Westvleteren 12: Worth the Lore, or Just a Bore?
We've all heard the hype. Best beer in the world according to RateBeer for many years running. Tops on BeerAdvocate. Sells for $100/bottle on eBay. In fact, the bottles sold for a ridiculous amount at retail when the monastery released a precious few to the US last year.
Is it really worth all the hype?
I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy this beer on a few
occasions, and there’s no question it’s a great beer. But my opinion is that
it’s not worth the crazy hype that surrounds it, and in fact not even the
finest example of the Trappist style.
But this beer needs another opinion like it need’s an InBev
takeover. So, I set out to gather more empirical evidence to help settle the
I gathered the Denver Tasting Lab crew at my house to taste Westy 12 alongside a few readily available alternatives within the style. Blind. In the appropriate glassware. Here’s what we tasted:
- Westvleteren 12: 18 months old (we felt that this would be a prime age at which to taste this badboy)
- Rochefort 10: 6 months old (younger, but with a little conditioning)
- St. Bernardus Abt 12: 18 months old (St. B’s brewed Westy 12 for many moons before the monastery took back over the brewery a few years back)
- La Trappe Dubbel: Fresh
- Chimay Blue: Fresh
- 2008 Orval
- 2013 Orval
It was a delightful line-up and each of them scored well. It was interesting to see the difference between the Orvals, as the older one had taken on a much fruitier character, whereas the fresh one had more of the barnyard character from the Brett addition. However, we took those out of the final judging as they are so different from the rest.
- La Trappe Dubbel: Yes, La Trappe scored the highest by 3 out of 3 blind BJCP judges. Granted, this one was a dubbel and so was "more friendly" as one described it, but it had an incredible yet subtle complexity that drove us wild
- St Bern Abt 12: again a surprise. Scored in the #2 spot by one judge and in the top 3 of all others. This one showed a delightful clove, fruity aroma with a very smooth, carmelly sweet flavor profile. Warming alcohol actually enhanced the flavor profile quite nicely. I thought I was drinking the Westy here, and it makes sense as St B's brewed Westy 12 for many years, and this recipe remains the same
- Roch 10/Westy 12: tie. These beers are totally different, but both scored high. The Wesy has a big chocolate, grape, and plum profile, yet remains smooth. The Roch was even bigger, with notes of tobacco, vanilla, and plum. One person described the Roch as a great "after dinner drink". The alcohol showed through on the Roch moreso than the Westy
So, in the end the Westy did not win, but it was a damn fine beer. However, rather than going to all the trouble and cost of picking up a bottle, perhaps it makes more sense to sit down with a nice La Trappe, Abt 12 or Rochefort. Or, even better, cellar a few away for a couple years and see how they do. I'd expect the Roch to fare the best in the cellar.