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Review: Westvleteren 12

Posted by Steve Greenlee  June 29, 2012 08:56 AM

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westy tasting 003.jpgIt's the holy grail of the beer world: Westvleteren 12, the legendary "greatest beer on Earth." It's the hardest beer to obtain and the one most in demand by the geekiest of beer geeks (a subset to which I belong). The beers made by the monks at the Abbey of Saint-Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium, are the only Trappist ales not legally available in the United States. The only way to get the Westvleteren beers -- there are three varieties -- is to make an appointment at the abbey, pull your car up at the appropriate time, and purchase your crate of beer. The abbey is the only place where the beer is sold on the up and up. People who buy the beer there are supposedly warned not to resell it, particularly in the United States. Still, plenty of people do just that, at exorbitant prices. A single bottle of Westvleteren 12 -- a strong dark ale known in this country as a quadrupel -- can sell for upwards of $50 on eBay. A more reasonable way to acquire the beer is to trade for it through a site like BeerAdvocate, which has a robust beer-trading community.

This year, for a tiny window, Westvleteren 12 is available in the United States -- specifically in Massachusetts. The monks of Saint-Sixtus have agreed to allow a limited amount of their prized beer to be sold here, once, to raise money for restorations at the abbey. Shelton Brothers, the Belchertown importer, is bringing Westvleteren 12 here, which is good news for Bay State beer aficionados.

Some of the Westvleteren 12 was made available this week. People who went to The Festival, a beer event held last weekend in Worcester, were given the opportunity to buy one gift set containing six 11.2-ounce bottles of Westvleteren 12 and two tasting glasses -- for $84.99 -- at Julio's Liquors in Westborough. There will be one more opportunity to buy the gift sets -- sometime in September. Expect a mad rush at the shops that get them, despite the high price. (The hefty price is intended not only to raise money for the abbey but to discourage gray-market resale.)

So: How's the beer?

My brothers and I cracked open a few bottles of Westvleteren 12 at my kitchen table the other night. (The fancy lettering on these bottles stands in contrast to the ones sold at the abbey, which bear no markings at all, save for the words "Trappist Westvleteren" on the cap.) None of us had tasted Westvleteren 12 before, and all of us were stunned by its complexity and its drinkability. You read that right: drinkability. At 10.2 percent alcohol, Westvleteren 12 is surprisingly easy to put back. Even so, you should take your time with; each sip should be savored, particularly since each sip costs around $1.10.

I can't tell you whether it's the world's greatest beer -- that's a subjective statement anyway -- but I'll say this: It's perfect in every way. (It's also very similar to St. Bernardus Abt 12, an outstanding Belgian quad that sells for much less.) Deep mahogany with a creamy head that lingers, Westvleteren 12 smells of currants, raisins, prunes, and figs, and tastes like a platter of dried, dark fruit. The way the various accents -- molasses, cherry, bread, caramel, smoke -- intermingle and interact is breathtaking. Complex, spicy and smooth, the beer carries a hearty dose of warming alcohol that sticks around long after each sip. Westvleteren 12 tastes like heaven.

Is it worth $85 for a six-pack?

I don't know. How badly do you want what you can't have?

This is my final post. Gary Dzen takes over 99 Bottles from here. Email me at greenlee@globe.com through next week. Follow me on Twitter @SteveGreenlee, which I'll continue to use for years to come. Thanks for a great ride, everyone, and cheers.

Gary Dzen

About 99 Bottles

Gary Dzen writes about craft beer here and in the Globe when he's not covering the Celtics for Boston.com. He can be reached at gdzen@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen.
 

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