As someone known for being fussy about beer, you could say I know my lagers from my lambics. So it might surprise you that one way to stump me whilst I’m pontificating about the beauty of a well-constructed craft beer would be to ask the question: “So what’s the best beer in the world?”. I would probably have responded in one of the following three ways: (1) Waffle my way out by claiming that there is no such thing because there is no basis for comparison between the diverse and myriad styles of beer; (2) Divert the question by naming my desert-island top 10 beers; and (3) Just look at you really long and hard to try and make you feel very uncomfortable and a bit daft.
Sadly, victims of my beer-proselytising no longer have such an avenue of escape now, for I have tasted heaven (or its closest earthly liquid equivalence), and can now tell you with some measure of experience and authority that the best – no, greatest beer in the world is the Trappist Westvleteren 12, brewed by the monks of the Sint Sixtus abbey in Westvleteren, Belgium.
Congratulations! You are now in possession of an important beer-geek fact. So now when you watch the advertisements of a particular green-bottled Danish pilsner that proclaims itself as “probably the best beer in the world” you can stop squirming in vague discomfort and rest assured in the knowledge that it is factually incorrect and can be written off as pure marketing hyperbole.
Truth be told, the fact that the Westvleteren 12 is the greatest beer in the world is not a new revelation, neither is it entirely shocking or paradigm-shifting. I have broken no new ground in my 2nd-paragraph declaration. This is a superlative and much-celebrated beer. Google “Westvleteren 12 reviews” and you’ll read reviews tantamount to claiming that drinking the Westvleteren 12 is a transcendent experience. Others may appear to describe it as tasting like the sweet essence of rainbow-leprechaun-unicorns mixed with the tears of joy of newborn infants, blessed by the Pope, the Dalai Lama and Chuck Norris, and served in a chalice hand-milled by the heavenly seraphim with glass from Valhalla. Some may even lead you to believe that every time someone takes a sip of the Westvleteren 12, a firework goes off somewhere in the world to celebrate the experience.
What may be paradigm-shiftingly-shocking is that tasting the Westvleteren 12 is nothing like that.
But it should be.
Because rarity, hyperbole and sheer mythical status aside, it’s a pretty damn amazing beer.
I could also give you a detailed account of how the beer tasted. But many more who have gone before me have done so in a manner far more eloquent and descriptive than I could possibly hope to emulate or reproduce (see here & here again). Still, I can’t resist taking a shot at some general tasting notes:
The W12 presents you with deep, spicy, vinuous-plum and musty honey-bread flavours on the nose and palate. Dark chocolate notes ease their way to the fore mid-palate. Gentle but present carbonation lifts the complex flavours and keeps the beer from getting too heavy-going, making every sip enjoyable without giving you palate fatigue.
Another W12 bottle that was opened in the same session (yes, there were TWO bottles present in the same place) was aged for a year in cellar conditions. Nose and palate are largely the same, with the exception of a more present carbonated character which helped make the palate a little livelier and dryer, but still full-flavoured and very enjoyable.
But perhaps what elevates this beer from being merely great to being The Greatest Beer on Earth is not so much its depth and complexity of flavour, nor its lovely ruby-amber hue, or heady perfumy nose.
What makes this beer transcend the realms of mortal beerdom is how every aspect of the beer is truly pleasing, comes together in perfect balance, and – most importantly – exhibits so much restraint and subtlety that at first sip, one is likely to be absolutely and completely underwhelmed. One might even regret spending the ridiculous amount of money / taking the trip to Sint Sixtus / begging your friend to open the bottle he’s been hiding in the cellar for the past year.
Yes, this beer could have socked you on the head with its big alcohol presence and massive vinous character. But then it’d be a Rochefort 10.
Yes, this beer could have held back its honey-sweetness and kept itself from crossing the threshold of flavour. But then it’d be a Chimay Bleue.
Yes, this beer could have been heavily hopped and brewed to 100+ IBUs and an original gravity of 10,000. But then it’d be just an average Stone Brewing Co beer.
No, this beer is a real class act. It doesn’t schmooze and try to win you over from the first sip. It acquaints itself with your palate, and it either tactfully introduces new flavours you’re not familiar with, or re-introduces flavours you thought you already knew very well in a Trappist Quadrupel. Therein lies the beauty of the Westvleteren 12. It’s a beer that respects the drinker, and in so doing demands the utmost respect.
The Westvleteren 12 is a humble beer, brewed by even humbler brewers who would rather easy obscurity than easy fame. It’s a beer that has never sold out, has always stayed true to its roots. Its an honest beer that makes an honest drinker.
And with that, I submit to you dear reader, that this beer is – honestly, and humbly – the greatest beer ever brewed on God’s great earth.
à votre santé!Written by Kang.C Photography by Kang.C
(Jack.D’s note: Thank you ET and KS for sharing your treasure. We enjoyed every drop!)