Monday, March 11, 2013

Trappist Westvleteren XII

Type: Quadrupel
Origin: Vleteren, Belgium
ABV: 10.2%
Price: ?
NSP: ?

When a buddy calls and invites you over for a tasting of the white whale of beer, is there any other response you can make but "Hell fucking yeah!"?  I don't think so (thanks Virag!).  I'm not sure why I was lucky enough to be selected for such a tasting, but who am I to question?  Gotta bring a gift for the hosts, of course, so I grabbed bottles of Rochefort 10 and St. Bernardus Abt 12 for comparison and a guarantee that we'd be nicely quadded out by the end of the evening.

The bottle nearly exploded, nice save by John getting the neck into a glass before many dollars worth of brew hit the floor.  It produced a nice frothy head that dissipated in just a few seconds.  The nose was all pilsnery funk right up front, which definitely surprised me, backed up by a good punch of yeastiness, and then a lot of alcohol and cola-like aromas.

My glass was really carby;  St. Bernardus was as well, in a champagne-like way, but the Westy was different- it was that tongue-sizzling kind of carbonation that prevents you from tasting anything.  Fortunately, as with the head, the carb settled quite a bit as it sat in the glass.  First up was that unexpected pilsner funk, but like the carb, that dissipated quickly.  And once it did, some absolutely delicious quad flavors came creeping out.  Maple, vanilla, and cola, in particular.  The yeast wasn't super strong flavor-wise, but there was enough there to provide an accent, and a heavy yeastiness might obscure how complex the malt flavors are.  The alcohol rode shotgun through the whole thing and added a nice extra accent layer that helped keep the other flavors clean.  I added a little bit of what I'd usually consider throw from the bottle into my last ~2 oz of beer, just to try and get a bit more yeast flavor- after all, this is Westy trappist yeast we're talking about- and it added an amazing rich breadiness to the party.

I'd say that Westy and St. Bernardus Abt 12 are a pretty fair comparison, in that they seem to approach the quad style similarly, aiming for clean, subtle flavors and a relatively light, drinkable beer.  Rochefort 10 is more in your face (as it probably needs to be with a slightly higher ABV), with potent flavors and less complexity.  Where Westy stands above St. Bernardus, in my opinion, is in its dynamism.  Every sip seems to be different from the previous one as the carb settles and the flavors come out.  The beer evolves through several different stages of funk, maple/cola, and yeastiness as you make your way through the glass, and it keeps you wondering what's next.

Best beer in the world?  I dunno.  I think a lot of the hype can be chalked up to rarity.  And in my personal preference, if all other things were equal I'd probably opt for, say,  a Heady Topper.  But it's damn good, and I wouldn't hesitate to call it the top dog in the short list of quads I've had.  I'm not going to wax poetic about Westy (unlike some of the stupefyingly pretentious BA reviews...MarcWP's review makes me want to drink a bunch of Westy and then puke it up all over him so he can tell me about my "novel of creation"). It's pretty straightforward to me- if you can get your hands on it, give it a whirl because it's not often you get a shot at the white whale.  But don't injure yourself chasing it, and don't let unreasonably high expectations ruin what this beer is in truth- a delicious, clean, complex, drinkable quad that isn't really going to throttle St. Bernardus Abt 12 in straight sets.

P.S.  Turns out that we sampled bottles from two different batches, stamped 16.03.15 and 10.04.15.  We weren't aware of this when we cracked them, and we didn't note which bottle was which.  But suffice it to say that they were different- the one I had was heavily pilsner-funky, while the other one wasn't at all.  Interesting how two batches made a month apart can differ so much- but I guess that's what you get when you make small batches with traditional methods instead of churning out Budweiser.



    Just wanted to put this here for the record. Astonishingly pretentious is too nice.

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  3. Nice review. Given the fact that brewing is in itself an art, praise on the masterpieces of the brewing world are in no way uncalled for. I find it necessary for people to be eloquent reviewing a beer that is "transcending" figuratively speaking. If there is a beer that blows your mind, by all means let it be known. And a smorgasbord of poetic discriptives is not being pretentious in my books. Cheers....

    Mr. Snob