Tweet I've already spoken about my philosphy when tasting a new beer. Basically, it's about concentrating only on what I have in the glass, ingoring everything that has been written or said about the beer in question. Of course, it's easier said than done with many beers, and with some, it's downright impossible.
A couple of weeks ago Gunnar sent me from Norway a box with six beers, one of them without label. I recognised the bottle as Westmalle's, but I thought it was a home brew. When I had a better look at the cap I noticed that it was none other than Westvleteren 12, yeah, the same that got stuck with the stupid tag of "The Best Beer in the World".
How was I going to taste something like this? (I'm not going to tell you the story around the brewery, most of you already know it, and those who don't, look it up! The internet is a wonderful tool for that). This beer's got the kind of hype that is impossible to ingore and, whether you want it or not, the expectations are really high. In the end, I decided that I would deal with it as I would with any other Trappist, after all, that's what it is.
Westvleteren 12 pours dark amber, topped by a spongy lightly tanned head. The nose is rather mild, I noticed caramel, dried fruit, fresh rye bread and some sour notes that contrasted with the rest. The sip starts dry, but soon contrasting notes of toffee, coffee, dried fruit appear only to give way once more to the dryness, now with some spice, at the finish. The 10.2%ABV is there, it can be felt, but it's very well integrated and gives character to the beer, just like a well used spice.
Leaving this one aside, isn't Westvleteren 12 the best beer you've ever had? Someone might ask. No, it isn't. It's not even the best Trappist I've ever had (if by best we mean "the one I've liked the most"). I would put it well behind Westmalle Tripple or Orval.
But it can be that the beer didn't travel well! Someone complains. I didn't feel anything "offy", but it's a possiblity. On the other hand, the first Westmalle I drank came from Spain and the most recent was bought at a supermarket in Prague and I still like it better.
But it was missing the suprirse factor! Someone else adds. Truth is that many of the beers that have impressed me the most did so thanks to the element of suprise, I didn't know what to expect from them. That's not the case with Westvleteren 12, but neither it was with Orval and I still like it better.
Westvleteren 12 is a very, very good beer, a great beer if you want. However, would it still be considered as the "best in the world" if it was as easy to get as the rest of the Trappists? I don't think so. I believe that much of its charm resides on the fact that it is relatively hard to come by, and we already know that people tend to overrate this kind of products.
I would still love to drink it again, so if anyone wants to send me a bottle, you'll be more than welcome. It's not going to be my favourite Trappist, but it's pretty much the only one I can't get in Prague.
PD: If the stories are true (and I think they are), I'm sure the good monks at the St. Sixtus Abbey aren't all that happy with that "Best Beer in the World" bollocks. Can it be that my bottle was from a "self sabotaged" batch they brewed so beer geeks with leave them a bit alone?
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