Alright, as I'm sure anyone who follows this blog knows I set out at the beginning of the year to drink 365 new beers (to me) in 2011. As I started closing in and it became apparent that I was going to reach this goal I started thinking about what I should finish with. Naturally I wanted to finish with one of the best beers available so I took a look at BeerAdvocate's top 100 list and #1 is still the Westvleteren 12. Number two, Pliny the Younger, is only available on tap at the Russian River brewpub so I guess that's out. Number three... eh, screw it, I'm going for number 1!
After a quick look at e-bay I saw that prices on the Westvleteren mixed 6-packs were about $120 with free shipping. That looked like a good deal so I pulled the trigger and after the arrived invited some friends over to partake in three of the best beers in the world. Wesvleteren beers come from the Westvleteren Brewery (or Brouweirj Westvleteren) which was founded in 1838 at the St. Sixtus abbey in Belgium. Of course Westvleteren is one of the seven Trappist breweries that exist as non-profits to fund the Abbey and it's philanthropic causes. I know buying them second-hand like this does nothing to help their cause... but still, not much other choice if I want to try this one soon.
So, armed with a set of Trappist glassware thanks to Blake of Brasseurs A La Maison we started out with the Westvleteren Blonde Ale. This one comes in an unmarked bottle (as they all do) with green labeled caps. It's a Belgian Pale Ale, and as you can see on the caps, clocks in at 5.8% abv. (Get ready for some "beer porn" in this post...)
The smell definitely has a little bit of a Belgian characteristic funk to it. Very earthy and grassy with some slight hop tones and spice. The taste has some good citric notes to it that compliment the earthy body very well. Other spices come through in a smaller way as well as a pretty heavy hop bitterness at the end.
A very nice mouthfeel might even be the standout characteristic of this beer. The body and carbonation are perfect for the style and it's a real pleasure to drink. This beer wasn't the best I've ever tried, but we had the 8 and 12 waiting so it's a great first taste of Westvleteren.
Trappist Westvleteren Blonde:
My Rating: A-
Up next, the Westvleteren 8, an 8% abv Belgian Dubbel that I was really excited to try. This is their blue capped beer and I poured my taste into a Rochefort goblet. It's a murky brown color with a finger or so of head that dissipated pretty quickly. The color is exactly what you'd want from the style.
The nose is great, caramel and dark fruits with a sweet inviting tone to them. Very little hops and no alcohol presence at all. The yeast funk present from the blonde ale is still here but the sweeter notes push it to the background.
The taste is a great carry-over from the aroma, rich and sweet with contrarian sour notes that balance perfectly. There is still a noticeable funk from the yeast strains and a slight hop flavor but they are both minimized by the excellent taste up front.
Just like the Blonde, this one is a real treat to drink, the carbonation and body are spot on and the alcohol is barely there. A fantastic dubbel, one of the best I've ever drank. If I lived in Belgium I'd have these in the fridge non-stop.
Trappist Westvleteren 8:
My Rating: A+
Up next, the culmination of the Westvleteren line and of my 365 in 2011 quest... the Westy 12. This one is a Belgian Quad in style, 10.2% alcohol and considered to be the best beer in the world... will it live up to the hype?
It's a cloudy brown color very similar to the 8, with a finger or so of off-white head. The aroma is heavenly, a blend of toffee, dark fruits, rich caramel, spices, a little floral hops, and just a slight tinge of alcohol. It's inviting, warm, and top notch.
The taste is more of the same, rich with flavors, each bursting through but none overpowering. It's like everything you would want in a good quad is there, toffee, dark fruit, floral hops, esters, a slight yeast funk, brewing spices... it's all there but nothing in so much quantity that it takes away from the rest.
A pure joy to drink, there's a reason this beer is considered by many to be the #1 beer in the world. I was worried it wouldn't live up to all the hype, but it absolutely did, and everyone else tasting it felt the same way.
Trappist Westvleteren 12:
My Rating: A+
And with that, 365 beers down. I'm thrilled with the way the Westvleteren beer tasting turned out to end it. I was legitimately concerned that they wouldn't live up to the hype but they absolutely did. I would highly recommend finding some (I know it's not legit, but unless you're going to Belgium sometime soon trading or e-bay is the only way) and sharing with a few friends. You can also check out Jay's post about the Westvleteren beers, complete with video, over at Bite and Booze.