Many people claim St. Bernardus Abt 12 is either an exact clone or just really similar to the Westvleteren 12. Kevin and Henry and I decided to taste both beer back-to-back to see how they compare.
Did you know St. Bernardus used to brew Westvleteren's beers for them up until the 1990s? We give a quick run-down on this, which might explain why people think the two beers are so similar. Here's a link to the Ale Street News article we referenced in the video:
4AROMA 7/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 8/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 17/20
Anyone who is big into the craft beer scene knows Westvleteren 12 - a Trappist beer made by monks in Belgium and sold exclusively at the monastery - is the most sought-after beer. Most of those people have likely heard that St. Bernardus Abt 12 is either a "clone" or a very close replica of the famous "Westy 12." Having drank both beers I can tell you they are definitely different and the authentic Trappist brew is definitely superior. However, Abt 12 is still a very good beer in its own right and a lot easier to come by.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
I poured an 11.2oz bottle into a Trappist chalice. I was amazed this beer produced a huge, fluffy, tan head. It was slow to dissipate and left nice lacing on the glass. The color is that typical Belgian shade that’s not quite brown and not quite maroon, but very hazy.
The aroma is also typical for a Belgian strong dark ale: alcohol, perfume, and dark fruits. Not nearly as aromatic or as inviting as an authentic Trappist, though. In fact, it’s surprisingly mild.
Before I comment on the taste, it should be noted that the bottle of St. Bernardus Abt 12 I drank was fairly fresh and had not been cellared. Beers like this age like wine and it’s almost a bit unfair to drink them young. That being said, there’s still a lot of flavor to experience here and it’s still pleasantly satisfying.
Much like Westy 12, St. Bernie’s is a fairly complex beer. The overall taste is a mélange of dark fruits like plum, apple, cherry and fig. There’s also a noticeable dryness to the finish and in the aftertaste due to the high alcohol content (and the fact my bottle was rather young). The palette opens up a bit as it warms, but only slightly. It’s funny how a beer can have seemingly a variety of flavors, but the actual intensity is a bit muted. It’s like listening to a symphony with the volume turned way down.
Belgian strong dark ales tend to be an enduring experience of drinking due to their unbridled energy in the mouthfeel. Yet, Abt 12 was an amazingly easy beer to drink. I was surprised and delighted by the pillowy softness of the mouthfeel. Beers like this tend to act like Pop Rocks, but this beer slides across the tongue with amazing grace. Surprisingly, it is only a medium-bodied beer and has a lighter mouthfeel than you’d expect.
At 10% ABV, St. Bernie’s should be a beer to handle with caution, but the drinking experience would indicate otherwise. While there is definitely a sharp, dry, alcoholic presence to the taste, this isn’t the kind of beer that must be sipped, nor is it the kind that overwhelms the drinker only halfway through.
St. Bernardus Abt 12 is a beer that has pretty much everything going for it, including a reputation for being so similar to one of the world’s most revered beers. I almost want to give a perfect score, but I can’t due to the absence of a true "wow!" factor. Maybe if I try a vintage version I’ll change my mind.