Westvleteren 12 (2013) Review

I’m trying to do more beer reviews so I will start with something extremely special I had a couple days ago.

Westvleteren 12, or Westy 12 as it’s commonly referred to, is a strong dark Trappist beer. Called a “Quad” in the U.S., it’s simply referred to by number in the Monastery.  It’s brewed at the Monastery Sint-Sixtusabdij (Abbey Saint Sixtus) in Westvleteren, Belgium.

Westy 12 is proclaimed by many as one of the best beers in the world. It’s also extremely rare, only able to be purchased at the Monastery itself.  No where else sells it.  I was given a bottle by a very generous friend who ferried it back from Belgium himself.  As with most things proclaimed the “BEST OF” whatever, it’s hard for anything to live up to that hype, so I try to prepare myself to just judge it as is, but of course that’s hard to do.

The “minimum shelf life” date on my bottle was 10-4-16, which I believe would be April 10, 2016 (other dates on the website appear to be Day/Month/Year which is the European standard).  Internet sleuthing tells me Westy 12 is dated with a “Best By” of three years, so this bottle would have been bottled in 2013.

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The beer poured very dark brown, with a thin white head that was very persistent.  The beer lacked the characteristic “Belgian lace”, but as it’s rather thick and boozy it had decent “legs” in the glass.  It shocked me how dark it was (and of course I neglected to take a picture of it) but I’m not sure what I was expecting, having never had this beer, or really even this style of beer before.  Chimay Blue might be the closest I’ve had.

The aroma was strong with dark sugars and caramel and lacking in (my opinion) the traditional Belgian bubblegum esters and clove phenolics, perhaps due the the age? Very subdued aroma.  Very slight bit of oxidation in the aroma as well, but holding up really well for a 3.5 year old bottle.  Due, I’m sure, to the monk’s production and bottling procedures, so very well done.  I did start to pick up some slight clove and vanilla as it warmed, so probably shame on me for serving it too cold.

Now, what the aroma lacks, the flavor more than makes up for.  This is a powerfully flavored beer.  Strong dark sugar flavors mixed with all manner of dark fruit.  Pretty decent alcohol burn which should be expected to 10.2%.  This beer is boozy and you start to feel it pretty quickly.  I’ve had some big beers before but for whatever reason this one hit me hard.

Now, as far as overall impression goes, this is an extremely well made, well packaged, well stored beer.  Without a doubt.  Yet, while I don’t want to say it “didn’t live up to my expectations” since I think that may be too harsh, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  Granted, I have no idea how I would have any idea what to expect, so I’m pretty much stuck in my own catch-22.  Would I recommend it? Sure.. it’s a white whale for many people, the Holy Grail of beer that they search their whole life for.  If you get a chance to try it by all means, do so.  Try to keep the expectations to a minimum, which I believe it where I failed.  It was a magnificent beer, but somehow didn’t fulfill what I was anticipating it to be.  Someday I’d like to try one fresh, but I know how unlikely that is to happen.  Thankfully 4 out of the 6 trappist breweries are available stateside.  Westmalle, Rochefort, Chimay and Orval you can get here.  The other two are Westvleteren and Achel (Which until I saw it on the Sint-Sixtus website I had never heard of).

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