Quality vs Quantity: Photocase and Westvleteren

This morning, (just as I did last Wednesday) I woke up at 8:30 and instead of going to work, I set my computer up on the kitchen table, poured a bowl of cereal and got prepared to spend the next two hours dialing and redialing the same number. Last Wednesday between 8:59am at 11:10am I dialed a phone in a little building in the middle of a little town in Belgium more than 100 times. As I type this, I’m trying again. I want something that these Belgians have, and I want it real bad.


Please, get more phone lines... photo hotline by Himberry

Westvleteren is a pretty nice little town in the middle of Belgian farmland. If you search for other nice little towns in Belgium you’ll normally end up with hits about World War 1, but more likely you’ll end up with almost nothing at all. If you search for Westvleteren on the other hand, it’s page after page of beer. Monks make the beer to support their Abbey, and they only make three kinds and they don’t make all three kinds at the same time. To make it even more complicated, you can’t buy it anywhere except from them and you can only buy it if you make a reservation first – by phone – and then pick it up in person. This is why I spent two hours redialing and listening to busy signals, because there were thousands of other people trying to get through as well, because this is widely described as one of the best beers in the world.

Westvleteren Beer Types

The three kinds

The monks, like your favorite stock photo site, believe in quality over quantity. The earnings from beer sales are used to help offset costs of being a monk and with no marketing to do, no quotas to hit, and no sales people to feed there’s no chance of a compromise on quality, nor is there any chance that a guy with an MBA will say “Diversify! Beck’s Germany offers this green-coloured beer with lemon and it sells like crazy!”

The second thing they’ve done, is to create a desire for their beer simply by making it so hard to get, playing hard to get (get in that is) is also a Photocase hallmark. A great beer store in Amsterdam describes it as “probably the most famous beer in the world,” likely only because of the near impossibility of obtaining it. The monks themselves say “…if you can’t have it, possibly you do not really need it.” While another forum posting describes “[going through] the process of how you get the beer [is] maybe better than actually drinking it.” I don’t totally agree with that, because drinking it is pretty great and getting up early and hitting redial a thousand times sucks. But at 10:01 this morning I finally got through and spoke with one of the monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey, and placed an order. When I hung up the phone I felt a rush, likely what what this person was describing, and probably not unlike that which Photocase users get when a photo gets accepted at Photocase.

Picture me here next week.

Picture me here next week.

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