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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Beer Baron: Westvleteren 12

Merry Christmas! As a Christmas present to me (and to you) my husband has written a guest post about the best beer in the world.  Enjoy!

You might have heard a little bit about Westvleteren 12 in the news lately. The beer, which is often rated as the no. 1 beer in the world and is certainly the hardest beer in the world to find, was sold at the LCBO for the first, and likely last, time.

The reason for its scarcity is that it is a Trappist ale, which means it is brewed by real, honest-to-goodness monks. There are six monasteries in Belgium where they brew beer and the other five operate more like businesses, but not the Westvleteren Brewery. They have no interest at all in commercialism or branding and only ever wanted to brew just enough beer to live a quiet life and give a little to charity.

LCBO Westvleteren Gift Pack
LCBO Westvleteren Gift Pack
However, that was before they needed a new roof on their monastery. In order to afford the repairs, they increased production just for one year, meaning Ontarians had a chance to get their hands on some without travelling to Belgium or begging an independent beer broker.

So, what’s it like?

Westvleteren from Belgium in unlabelled bottle
[Disclaimer no. 1: Beer is like food or wine. Just because I smell or taste or like something, doesn’t mean you will.]
[Disclaimer no. 2: I’ve been saving some Westvleteren 12s from our trip to Belgium in 2009 and also from a beer broker in 2011. Westvleteren 12s are “bottle conditioned”, which is a fancy way of saying there is yeast in the bottle and they can be aged like wine for several years. The one I’m talking about now is from 2011, which means it won’t taste exactly like one you pull from the new gift cases.]

First off, it smells fantastic. I am no super-taster and you won’t see me writing tasting notes for the backs of wine bottles any time soon, but I get a wonderful mix of dark fruits like raisins and figs and ripe plums as well as a little bit of spiciness and fresh bread.

As for the taste, I think it is absolutely apropos that Jen is posting this right around Christmas time. It gives me visions of sugar plums and gingerbread men dancing in my head. I taste the same dark fruits that I smelled but now they are joined by dark malts, molasses and a spiciness that reminds me of cinnamon or cloves.

As for the mouth feel, considering it is a 10.2% ABV beer, it is pretty exceptional. It is much more carbonated and light-feeling than you might imagine and it is not at all syrupy like some other Belgian ales or high-alcohol, viscous stouts. You can taste the alcohol slightly... it is present but by no means overwhelming and actually seems to add to the balance, not detract from the overall enjoyment.

Overall, I can’t think of a better Christmas present for a beer lover – or someone starting to love beer – than a Westvleteren 12. It’s impossible to say it is the best beer in the world, but it is damn close and it’s something you can brag about for two reasons: 1) you’ll be trying something not that many beer drinkers get to try, and 2) you’ll be helping monks build a new roof.

[Tip no. 1: Don’t drink Westvleteren 12 ice cold! It’s not a damn Bud Light and you don’t want to hide the flavours, you want to let them bloom. Either take the bottle out of the fridge and let it warm up slightly before opening it or pour it into your chalice and wrap your hands around it and warm it up that way.]

[Tip no. 2: When you are pouring it and get towards the bottom, give the bottle a nice swirl and then pour the rest in right away. Bottle conditioned beers sometimes get sediment in the bottom and you don’t want to miss out on it. If you see a few darker spots at the top of the head of your beer where the sediment pours out, that is anything but bad, it is delicious.]

[Tip no. 3: Cheers!]

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