Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Westvleteren 12

"Mike! What an amazing time to start blogging about beer!"

"Yes, especially considering I gave up beer for Lent!"

Yes, I gave up beer for Lent. All drinking as a matter of fact. So I guess the reboot of this blog is partially in response to the fact that I can't drink the substance that is so crucial to its existence.

So this is as good a time as any to take a look back on some of the most memorable beers from the past.

Since it's Lent, and since it is arguably one of the most sought after beers in the World, why don't we start off with the infamous Westvleteren 12 from the Trappist Monastery of St. Sixtus?

Up until 1992, the monastery contracted the commercial production of their beers to an old cheese factory that had formally been a monastery itself (it is now know as the Brouwerij St. Bernardus). That year the six Trappist monasteries in Belgium and the seventh in the Netherlands agreed to control the appellation Trappistenbier, which disallowed secular producers from using the name and benefiting monetarily (the Trappists are not-for-profit). They also agreed that to be called Trappistenbier it must be produced inside the walls of the monastery.

Westvleteren's outside contract was nulled and all beer production was kept within the confines of the monastery. Because it is produced in such small quantities, the beer was only made available for public pickup at the monastery on specific days during the year. This, in turn, makes it somewhat rare considering that all other Trappist monasteries provide their beer for commercial consumption.

This is what made this beer especially attractive to me and to many other beer enthusiasts. So for my 25th birthday I obtained a six-pack of beer from the Trappist Monastery of St. Sixtus in Westvleteren, two of each of the three styles it produces.

After a few days rest in the cellar to allow the yeast to settle, I cracked one open. I even procured a Westvleteren goblet for the occasion.
REVIEW FROM 5/19/2009

11.2 oz. Bottle into Gold-Rimmed Trappist Westvleteren Goblet

Pours a dark mahogany brown with a one finger off white head that settles into a splotchy hazy cap.

Earthy grassy-like qualities in the aroma with a peppery spice kick. Sweet malt aromas and mild dark fruits are released from some swirling.

Flavor is very well balanced between sweet malt, earthy hop bitterness and alcohol are definitely what make this beer one of the best in the world.

Mild sweetness lingering on the palate with hints of hop bitterness as well. Balance is definitely the key to this beers greatness.
This review came somewhat early in my beer evangelism so I'm not certain I fully understood what I was drinking but I knew it was good. I stashed the other bottle away in my cellar for an opportune moment. Here's the review from the very same batch nearly two years later.

REVIEW FROM 2/19/2011

Today I found out I'm having a daughter.

The cap doesn't have a date stamp which leads me to believe it was produced when the Abbey's stamper was broken (sometime in 2008, I believe).

The long rest in the cellar has done this beer very well. Without disturbing the layer of yeast at the bottom of the bottle I managed to pour almost the entirety of the 11.2oz bottle into my Westvleteren goblet producing a clear mahogany red body with a smallish off white head. The carbonation has greatly reduced since last I tasted this vintage.

Deep plummy raisin-like aromas float out of the glass, candi sugar, hint of vanilla, honey. Port-like in the best way.

The flavor is...amazing. Sweet fruitiness comes skimming across the palate as dark fruits, dates, raisins, figs. The figgy quality is full and rich with hints of the candi sugar intermingling. The hops that were present two years ago have mellowed into a fleeting bitterness that simply compliments the entire presentation. Not a lick of alcohol can be found on the palate but the warming in my stomach and the flushness in my cheeks tells me that it's there.

What else can I say? Yes, this is probably the best beer in the world. Fresh it was amazing, but with a couple years on it...CANNOT be beat. What a wonderful day.
A lot can be derived from those two reviews. In one, I was a relative new-comer to the beer scene and the review really reflects that. In the latter, I am about to become a father and I had come to understand beer on a whole different level over the course of two years of "research." The other thing I've come to learn over and over about beer, and I think it is reflected in the second review, is that the enjoyment of beer is entirely relative to the moment in which it is enjoyed and with whom it is enjoyed.

So, as we come to the halfway point in my Lenten fast from beer, I reflect on those times and those people with whom I shared the best moments of my life.

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