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An Unholy Fight Over a Saintly Beer

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For more than 170 years, Westvleteren beer — considered to be one of the world’s best brews — has been produced and distributed solely by the Trappist monks of St. Sixtus Abbey in western Belgium. Then a Dutch supermarket got hold of some crates.Credit Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Smooth, complex, soft, salty and strong — yet delicate, luscious and elegant.

Those are just a few of the adjectives used to describe Westvleteren beer, which is often hailed by aficionados as one of the best in the world.

Part of the mystique rested in its exclusivity. For more than 170 years, the beer has been produced and distributed solely by the Trappist monks of St. Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, a village in western Belgium.

An Unholy Fight Over a Saintly Beer
An Unholy Fight Over a Saintly Beer

But that changed last week when a branch of Jan Linders, a Dutch supermarket chain, sold more than 7,000 bottles without the monks’ permission, and at 10 euros each, almost 10 times higher than the original price.

The supermarket said it had obtained the beer through “a number of links,” according to Gineke Wilms, its marketing manager, in comments cited by a Dutch daily.

The supermarket sold 300 crates of 24 bottles, Mr. Wilms said, but did not make a significant profit despite the markup. The third-party sellers had all wanted to make a profit, too, he said, and that was what had driven up the final sale price.

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