The decisions that lead us to determine what things we love in this life are (a lot them anyway) swimming in bias. A book recommended by a good friend, or reliably tasteful media source? Yeah, I’ll buy it because I trust. A new Wilco record that I know I’ll love before it’s even released? My own stupid (but correct!) bias.
But how do you taste and fairly evaluate a beer that many have asserted is the best beer in whole stupid world? How do you tell your brain to not lend any credence to the beer’s assumed greatness simply because of its world-class rep? Conversely, any beer that heralded is definitely not gonna live up to the hype, so how do you not dock points simply because it doesn’t taste otherworldly? What if it just tastes like a good beer?
These are the dilemmas that come with drinking the Trappist Westvleteren 12.
The Westy 12 had all the OG hype that you’d now find swirling around a beer like Pliny the Younger. Similar to that out-of-print record I don’t give a shit about until I learn it’s out-of-print, the Westy 12, a Belgian quad, is not available at your liquor store or mine so that (artificially?) drives the demand. It’s made by Trappist monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in, you guessed it, (West) Vleteren, Belgium. This is not a beer that gets pumped out to anything resembling mass production. They make enough to keep the monastery open and running and that’s it. You have to get it in person, or pay a criminal amount online ($150 + shipping for a 6-pack anyone?) and then hope it all shows up in one piece. You also have to hope what you find online is not fake Westy like reported here or maybe here. It’s less shopping for beer and more like collecting rare stamps.
I didn’t have to drop a bunch of Bitcoin buying bottles on the dark web or take out a second on the house to put a few in the fridge. I got mine from my little brother who was living in Germany while working for the US Air Force. He’d successfully mailed two bottles my way in 2016, and when he and the wife and fam moved home to the US this year, they brought a few more back with them (at about €20 for a 6-pack at the Abbey, btw). Fortunately, a couple of those bottles found their way to my home.
You wanna talk hype? Dig this bottle. Paired with the proper Westy glassware, it looks like something the grail knights from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade should be protecting.
No label. Just a dark, chocolate-colored bottle with “TRAPPISTEN BIER” worked into the neck of the glass.
The cap is gold, features the logo, identifies the beer as 10.2% and lists a stamped-on “best before” date. The Westy I’m about to drink was bottled on 27 Oct, 2016 and is “best before” the same date, 2019. Today will do just fine.
Descriptions of the beer online read like letters to the editor in the back pages of Thanksgiving Food Porn magazine (which probably exists). A sampling:
“Aroma of fresh bread, raisins, hints of clove and allspice.”
“…flavors of brown sugar, dates, figs, caramel, chocolate, and spice.”
“Rich aroma with dark fruit, nutty malts, mild caramel/toffee, light Belgian yeast and a light herbal spice.”
Makes you wanna #GravyBoatAndChill no?
The internet and the hype machine have informed me that this beer is wonderful and I love it. If I’d paid $150 for a 6-pack, I’d likely force my brain to only accept that it was great, maybe for no other reason than to justify the financial drop.
A quick aside – I once had a chance to drink Pliny the Younger. I was in San Diego county and a friend who worked at a brewery told me a place in town had a keg. We called and they confirmed they did have it. $14 for a 6-ounce pour, and there was already a 45-minute line out the door. How do you properly appreciate that? How do you not make up your mind that it’s the best thing ever, or it’s totally overblown?
Back to the present. This Westy poured beautifully and looks like a thing you want to brag to all your friends about (me, right now). Without going full beer-nerd, I fully back the deep fruit notes described by the thanksgiving food porn guys. And while a decent comp, in my opinion, is the St. Bernardus 12, this particular Westy 12 is way boozier. Hype or no, this beer, with all its dark, bursting fruit is phenomenal. A richer, fuller-bodied beer would be hard to find on any continent.
If you’ve got a trip to Belgium coming up, then definitely go to this place (duh). If it tastes this good in my living room, I can only imagine how much better it would be in the monastery with all the vibes set to “Optimal”. If Belgium’s not in the immediate future, but you can find the beer and the price is whatever “fair” is to you, then I still highly recommend it. Otherwise, get that St. Bernardus 12 at the liquor store and enjoy a different delicious beer instead.
One final note – It’s advisable to not search electronic bay dot com for rare and/or out-of print vinyl after drinking rare and/or out-of-print 10% beers. Your Chase card (and maybe your significant other) will likely hate you for it.
I mean, just because no one else has a thing, does it make that thing any better?