Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Brouwerij Westvleteren (Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren) - Trappist Westvleteren 12
People who love beer love to argue about beer. Everyone has their favorite style, their favorite brewery, their favorite type of glass to taste from, etc. And so it's rare to find something that beer lovers truly agree on. If you look at the rankings from the two main beer appreciation sites, beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com, their top 100 lists look almost nothing alike. Sure there are a lot of repeats, but the order is all over the place. The #2 beer on ratebeer's Best of 2010 list couldn't even crack the top 10 on beeradvocate's Top 100 list. Every once in a while (as happened earlier this year when Pliny the Younger was re-released and briefly claimed the #1 spot on beeradvocate or in this year's ratebeer rankings which put Kaggen! Stormakstporter as the #1 beer) another beer rises to claim the top spot. But generally, there is only one beer that is regarded as the best beer in the world- Westvleteren 12.
As I said in an earlier post, there are seven different trappist monasteries that are licensed to brew Trappist Beer. Westvleteren is one of them, and the only trappist brewery that you actually need to visit to get their beer. Other than actually visiting the abbey itself, the only way to get the beer is to either to trade or buy some from someone who has visited the abbey.
For a very long time, I didn't think I would ever get to try this beer. I heard rumors from the owner of Beverages 4 Less in Santee that he thought he might be getting a few bottles in, but this never seemed to materialize. And at the $60 for a 13oz. bottle he was going to be selling them for if he ever got them in, I wasn't sure that I really wanted the beer that badly. So my quest for the #1 beer in the world was temporarily postponed and I figured that either our paths would cross by chance at some tasting or I would have to actually go to the brewery at some point and pick some up. Either way, it looked like it was going to be a while before I got to try the best beer in the world.
Enter technology. A few weeks ago I went on ebay, just to see what bottles of Westvleteren 12 were going for. Some were as high as $60, but I saw one posting with a "Buy it Now" option for $30 with a $10 shipping cost. $40 for a 13 oz bottle of beer. Steep, but not as bad as I had expected. I decided to see if anyone else wanted to try this beer as badly as I did. Sure enough, Beau came through and agreed to split the cost with me. About a week (and one bottle that got lost in the San Diego Fed-Ex warehouse) later, a small, brown unlabeled bottle with a cap that read "Westvleteren 12" showed up at my door. Three days later, we opened it and gave it a taste.
Westvleteren 12 pours a very murky brown color (almost like Coca Cola) with a very thin, tan head. You can see tons of yeast swirling in the bottom of the glass right after the pour. So far, this wasn't looking that great. Then I gave the beer a smell. Really, there's no way to put into words how amazing this beer smells. There are so many different smells in here that I don't think I came close to picking out half of them. What I could pick out were some aromas of brandy-soaked raisins, a bit of chocolate, fruitcake, tons of dark fruit, molasses, some hints of overripe banana and a bit of something I picked out to be jackfruit. The intensity of the aroma was like nothing I've ever experienced before in a beer and it alone made the price worth it. It was incredible.
The taste was every bit as good as the smell. I got a lot of raisin and brown sugar along with some brandy upfront. There's a lot of sweetness off the bat with just a touch of booze that warms up your mouth and feels smooth and velvety going down. Plum and raisins come in on the finish with just a touch of heat from the alcohol. There was a subtle spiciness to the beer as well with just a hint of white pepper in the background. The melding of all the flavors was flawless and what truly makes this a special beer.
Major thanks to Beau for thinking (as I did) that $20 for three shots worth of beer wasn't crazy. We were definitely right.
Final Grade: A+
Top 100 Beers Tasted: 23
(Edmund Fitzgerald came back! We are now at the highest number yet-23. Also, credit goes to Beau for the great picture of the Westvleteren 12 bottle cap. My camera obviously didn't grasp the magnitude of the situation and refused to take a clear picture during the tasting.)