Wednesday, 26 September 2012

[BOTTLE REVIEW] - Westvleteren 12

The best beer in the world?

Obviously a debatable subject, Westvleteren 12 is frequently cited as the best beer in the world. Beer is like any art, whereby it is highly subjective, and therefore almost impossible to state one single entity as the pinnacle. Certainly it would seem a controversial decision to name a 10.2% thick Belgian Trappiste beer like Westvleteren 12 as the best beer in the entire world. For starters, how can you compare beers of completely different styles with any definite accuracy? One man's Mikkeller may be another man's Carling Black Label. If you know you don't like rich Trappiste beers, then you'll know that if you ever get hold of a Westvleteren 12, then what you'll experience may well not be as ground breaking as you think.

The best approach to take, should you find yourself pouring a bottle of 12 into a glass, is that such a reputation cannot come from nowhere. There are plenty of beers in a similar style, so the fact this beer has been earmarked by many for such high praise shows that you shouldn't simply dismiss it as hype. Westvleteren beers are only sold on a very limited scale, directly from the Monastery or from a Cafe opposite the Monastery, near Ypres in Belgium. You have to call ahead to reserve some (you can't just turn up and buy a load), and there is a limited amount of beer available to each customer, who is then in turn barred from any sales for the next 60 days! The Monks who make this beer do this because they only make a limited amount, that gives the Monastery only enough income to break even; they don't want to turn a profit from the beer, but want to give everyone a fair chance of getting hold of their fair share.

I was honoured to receive of a bottle of 12 from a very kind friend in the LAB, who was mad enough to venture to Belgium to get some. The beer pours very dark in colour, with a tinge of a wood brown around the edges. On the nose, you get strong liquorice and whisky-like scents. To taste, the body is thick and malty, with a tangy and sour bitterness that is common in Belgian beers. On the finish, burnt caramel flavours come through. There's little hop character to speak of, but this is in keeping with what you'd expect from a strong Trappiste beer.

Is it the best beer anywhere in the world? Probably not. But this is a remarkable beer none the less. The jostling dominant flavours are incredibly well balanced. There's also very little indication of the beers strength in the taste, other than a slight warming sensation as the beer goes down. These are tell tale signs of a top quality beer, and one that anyone should strive to try at least once in their life (it might be your only chance should one come along). If strong Belgian beers are your tipple, then this could be your number one beer of all time. If however, like many, you find Trappiste beers sometimes inaccessible, then be prepared to take your time and relax into a complex and fascinating beer.