If a beer label is supposed to encourage people to buy it, how do you sell a beer without a label at all? True, it would certainly stand out, among all the colorful designs. Is it all just a marketing ploy? Not if there is a very logical explanation, as in this case.
But first, let’s take it one step at a time. We are talking about Westvleteren, specifically Westvleteren XII. It’s a quadrupel and one of 3 bottled beers from Saint Sixtus Monastery in Belgium, again one of 5 Trapist breweries in Belgium (out of a total of 10 Trapist breweries worldwide). Like all Westvleteren beers, it has no label, only the crown cap identifies the beer.
If you want to drink the divine nectar, you have to go to the monastery. Don’t worry, not forever, but at a predefined time and with advance reservation. Of course, the divine drink is only available in limited quantities, namely in 24-bottle carafes. There is no more, because only 4750 hl are brewed annually.
Maybe it was this approach, maybe really the devilishly good taste. In any case, Westfleteren XII reached heavenly spheres on Ratebeer.com in 2005 and was voted the best beer in the world (and still is, according to points). This was picked up by some news sites at the time, and a hype arose around the barely available beer. After all, who wouldn’t want to try the best beer in the world?
This is probably what the monks thought when they broke their tradition in 2011, and offered the beer for the first time in the Belgian supermarket Colruyt. In fact, this was done out of financial necessity, in order to be able to complete the too expensive renovation of their monastery. And another tradition was broken: For sale in the supermarket, in a six-pack with matching glass, Westvleteren XII was printed on the bottle.
So the bottle without a label is not a marketing ploy. The monks anno Domini have not already thought of that, but it was simply a rational decision: A beer that is only sold in the monastery does not need a label. One in the supermarket, however, does, which is probably also due to the secular laws. Either way, somehow the monks seem to have done something right.