Tasting: Westvleteren 12

Eureka, Ab aedificandam abbatiam adiuvi (I helped to build up an abbey). Today some tasting notes about the Westvleteren 12. I guess I do not have to explain what kind of deal the Westvleteren 12 is, right? If you have no idea what I am talking about, some people say that this beer is the best on the planet. Is the Westvleteren really the best beer in the world? Lets find out.

 

How do I got myself some of these beers? Well, I got the chance to buy an awful looking brick from the brewery a few weeks ago. It comes with six bottles of the Westvleteren 12 and two glasses.

First of all, I am quite disappointed about the visual appearance of the package itself… And there aren’t even the real Westvleteren glasses included! There are two glasses, sort of small goblets, with some imprints: Westvleteren XII and “Ab aedificandam abbatiam adiuvi“. The same is written on the bottles. And on the packages it says: “This unique Trappistbeer, brewed and bottled in the Sint-Sixtusabbey at Westvleteren, is offered to you in this exclusive and limited giftbox. This exceptional set enables you to contribute directly to the extensive renovation of the monastery. Cheers!”. The Westvleteren 12 comes in 330 mL bottles and 10.2 ABV.

All in all, the appearance is very poor and kind of cheap in my opinion. But enough with the evaluation of the package.

Aroma: Sweet, raisin notes, caramel, clove and reminds me a bit of almond paste (marzipan). The aroma is quite nice. But not overwhelming as well.

Appearance: Clear with some particles (yeast in the bottle), brown with a hint of red, light <1 finger tan head, some bubbles visible. Looks like a typical quadrupel.

Flavor: Caramel notes, marzipan again, some dark fruits, molasses, notes of dark sugar. The candy syrup they use is very easy detectable. Some bitterness is detectable as well.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, low- average carbonation, bitter aftertaste, alcohol detectable (warming sensation)

Overall Impression: I have to say, this was one of the most difficult tastings ever. Not because of the complexity of the beer but because of all the expectations I had for this particular brew. And I have to mention something else before getting into the evaluation. According to the cap, the beer is best before the 5th of October in 2014. And I conjecture that the beer I tasted was bottled on the 5th of October in 2011. So the beer was nearly four-month old and therefore pretty fresh. Lets go into the evaluation. Well, the beer has some interesting notes indeed. I can’t remember a beer where I tasted marzipan before. But I am not convinced about this beer. There are even some notes I really do not like in such a beer like the detectable bitterness and the alcohol notes. And I would not even drink a second one of it! Really, it was not that interesting after all. Some of the flavors were not yet fully developed. I would give this beer a rating of about 80/100. I even gave the Abt 12 from the St. Bernardus brewery (some say it is a Westvleteren 12 clone) a rating of 90, and this was a really interesting brew indeed. But I can’t remember how old the Abt 12 was.

Lets summarize, a fresh example of the Westvleteren 12 is not that special in my opinion. And I am actually not that surprised about that. I would have been surprised if the beer would have been more complex after four months. Now, I will store the other bottles and taste it again maybe in a year? Why did I rated the beer with a 80 and not lower you might ask yourself? Well, the beer has a kind of premature complexity. I mean that the flavors are already there for a very special beer but it needs some further time to balance and mature. Is it the best beer on the planet? Maybe not yet…

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5 thoughts on “Tasting: Westvleteren 12

  1. Hey Sam!
    I had an idea recently. I brew a gruit or two every winter for the last few years trying to approach traditional Norwegian beers – dark, smoky (~50% smoked malt), no hops, juniper, heather etc. I absolutely love the tart and herbal result, but from my circle of friends I seem to be the only one who does hahaha. A couple of years ago I had the fortune of tasting a gruit made by Mike (TheMadFermentationist) and in that group it didn’t seem to go down all that well either so me and another guy (who looked like a Viking) had to finish the rest of the 1.5L bottle and it was absolutely amazing. Maybe it’s only the northerners who like beers like that… I don’t know.
    Anyway, I’m planning to brew one this weekend or the one after that and was wondering if you knew anything about traditional old-school Scandinavian beers or perhaps you know someone who does and would be willing to share some advice? I don’t speak any of the Scandinavian languages and brewers who speak English and brew those beers aren’t too eager to share information… So I had to scrape by on the scarce information I could find.
    What do you think?

    • Hi there Dmitri,
      The brew you describe seems to be quite tasty. I have read about gruit before. But I thought that gruit is kind of herb mixture as a “replacement” for hops in the olds days before hops were used. I heard of Shati which is made with juniper (like its done here: http://www.tv.com/web/brewing-tv/watch/brewing-tv-episode-24-sahti-throwdown-1424907/). I haven’t done such a beer before and do not know of anyone who has done something similar to your recipe.

      Actually there is a and were some discussions in a homebrew forum in Germany about gruit based on old books and such. But again, gruit in the sense of a mixture of herbs. I can look for some information in German and French if you like and
      translate them.

      I was very excited after watching the Brewing TV episode about Shati. And I will brew myself a Sahti in the future for sure. The only problem I have right now is to
      get myself some fresh juniper…

      Sorry for not being of any help.

      • That’s alright. Yeah Sahti is Finnish and is closely related to the rest of Scandinavian brews. Gruit is indeed a herm mixture, but beers brewed with them are also called gruits. I may have found someone in Norway willing to share some brewing wisdom… Let’s see how it goes.
        As for juniper, I have maybe 0.5-1 kg of twigs I collected this summer (I stripped them so that there is not much wood and it’s mostly all green) and froze to mash the grains with, as well as juniper berries to throw into the boil.

        • Thats cool. Let me know how your juniper-infused brew turns out. I should take some scissors with me in case I ever walk into a juniper bush…. šŸ™‚

          Its quite confusing about the terminology here… But Sahti is no gruit then since there is no gruit in there, right?

          Cheers

          • Oh man now it’s just getting confusing haha. I don’t think so because as far as I know they just used juniper twigs to filter the mash and that imparted the beer with juniper flavor.

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