Toward the western end of Belgium, in the Flanders region a couple of hours outside of Brussels, is The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren. Inside that abbey there are monks, and those monks make beer. It’s great beer. It’s the most sought-after beer in the world. It’s beer that most beer geeks will never try.
I have had those beers, and I’m here to tell you that yes, they are as good as you’ve heard.
So, here’s the deal. On the first day of my honeymoon in Brussels, my wife and I stopped into De Biertempel, a touristy beer store, to see what they had on hand. I had read on BeerAdvocate that the store was one of the where Westy – as Westvleteren beers are colloquially known – was sold. It doesn’t happen often because the monks limit how much beer people can purchase at the abbey, and because people are forbidden to resell the beer. So I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t find any of the beers the abbey makes – Blond, 8 and 12 – on the shelves.
But later that week, I had a hunch and decided to check the shop out again, just in case. For whatever reason, my hunch was right: A couple of days earlier, the shop had gotten a shipment, and the shelves were stocked. As you can see from this photo, I was in a bit of shock.
I know buying the beer was probably bad karma, but it’s hard to resist. Westy 12 is widely considered to be the best beer in the world, and once I got my hands on a bottle, it was going to be hard to let it go. So, I caved and picked up one of each.
Let’s get to it.
The pour is a brilliantly clear golden yellow. There’s a good bit of sediment floating around, maybe due to me getting too excited with the pour. Two fingers of a creamy, thick head linger on the top. The lacing is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s got some nice alcohol legs.
The nose is pure Belgian. It’s a bit biting and there’s a really good funk to it with that classic horse blanket smell. That’s blended with hints of green grapes and pears to make a really sprightly smelling beer.
There’s a good bite of carbonation on the tip of tongue. It’s very smooth throughout the mouth, but the carbonation pops on the back again. That funky, mellow sourness rises on the back as well. The taste of green grapes are very present. Belgian yeast is very prevalent as well. For a blond, it’s got a good bite to it.
Trappist Westvleteren 8 – Belgian dubbel – 8% ABV
Westy 8 pours a deep, murky amberish brown color. There’s a finger of head that dissipates really quickly, but absolutely gorgeous lacing and alcohol legs.
There’s a big, big caramel nose. It’s very effervescent for a dubbel. There are tons of figs, cinnamon, apples and a bit of spice flooding out of the glass. Great smelling beer and very complex
The beer has a sort of lighter to medium body and huge carbonation throughout. The figs and caramel erupt on the finish. Lots of dates, cinnamon and plum throughout as well. A big sweet malt character to it. Slightly apple tartness, slightly boozy for 8% but insanely well-balanced and drinkable.
Trappist Westvleteren 12 – Belgian quad – 10.2% ABV
And now, the main event. The white whale of white whales. The so-called best beer in the word: Westy 12.
The pour is a deep dank brown color. Very, very murky. Two fingers of a head on top that settles into a really nice film that lingers. Very strong lacing and really nice alcohol legs as well.
There’s definitely a slight booziness on the nose, which is just a classic quad: figs, plums, molasses, caramel and toffee, and a slight nuttiness. But what’s interesting is that one thing doesn’t overpower the other. They’re all there, but one doesn’t overpower the other. They all blend together perfectly.
There a very slight carbonation pinch on the front of the tongue. That follows through the mouth along with a medium body mouthfeel. The end is so, so well-balanced. Everything blends together and works perfectly. Honey, plums, brown sugar, molasses, dates, cinnamon, spice, raisins … they’re all there. The taste is kind of creamy and a bit boozy, but not overpowering. It’s definitely one of the most well-balanced beers I’ve ever had.
So, now that I’ve tried the infamous Westy 12 – twice – the question is, Is it the best beer in the world?
First off, I don’t think that’s for me or anyone else to make. It’s a very subjective question and not one that’s easily answered. What I think is that the lure of Westvleteren beers creates a manufactured importance, and people certainly get caught up in the hype. It’s hard to live up to the expectations you have in your head.
That being said, Westy 12 – as well as Blond and 8 – are truly phenomenal beers. Is Westy 12 the best beer I’ve ever had? No. Is it one of the best beers I’ve ever had? Absolutely. Is it the best quad I’ve ever had? It’s a definite contender. Quads are massive beers as far as taste goes, and to make one that is balanced and extremely drinkable is tough, but these monks know what they’re doing. As for the blond and 8, they’re each some of the best I’ve had for their respective styles.
I think the hype and lure of Westvleteren is a bit too much, as is the hype around many other highly prized beers. But I think they’re definitely an argument to be made that they’re some of the best in the world.
Regardless of what I may think about Westvelteren’s beers, should you ever come across one or all of these, don’t think twice about picking them up.