Not long ago, finding specialty beer in Alabama was hard. High-gravity brews were not allowed in the state, and bottles on store shelves were pretty well capped at 6% ABV. Then, an advocacy group called Free the Hops helped change that. One of my favorite places to get a beer in Montgomery began offering a long, long list of beers from around the globe, which ranged in price from $2.50 for a cheap American macrobrew to over $10 for dark, complex beers that come from places like Belgium and Germany. Soon after the list was expanded, a friend of mine reported turning in an expense report from having a beer there with a client only to have his supervisor ask how he could possibly rack up a $50 bar tab before 5:45 p.m.. Well, it happens.
Maybe you noticed yesterday that a Trappist monastery in Belgium released a small number of bottles of its world-famous and extraordinarily difficult-to-get beer in the American market. NPR reported thatselect stores were offering the 15,000 six-packs for $85 apiece. That’s a lot. When I splurge and buy a six-pack of one of my favorite local brews, it costs me $9, and I flinch at that. $85? Really?
The monks of St. Sixtus Abbey need a new home, so they are offering this one-time release to rake in the cash. I’m guessing that most beer lovers who heard the story—even at 5:45am—started thinking about what it must be like to have even one of those precious bottles. But for me the real story wasn’t about the beer. It was about the monks.
The reporter stated with a voice of astonished admiration that these monks spend all day in prayer: “The monks rise at 3 a.m. to start the first of seven sessions.” It was still dark when I heard the story, and I wondered how many other people listening thought about those monks who got up even earlier than they did…and for what? Prayer. The tension in the story was between the monks who, despite sitting on a gold mine of brewing fame, choose only to make 3,800 barrels a year and only to sell it in their brewery store, hidden in the western countryside of Belgium. Once this release is over and they have their new abbey, they’ll go back to business as usual. What does that say to a world that is driven by consumerism?