For those who somehow missed all the buzz at the end of 2012, Westvleteren 12, a rare and much lauded Trappist beer, was released commercially for the first time in in the history of the brewery and better still, it was available in Vancouver.
Here is just some of the pre-release hype as reported by 24 hrs the favourite paper of bus riders and sky trainers alike:
“We had it in the past for about $25 a bottle,” said Darryl Lamb, manager of Legacy Liquor in Olympic Village. “We got it through a grey market source using gypsies to get cases and then holding auctions for them. This is the first time they’ve ever commercially sold the beer. They’re selling it now because they need money to build a new monastery. So they’re only doing this one time – a six pack with two glasses for $88.”
In order to save their home, the famous monks have been brewing an extra batch every month since 2010.
“Westvleteren is the most difficult to get of the eight Trappist breweries because they’re the smallest and they aren’t really a commercial brewery,” explained Lamb. “You can only get the beer at the monastery and you can only get one case of beer per (visit).”
Well that was Christmas and I was busy dutifully drinking 24 beers to create my advent calendar, not to mention it was Christmas so I was reluctant to drop 80 bucks on a six-pack, not to mention it was Christmas and I did not want to be trampled upon just to beat out other beer geeks at Brewery Creek so basically I did not get the chance to try a ‘Westie’.
Fortunately fate intervened when I stopped into the Big Ridge liqour store and discovered a neat little pyramid of Westvleteren 12 stacked behind the counter, two of which still needed good homes. Taking this as a divine sign I ponied up and bought myself the six pack (seriously what self-respecting beer geek could pass up the chance to try the world’s best beer?).
The Best Beer in the World
100 on Rate Beer, 100 on Beer Advocate, a cult beer, rare, limited supplies, Trappist, international reputation …whew, that is a heck of a lot of hype to live up to. Couple this with the humble prostrations that at Westvlelevern the monks brew beer only to finance their crumbling abbey and you have got one heck of a media darling in Westvleteren 12 or the little beer that could.
The problem with being labelled the best is that you find yourself always having to work that much harder because your audience immediately doubts your credibility.
The best? Really? The best beer? In the whole world? Really?
It’s kind of no-win since some will be swayed by the hype without truly forming their own opinion whilst others will do their darnedest to find any and all flaws because deep down they know you cannot be the best.
I think the best way to approach this beer would be through a blind taste test so unbiased drinkers can indulge minus the weight of all those preconceptions and background noise distorting what you are tasting.
Nonetheless I tried and it and for what it’s worth this is what I thought…
Westvlelevern 12 pours a deep reddish brown with lots of cloud and lots of carbonation. There is some cream coloured head on the initial pour but it dies off leaving some nice lacing on the glass and a light skim across the top. The nose is all-Belgian sweet, somewhat yeasty with malty overtones. First couple of sips I am surprised how effervescent this one remains giving a light bodied quality to a beer that is anything but. Rich, almost cloyingly sweet at times, dark fruity flavours and a strong alcohol taste. Kind of a treacle like quality. It comes off a bit sharp straight from the fridge but really grows on me as I keep drinking. The mouthfeel takes on a really creamy quality as you drink. On the finish you get dried fruit sweetness tempered by the big alcohol content of this beer (over 10% ABV). Overall a really beautiful Belgian Quadrupel.
I know, I know, but is it the best beer in the world?
Well this beer does really throw down the gauntlet for Belgian beers, as an example of the style it is one of the best I have ever had. Whether it is so fantastic that I would choose this beer over all other styles I have to say no.
There have been many times I thought I found the best beer in the world drinking Russian River Supplication for the first time, sampling Pliny the Elder on tap, my very first Lost Abbey experience with Angel’s Share, the sour goodness of Sang Noir from Cascade Brewing Barrel House, savouring The Abyss from Deschutes etc. but all these best beers were contingent on so many other factors that given a choice my ‘best beer in the world’ changes with the day, the season and my mood.
What I will say is Westvleteren 12 casts a long shadow…