Beer Review 0301: Trappist Westvleteren 12

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Is this the best beer in the world? I don’t know. I’m going to review it — but hang with me for a minute here.

Trappist Westvleteren 12 is a Belgian Quadrupel, made by the abbey of the Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren. They make three different beers (a Blonde, 8, and 12) of which all proceeds from go to support the abbey. The monks began brewing beer in 1839, and for the next 38 years, the drinks were only for monks’ consumption. But in 1877, the beer began to be marketed, thanks to a modernization project that greatly upgraded the brewing facility.

In 1940, Saint Sixtus introduced Westvleteren 12. At 10.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) this is a classic — perhaps THE classic — Belgian Quad. Aging of this beer is encouraged, and the only ingredients are yeast, hops, malt, sugar, caramel, and water.

In order to get any Saint Sixtus beers, one must make an appointment with the monastery. They will tell you which beer you can have, what price you have to pay, and when you can get it. All beer is sold in wooden crates that contain 24 bottles. Once you purchase the beer, the license plate of the vehicle you drive to the monastery is taken and you aren’t allowed to purchase more beer for a 60 day period.

So, you can see why many might regard this as the “best beer in the world.” Rarity has a tendency to do that sort of thing…

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In December of 2012, citing the need for a new roof on the monastery — the monks that reside at Saint Sixtus did something once considered unthinkable: they exported a limited amount of Westvleteren 12 to the United States, selling the beer in a special six-pack “brick” that also contained two souvenir glasses. The price for the brick was set at $84.99, and retailers were forced to charge no more or less for the beer, with all proceeds going directly to the abbey. 15,000 bricks were made available, equaling 90,000 bottles of the beer, with the abbey taking in $1,274,850 American dollars. Shortly before the release, a spokesman for the notoriously quiet and secretive abbey said the release would be “one-time only.”

A couple of things:

1. Why I decided to buy this beer. As you might expect, the darker side of the online beer community came forth when news of this release hit. That’s a reality of the Internet. People that had previously had the beer were telling people who hadn’t enjoyed it yet that it wasn’t worth it, to save their money, that it is too easy to trade for, that these bottles would be different than going to the brewery and picking some up, etc. I could go on and on.

For me, this was an easy decision. I don’t trade a lot of beer. I don’t see myself going to Belgium anytime soon. I’ve always wanted to try the beer. So, to me, buying an $85 six-pack is much cheaper than a plane ticket and a gamble on getting the beer, which might not even pay off.

2. The “best beer in the world.” It’s a ridiculous statement. Saying any beer is the “best in the world” is simply your opinion on a private level, and suggests that you’ve sampled every single beer the world has to offer on whatever professional level you care to use about beer. And unless you are thousands of years old, that hasn’t happened.

In some ways, I don’t want to review this beer. If I really love it, which the countless reviews kind of suggest I probably will — I’ll look like a Westvleteren fanboy jumping on the rare beer bandwagon, perhaps sticking my tongue out to the people that can’t afford this beer or can’t find it or simply avoid it for its hype, or whatever. And if I don’t review it, I feel like I would be missing out on an important bottle.

So, here I am, with this conclusion: Fuck what the dark side of the Internet has to say about this beer. And fuck what anybody else thinks. Here’s my review, based off drinking this beer like any other beer I’ve reviewed, and relating it in my head to other Belgian Quads.

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The date on the cap indicates this beer was bottled on February 10, 2012, meaning it spent about ten months in the bottle before I cracked it.

The pour on this beer produced a large, frothy head with large bubbles; had I allowed it, it would have billowed over top of the glass. The color was a murky, tawny brown, dark and chestnut; when held to the light, it had blood red highlights. Also in the light, I noticed a ton of chunky sediment floating throughout, and it was quite cloudy. Lacing was excellent, leaving big and thick sheets down my glass.

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Aromatically, the alcohol hits the nose first, but it nicely supports everything else going on. There are loads of dark fruit — figs, prunes, and raisins. Rum-soaked raisins! Hell, even rum-soaked fruit cake. There’s also a definite sweet grape note, and yes, this aroma is overwhelmingly sweet and candy like. It’s also vinous. And bready. Holy complex.

The taste very much follows the nose, giving off an alcohol hit in the initial taste, followed by the rum-soaked raisins. There’s a big grape flavor; the grape starts out like Bubble Yum chewing gum and winds up playing out like a jammy wine. This brew is extremely sweet, and at the same time, quite savory with the bread-like component that hits around the middle of the mouth. The finish ushers in more alcohol, which sort of serves to cleanse the palate, and the final notes play to a bready, dark fruit, grape, and candy-like symphony. Full-bodied and with a medium mouthfeel; foamy yet creamy at the same time, and super dry.

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I can’t speak on ‘the best beer in the world.’ I haven’t tried near enough, let alone, all of them. But I can tell you this: for 10.2% ABV, this is frighteningly drinkable. And this is damn tasty. I enjoyed Westvleteren 12 immensely, and honestly, this is the best Belgian Quadrupel that I’ve had to date. So, of course, I have to give it a perfect score. Seriously. Believe the hype that this beer is world class, because it is.

Trappist Westvleteren 12, 100 points. Price: $84.99 US for a six pack (includes two glasses).

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10 responses to “Beer Review 0301: Trappist Westvleteren 12”

  1. onwisconsin21 says :

    Glad to see this was as good as it was put out to be. With how rare this one is and the price range you want the experience to finish with a great tasting beer!! It was never released here in Wisconsin so I don’t think I will ever have the chance to experience it. Glad I could have a small taste through your review!! Cheers to a new year!!

  2. Chris says :

    Really dug your approach to this beer. I happened to be lucky enough to be in Belgium two years ago at the Belgian Beer Weekend with a friend who knew someone who knew someone and we got to share a “Westy 12” among the three of us. I didn’t really know what I was getting into at the time. I really, really enjoyed the beer but at that time had no clue about the aura and mysticism surrounding this beer. Either way, it was pretty fantastic. I like your review and really like your tasting scorecard – that’s awesome.

    • allthesamebeer says :

      The amount of crap I heard about buying an $85 six-pack was unreal. But as I said, it’s a once in a lifetime experience and I’m not sure I will have another chance to have Westvleteren 12 again. Thanks for your comment!

      • Chris says :

        Truly, the fact that they exported any of it – let alone made it available without having to schedule an appointment at the monastery in Belgium – is literally, literally, a once in a lifetime happening. Paying $85 for a six-pack sounds a bit crazy, but it’s a heck of a lot less than a plane ticket to Belgium.

        As for your reply to OnWisconsin21 in the comment before mine – about trading beers – I recently left Madison for St. Paul but I’m still only 30 minutes from the border. Where are you at? If you ever want to swap for local beers, you’ve got my email. Truly. New Glarus, Capital Brewery, Ale Asylum… there’s so many well-kept secrets in Wisconsin. Also, and I’m sure it’s a long shot, but the Great Taste of the Midwest is held every August in Madison. I’ve made 5 of the last 8 years. Worth it if you can swing it.

      • Peter says :

        I was lucky enough to have a friend save me a bottle. It’s certainly not the best beer I’ve ever had. It’s not to my taste. Pliny the Elder is still my #1. It’s perfection in a glass & I’d have it over Westy anytime!

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