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A Wink and a Nudge: St Bernardus’ One-in-a-Thousand Easter Egg

Discover the charm of St Bernardus Abt 12 with this tale of the One-in-a-Thousand Easter Egg – a winking monk hidden on select labels.

A Wink and a Nudge: St Bernardus’ One-in-a-Thousand Easter Egg

My First (and only) Winking Monk

In October of 2022, I was sampling beers at my local taproom. After a night of trying new beers, I was craving something familiar. As I was cashing out, I decided to cement the next morning’s hangover by ordering a bottle of St Bernardus Abt 12 to-go, an old favorite of mine. Back home in the kitchen, I grabbed my St Bernardus goblet and gave the beer a hard pour, as the bottle directed, sending the head just above the rim without spilling over, then tossed the bottle into the trash. Now, with a goblet full of 10% abv “heavenly nectar,” I started making my way towards the couch where it would last me a few episodes of Better Call Saul. But as I stepped out of the kitchen, I thought, “Did I check for the wink?”

Years before, I’d read that on one out of every one thousand bottles of St Bernardus Abt 12, the monk on the label was winking. Ever since, I always made a point of checking my bottles to see if the monk was winking, whether I was at home, the bar, or stocking up the cooler at the taproom where I worked. No luck. But that evening, my nightcap had evaded the quick glance. I went back and lifted the lid of the trashcan, and surely enough, from the bottom, a monk was looking up at me. Winking.

After college, you’re not supposed to use empty alcohol containers for decoration. My winking monk is an exception. Sometimes, when I have other beer nerds over, I’ll hand them the bottle and ask if they can spot what’s different about it. The most common answer: it’s empty. The wink is an easy detail to overlook. When I point it out, sometimes they’ll ask, “Isn’t he always winking?” and as a response, I’ll gesture towards the St Bernardus poster on my wall featuring the jolly monk with a big smile and both eyes wide open.

St. Bernardus Abt 12 Origins

Abt 12 has been a bottle-shop staple for well over a decade now, beloved for its fragrant notes of raisins, dates and spices alongside its deceptive strength. For many beer drinkers, it has been a first step into the world of Belgian beer, more specifically, the sanctified space of “abbey ales.” St Bernardus got its start brewing and distributing beer on behalf of the Westvleteren Trappist Monastery in 1946, the same year the recipe for Abt 12 was developed.

In 1992, St Bernardus and the monks of Westvleteren parted ways, in part because of the solidification of the “Authentic Trappist Product” label, which stipulated that the beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the supervision of Trappist Monks. The monks of Westvleteren went on to craft one of the most sought-after beers in the world, Westveleteren 12. Still, St Bernardus continued beer production, now under its own name and while keeping the same recipies.

Since then, St Bernardus has established itself as one of the most popular breweries in all of Belgium, but at the time, the brand was virtually starting from scratch. For this reason, clever (and affordable) marketing was needed. In a December 2023 interview with The Craft Beer Channel, St Bernardus’ Marco Passarella gave a behind the scenes look into one of the ways that was accomplished. In 2007, Passarella secretly procured a batch of labels for Abt 12 with one small modification: the monk on the label (who is technically not a monk at all because the brewery has no religious affiliation, he is rather a “medieval counselor”) is winking.

In the bottling facility, labels are processed one thousand at a time. Without telling anyone else, Passarella instructed the bottling supervisor to slip one winking monk into each batch of one-thousand labels. The goal: to create an urban legend, ideally one that would require a customer to drink a thousand beers to confirm. Over time, consumers began to notice and spread the word across beer bars and internet forums alike. For many, finding a winking monk became a bit of a treasure hunt.

Recently, St Bernardus modernized their labels (as much as a label featuring a medieval counselor can be modernized). The yellow border surrounding the blue background has been updated to a sleeker white, the gothic typeface of “Abt 12” simplified to a smaller, sans-serif font, and to the right of the counselor’s face, two small, triangular accents have been added, drawing a bit more attention to the eye which, one-in-a-thousand-times, winks.

A Collective Treasure Hunt

Since encountering my first winking monk, I have yet to find another. I prefer it that way. In my lifetime, I estimate that I’ve consumed more than two hundred but less than three hundred bottles of St. Bernardus Abt 12. Given the initial one-in-a-thousand odds, I consider myself lucky, but if it happened again too soon, I’d suspect they were exaggerating the rarity. Still, every time, I check.

As a bartender in a taproom, it was one of my favorite bits of trivia to tell customers who ordered the beer. Normally, it’d spark some interest, and the regulars who’d overheard this conversation too many times, joined in the hunt. Sometimes, people would ask if there was anything ‘special’ about the bottles with the winking labels, and the answer is, aside from a few specks of ink, no. There’s no resale value, and the beer inside is exactly the same. It’s the beer itself that’s special, as no mediocre beer is worth drinking again and again and again. It’s like seeing the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, you smile, think “It’s real!” and move on with your life, forgetting about it until you spot it again (if you’re lucky). No one should order a beer just for the off chance of an easter egg, nor should anyone go for a drive just in hopes of coming across the Wienermobile, but if you’ve got somewhere to go, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye open.

It’s a fun game, which, when I have to choose between Chimay Grande Réserve, Rochefort 10, or our counselor friend, pulls the odds slightly in his favor. Part of what makes the treasure hunt so fun is that a majority of Abt 12 drinkers don’t know that they’re playing. A majority of winking monk bottles are most likely discarded without being noticed. Maybe even you’ve thrown one away. I did. Thankfully, I decided to double check. Will you?

Photo Copyright Bernt Rostad/Courtesy of Flickr