Some grandpas sit their grandkiddies on their lap and tell them stories of heroism. The time they saved their fellow troops while suffering through the perils of war. The time they laced up their cleats with a dislocated shoulder and went on to score the game winning touchdown. Or perhaps the time they left work and sped to Brewster, New York to buy one of the most exclusive beers known to man. That last one doesn’t fit? I guess it doesn’t… but hey, it’s still one hell of a story.
So what is this exclusive beer? It’s called Westvleteren XII and is brewed by monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren in Belgium. Why exclusive? The brew has never has made its way outside of Belgium in its 174* year history. (*The Abby has been brewing since 1838, but Westvleteren XII has been brewed since 1940). The monks, for the first time, decided to export their wonder drink to foreign markets for one reason and one reason only. Money. Yes, even monks need to make a living. Since these monks take a vow of poverty, they brew just enough beer to make ends meet and keep the Abbey functioning on a day to day basis. However, when it was realized the Saint Sixtus Abbey was in need of a new roof (and there were no cash reserves because of their vow), the monks had to get cash, and get cash quick. Hence, they did what any God loving entrepreneur would do; sell beer. The Abbey released its most famed beer, Westvleteren XII, abroad and only 15,000 six packs made it to the American Market priced at 85 dollars per sixer. A hefty price tag, but at less than 20 dollars per bottle for such an exclusive beer, it seems like those monks are cutting us a break.
When I heard this story on NPR, I immediately searched to see if anywhere in Connecticut was selling it. Nope. However, I don’t work too far from the NY Border and I saw that a specialty grocery store in Brewster was selling Westy XII at 5:00 on 12/12/12. I called them up, they assured me that I’d be able to buy one and the rest is history. As soon as I got home, I eagerly ripped open my brick of six brews and laid them out on my kitchen table as if I was staring at the holy grail. I took it all in, then I went Beer Chatter all over it.
The first thing I noticed was the packaging. The 85 dollars included two pretty puny glasses and one interesting card board box that looked like it was designed in 1992. Even the bottles looked like they took an oath of poverty; cloaked in nothing but Gothic text, a yawn-evoking maroon label, and what looked like some sort of Chasity belt on the neck of the bottle, these brews were shouting thou shall not sin. The bottles couldn’t even afford coming in at a full 12 ounces, skimping out on the final .8 (but to be fair, most Europeans are 11.2 oz’s). However, unlike the advice given to Wilt Chamberlain, it’s about quality, not quantity. This beer (I mean bier), comes in at hedonistic 10.2% ABV and has been heralded as one of the best brews in the world. The coolest part of the bottles is what’s written on the back of them: “Ad aedificandam abbatiam adiuvi,” which translates to, “I helped to build the Abbey.” Awesome. The best charitable contribution I’ve ever made, hands down. I was as excited as Howard Dean in Iowa, circa 2004 and was anxious to run those numbers.
Appearance: Dark amber, no head, white, cloudy lacing barely skims the top before the first sip. Looks very appealing and not like other Belgians you’ve had before. Can’t wait to delve in. (Sorry for the brief description, but I really want to taste this beer!)
Smell: Sweet apples was the first thing that came to my mind when I stuck my schnoz in this glass. I also found some citrus mixed with molasses. Dark fruits also came in with raisins being the main flavor. A mild tobacco note came through at the end and it smells very similar to Rodenbach Grand Cru. Interesting for a Belgian.
Taste: Definitely get the alcohol at first taste and lots of dark fruits all around. Raisins, dates, currants, and figs are all in there. A little tartness, like ripened black cherry, but it’s quite faint. No hops at all in this beer, very faint yeast which is not what I was expecting considering it’s a quad Belgian. The beer morphs from being overpowering with alcohol with the first taste to incredibly smooth and tasty after the first sip. I think dark Belgians are very inviting after first taste, and this proves to be the case with this bier.
Westvleteren really mellows out as you drink and becomes quite sweet when you get to the bottom of the bottle. The finish of this brew is sweet with the dark fruits mentioned before and an alcohol lingering which is so nice on the back of the throat. This is a really complex beer with a lot of layers to it. I can see why people love this so much; the taste is great but I admire it more because of its complexities than anything else. It really transitions as you drink from alcohol to tart dark cherries to a rich dark fruity bread taste. Mouthfeel was wonderful and had perfect carbonation. Those monks really know what they’re doing. It’s incredible that you get that much variety out of a beer that was not brewed with any of those fruits I just mentioned. Hats off (or is it hoods off?) to these monks.
Overall: I give this beer an A. I really didn’t want to do that because the hype around this beer seemed to be way too out of control. With sixers going for 500+ on eBay, I really didn’t think it would warrant such a price tag (and even though it’s an A, still not worth more than 100 bucks, in my opinion). I was extremely cynical before I pried the top off, but I am a believer. The layers and the complexities make this beer one of a kind and the dark, rustic taste of it makes it perfect for a snowed in December night. With this beer being this good and this limited, it makes me wish that their septic system goes soon.