There is a reason some people do things to the extreme, whether it is for the rush or to say they have done something only very few others have done. The latter was my reason for driving to the Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium. Here is where the holy grail of beers is produced; Westvleteren Trappist. One that is not sold in stores, not served at pubs and definitely not advertised-other than being one of the six Belgian Trappist beers. Additionally one must make an appointment if they want to purchase beer from the Abbey (one made, generally, two-weeks in advance). With this appointment you are allowed two cases of 24 bottles of beer. There are three types brewed by the Cistercian monks here-Blonde, 8 and 12 (both brown beers); which vary in almost every way imaginable. I, however, was without this very important detail and decided to take the long journey on my last day in Belgium. I had heard that it may be possible to purchase a six-pack of the beer without the appointment and was willing to attempt this feat. I also knew that there was a pub/restaurant on the abbey grounds and that no matter what happened I would at last be able to consume the much sought after beer(s). Arriving at 9:45am I had to wait until 10am for the abbey’s pub doors to open. I will not lie, my interest for this journey had little to do with the abbey and the brewers of the beer but for the beer itself. Although, I did find out visitors do not have access to the brewery or abbey either way. I also had a wander and noticed that the abbey must be doing quite well for itself as there was brand new construction occurring everywhere-even what looked like a large, new chapel. The monks here make money for their Abbey not only by brewing amazing beers, but also making cheese and pâté-both of which I purchased.
As for the beers, once gained access to the bar area, where I was the only patron at 10am, I was greeted and immediately ordered the 12 which is deemed a “quadruple”-
…Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol. –BeerAdvocate
Westvleteren 12: 10.2%abv Suggested serving temperature 14C 57F
Poured from a label-less brown bottle-where the only indication of which beer it is, comes from the cap color. It is a dark, rich brown color with a creamy beige head that dissipates to a small lingering foam, creating a small lace on the glass. Aromas of malt, slight hints of caramel and alcohol. Tastes are of malt/roasted barley, caramel-like tones with a dense, tingly carbonation-and again slight tones of alcohol. It also has a dry quality that allows one to taste the sweetness and slight bitterness at the end of each sip. Late into the beer I get earthy tones due to the beer being unfiltered and unpasteurized, as all Trappists are. It is a fine beer for sipping and enjoying slowly, especially with its 10.2%abv.
Westvleteren 8: 8%abv Suggested serving temperature 14C 57F.
When poured it takes two attempts due to a thick dense foam that accumulates very quickly-creating a much thicker lace. It pours even darker than the Westvleteren 12. Aromas of hops are what set this one apart from the 12, it also has a sweeter, sugary smell to it. Initial taste indicates that it is a lighter bodied beer and lighter, airy carbonation. There is a certain creaminess, where this dense carbonation adds a complexity to the beer, blending the flavors and body within the beer more seamlessly. Also a slight, not unpleasant, bitter finish where the 12 had a more earth sourness to it. Comparing these beers is not possible and should not be done. They are different styles achieving different goals. These beers are both wonderful in what they are able to achieve. Being different from one another shows the abilities the brewers have in creating different styles for different purposes. I enjoyed both equally. Whether they are the best beers on this earth, I can not tell you, having only begun my exploration into the world of beer.
So, while I did drive the 500km round-trip route for these two beers there was another stop on this day. I had researched additional brewers in the area and had decided to visit Brasserie Cazeau, a trip I will share with you tomorrow. Thanks for your patience on these erratic posts, but things are changing in the beersofeurope world. We will be going to the US for the next few weeks, exploring and searching for the best micro beers of the Midwest. Today was a good day.