Westvleteren XII is one of those craft beer unicorns. You always hear about it, but you’re not so sure it exists. It is the highest rated beer in the world and it was released in the US for the first time on 12/12/12. To celebrate, we had a tasting, and for good measure, adulterated this holy beer in every way possible. More on that later, first a brief rundown:
Westvleteren is the smallest of the Trappist breweries. It is located in the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus. Basically, to fund church operations, monks brew and sell beer. These monks are not craft beer fanatics. They only brew three different beers, and they are only available at the abbey. Purchase amounts are extremely limited, and by reservation only. The bottles do not have labels. They are only differentiated by different colored caps. They only brew just enough that the sales will fund only necessary operations at the abbey. No additional beer is brewed to increase profits or distribution.
Well, as it turns out, the abbey is going through some rough times and needed more funds to repair the abbey. So they brewed more beer and for the first time in its history, distributed their most sought after beer, Westvleteren XII, to the US. This was a one time distribution specifically to fund repairs. I will say though that despite the high purchase price for this beer ($85 a six pack) the brewery chose the price as the amount that would provide just the right amount of money needed to pay for distribution, to fund the repairs, and not a dollar more. Shelton Brothers distributed this beer across the country and they were told that it should be sold for exactly $85. There should be no additional markup whatsoever. Due to the abbey’s requests, Shelton Brothers actually lost money in some states due to shipping costs.
Westvleteren XII is a Belgian dark strong ale, or quad. It is the highest rated beer in the world. Interestingly enough, a recent blind tasting done by Jeff Alworth proved otherwise. The high ratings are most likely due to the rareness, and difficulties in attempting to purchase the beer.
In Saint Sixtus’ past, they licensed Westvleteren XII to be produced by an outside brewery. This agreement ended in 1992, however the outside brewery decided to continue to brew the beer under the name St Bernardus ABT 12. For good measure, we compared both bottles of Westvleteren with St Bernardus.
The verdict? They all tasted a little different from each other, however were all great beers. All of them had similar flavors of dark fruits (plums, raison, and currants). A strong yeasty aroma was present as well, giving it a bready aroma. That being said, we all prefered Westvleteren XII, for only one main factor. Westvleteren had a lighter and drier body making this beer crisper and bit easier to drink. In fact, despite the beer’s 10.2% alcohol content, this beer was actually very refreshing.
So, was it worth the $85 for a six pack of this beer? Yes, definitely. It is a fantastic beer and uniquely tasting, however there are other equally great quads available. But only one of them is Westvleteren. If this beer was as readily available as something like Chimay, then no, the price is not worth it. But ~$14 a bottle for a beer as rare as this, one that I will likely not have the opportunity to purchase again, is a steal.
Now, if you were in possession of one of the rarest and highest rated beers in the world, what would you do? If you are a part of Hooked on Hops, you make beermosas and shandies out of it! Why would we willingly pour orange juice and Sprite into this beer? Because we can, and because it’s funny. Here are our tasting notes:
Beer + Orange Juice = Beermosa. Everyone involved in our tasting found this to be incredible tasting. The rich beer gave the orange juice a malty, breadiness that only emphasized the breakfast like nature of this drink, almost like drinking orange juice with french toast. The main detraction to this cocktail, was that the body was a bit heavy when mixing the beer and the orange juice.
Beer + Sprite = Shandy. We used Mexican Sprite in our shandy, because well, this is Westvleteren we are talking about! Only the best citrus flavored carbonated soda, free of high fructose corn syrup will do! This was actually my favorite of the two cocktails. The added carbonation in the Sprite made the result very light bodied, and much more refreshing than the beermosa. The lemon/lime accented the sweetness of the beer perfectly.
Of course, not everybody enjoys the free spirited living that we partake in. Followers on Twitter responded to the above photos with the following responses:
“Blasphemy! By all that is holy- WHY?!!!!!”
“Pretty sure you’re going to hell for that little experiment.”
“…a travesty no beer should have to endure.”
Judge all you like, but at least give this a try if you get the chance!
Above photos taken by Danny Szeto