As everybody knows, Westvleteren XII has been voted the Best Beer in the World, and it has never been offered anywhere else but at the monastery door. On the third of November 2011, a first and only one-time offer was launched on the Belgian market to purchase Westvleteren XII outside the abbey walls. It also provided the people the opportunity to support and contribute to a truly unique project. At the same time, the beer lovers could buy the exclusive Westvleteren beer nearby, without having to reserve at the monastery.
After this exceptional Belgian wave, Westvleteren also wanted to respond to the continuous and growing demand from other markets around the world. This is how the name for the project “I Helped to Build an Abbey” was born.
An important part of the old abbey was facing severe subsidence and in some parts of the buildings large cracks occurred. The buildings were declared unsafe and therefore no longer possible to live in. After a thorough analysis, it became clear that renovation works could not be considered, as the cause of all these problems was related to the foundations and thus extremely difficult to accommodate.
Consequently, the plan to build a new monastery was retained with the following highlights: the current church would remain and would become a wing of the new monastery’s quadrangle. Together with the Brothers, it was decided to choose for austerity, simplicity, durability and an ecological approach. This fully corresponds to the Cistercian tradition. The former church would have a new purpose as a refectory and library. The rooms of the Brothers would be located on the first floor. The ground floor of the new monastery would accommodate the chapter-house, the scriptorium, the novitiate, a common room, a couple of offices and the infirmary.
Traditionally in the region of West-Flanders, farmhouses were constructed in black bricks, thus the new monastery also would be built in grey-black stones, which visually harmonizes with the environment than pure white.
Today, the plan is entirely executed, and the Brothers have moved in their new ‘home’ on first week of December 2011.
The construction project of the new abbey, that took almost three years to complete, has required a great effort of the community, especially financially. Besides their own financial means, Westvleteren was happy to receive substantial help from other abbeys, monasteries and from a lot of individuals.
A protection committee was created, representing different people, with different backgrounds and from all layers in society. This committee was able to convince several private individuals, but also institutions like banks and private companies to participate in this project, to whom the community is very grateful.
However, there was still a financial gap-to-fill. In the first stage, the Westvleteren community was reluctant towards the idea to match the construction with the brewing activities, but the protection committee proposed to and convinced Westvleteren to do so.
It required some ‘progressive insights’ from the Brothers, to accept and to defend the idea that by temporarily adding some efforts to produce a limited amount of extra Westvleteren XII beer, Westvleteren would be able to gather the required financial means.
The Brother Community of Westvleteren applies a specific policy with regard to their brewing activities, which limits the distribution of the Westvleteren beers to a restricted sale at the gate of the Abbey only.
After some ‘progressive insights’ the Brothers of Westvleteren decided to consider the idea of matching the brewing with the construction activities in order to fill the financial gap of the construction of the new monastery. The Westvleteren Community clearly defined the boundaries on which this exclusive offer could be elaborated:
· It would concern an exceptional unique and one-time offer (temporarily more ‘labora’ than ‘ora’) – (more work over prayer).
· The regular sales would remain valid and mandatorily remain valid as the only commercialization method in the future, afterwards.
· In order to match the ‘short term’ financial objective, with the ‘long term’ image and equity of Westvleteren, the project group was confronted with 4 important challenges:
· The project had to contribute, with a limited one-time offer, based on proximity for the consumers, with the reward of the total project experience.
· Based on this framework, it became clear that a special look&feel needed to be developed in order to make a clear cut once the project sales would be ended. This would also enable the collector’s item value of the offer for the consumers and because of that the brew-to-build-pack was created, since this reflects the idea of buying a share in the new abbey. The artwork uses the original bricks (size, shape and color) of the new monastery in order to underline the statement of ‘having helped to build an abbey’ (Ad Aedificandam Abbatiam Adiuvi).
To make the experience complete, an exclusive tasting glass was developed, since Westvleteren can be considered as one of the crown jewels of the Belgian Beer industry and its culture is known for serving every beer in its appropriate glass.
The Westvleteren Trappist 12 was chosen because of the election as Best beer in the world in 2005 and because it is the most sold of the three varieties.
In order to cope with the contribution of the project a total number of 163.000 packs (not cases) was defined (domestic 93.000 & international 70.000). In order to make this volume available, Brother Joris and his team had to brew every month (since September 2010) an additional batch per month. This was only possible because the beer was transferred immediately after the production to the ‘handling partner’, that gives labor to disabled people, in order to (re-)pack them in the brew-to-build-packs, and to an external storage warehouse.
Otherwise there wouldn’t have been a possibility to accommodate to these additional volumes, because of lacking space internally.
Overall the consequence and the impact on the Brother community is substantial as in the brewing 4 Brothers are involved and in the bottling approximately 11.
For the first wave in the Belgian market, Westvleteren sold the 93,000 boxes in less than 48 hours via the retailer Colruyt, who acted as a non-profit/charitable intermediary. The consumers had to hand in a coupon – found in cooperating magazines – which entitled them to buy 1 pack.
Because for the Belgian wave all the boxes had to be available at the same time all packs were stored (some of them for almost one year); which also required a pre-financing cost. Something, which for the international activation didn’t seem necessary nor relevant. In order to objectively appoint the first until the last batches, a specific procedure was implemented that all international partners are aware of and familiar with.
Check out the beer communities’ blogs and read how they are drooling over a chance to get their hands on some of these packs.