes will be sold. Even though, in this instance, the importer, distributor, and retailer have agreed to make almost nothing themselves on the packs, that price will be maintained. The high price will, the Abbey hopes, prevent internet resale of the boxes or their constituent parts on the inter-web. Considering that people routinely pay $30, plus shipping, for a single bottle of Westvleteren beer, that $85 is actually a bargain. Furthermore, since nearly all of that money is going to back to the Abbey to fund the renovations other charity projects of the Abbey’s choosing, you can feel good about it.
Third, we are able to release only 500 gift boxes at each session of the Festival. That’s 1500 boxes, total. We weren’t going to mention that to anyone, because we figured that only a percentage (at most half) of the people attending the Festival would be interested in trucking out to Julio’s, and plunking down $85. After the firestorm of enthusiasm we’ve seen since the news of this release on Thursday, we’re not so sure. We are compelled to make this a first-come-first-served deal at each session. We’ll let you know where to go to sign up when you enter magnificent Mechanics Hall. If you’re really keen on getting a gift box, you might want to head there pretty quickly after you arrive. We sincerely hope that everyone who wants to buy a box will be able to do so. We just can’t guarantee it.
Fourth, and finally, we have to ask everyone who buys a pack to cherish it and enjoy it. Please drink those precious bottles of beer alone or with really good friends, or put them in your cellar for a while. (By the way, aging this strong beer is not recommended, despite what you might have heard.) Please don’t make this into a crass business transaction, and put those bottles on the block at e-Bay at a nice profit to yourself. That would be a violation of the spirit of the entire Westvleteren XII project, and an abuse of the monks’ goodwill. At some point prior to the Big Release of these gift boxes in September, we will explain in more detail how the Rules of Saint Benedict guide the Abbey’s policies regarding the work they do with their own hands, and their loathing of commercial exploitation of it in the “gray market,” where quite a lot of the beer they make is resold by greedy profiteers. The Westvleteren beers are available only at the Abbey gates in order to deter such exploitation. It would be a shame if the Abbey’s need to make this one-time offer of sales in the U.S. had the effect of facilitating the gray market in their beers that is to them so offensive.
Any more questions? Let us know.