Monday, December 2, 2013

Westvleteren 12 (various vintages)

Westvleteren 12 2008If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of Westvleteren 12. It’s often been called “The Greatest Beer in the World” and is on most beer geeks’ “must try before you die” list.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet some fellow beer lovers from Europe via the Internet who wanted to trade Westvleteren 12 (along with the 8 and the Blond) for some American beers. Though it was an expensive trade, I’d say it was well worth it.

I first reviewed this beer back in September of 2010 with two friends. Splitting an 11.2oz 2008 vintage three ways probably wasn’t the best way to experience the beer, but I really wanted them to be able to try it with me since they were (and still are) two of the most hardcore beer enthusiasts I know. I liked it a lot at the time, but it didn’t blow me away or seem to live up the massive hype behind the beer. You can watch our video review here:

 You can read my text review of that beer here:

Only a few months later in January of 2011 I reviewed a fresher vintage that was bottled in September of 2010. My thoughts were pretty much the same as the initial tasting. I thought it was an excellent beer, and I appreciated the complexity of it, but it still didn’t seem like “God’s Gift to Beer” to me.  I didn’t re-write my text review. Here’s that video review:

Fast forward to nearly three years later. I had two bottles sitting in my basement that I had forgotten about. In fact, I’m not even sure where they came from or how old they were. I was pretty certain I had drank, traded, or sold all the bottles I received in 2010. Somewhere along the line I must’ve done another beer trade with one of my European friends, or else the original haul was a lot bigger than I remember. Also, these bottles didn’t have a date stamped on the cap like most do (three years after the bottling date).

Last weekend, I brought the bottles down to Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown and decided to have my friend Scott Veltman, who is a brewer there, review the beer with me. I thought it wold be interesting to get his professional perspective on the beer and have him harvest the yeast. Scott and I are teaming up for The Ruck’s forthcoming winter homebrew competition wherein one of the categories requires a beer made from yeast harvested from a bottle of Trappist beer. The rarer the bottle the more bonus points you receive, with Westvleteren obviously being the highest. I didn’t re-review my text review (though I probably should have). Here’s our video review of that unknown vintage:

Now that I’ve had this beer several times, I find myself enjoying and appreciating it more each time. However, I don’t think it’s “The Greatest Beer in the World” – but then again I don’t get hung up on what are, in my opinion, trivial accolades. If Westy 12 were as readily available as Chimay Blue, Rochefort Trappistes 12, St. Bernardus Abt 12, or any of the well-known Belgian Trappist-style “quadrupel” beers, it would probably have the same reputation as them (though they are all known as being outstanding beers in their own right). I know a lot of beer nerds are willing to go to extreme lengths to try this beer, but I’d say there are plenty of viable substitutes available at your local bottle shop. But if you absolutely must have it, you can probably get through “gray markets” online – just be prepared to pony up a lot of cash for it.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to have this beer, did it live up to your expectations? How difficult was it to acquire? Was it worth the money? Would you do it again? Would you be able to identify it in a blind tasting alongside other Belgian beers of the style?

1 comment:

  1. Have had it on three occasions, the first being on Christmas Eve some years back, the most interesting as part of a blind tasting with many other Belgian Quads (incl. St. Bernardus 12, Pannepot, Chimay Blue & Rochefort 10). I enjoyed it immensely and appreciated why it gets the hype it gets (rarity helps fuel that, of course). . . . As for difficulty in getting it: a friend got it for me as part of a trade or grey market purchase; I haven't bothered to jump through hoops to get it myself, but I would certainly drink it again if someone handed me a bottle. . . . I was able to identify it in the blind tasting, and most of the folks who participated that night chose the Westy 12 as their favorite (I actually preferred the Pannepot). . . . I think every serious beer connoisseur should try it at some point.