Style: Belgian Quadrupel
Presentation: Special Gift Box
Brewery: Brouwerij Westvleteren
In the world of craft beer many people consider the products from the Abbey of Saint Sixtus as something of a holy grail (no pun intended—okay, maybe just a little!). Most coveted tends to be the Trappist Westvleteren 12, their most complex and highest alcohol beer offered to the public, which falls into the newer style designation of a Belgian Quadrupel.
This is a brewery with a fairly lengthy history, founded inside the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren in 1838, currently located within the Belgian municipality of Vleteren, in Flanders. The Abbey itself was founded a mere 7 years earlier in 1831 by Trappist monks from the Catsberg monastery of France. However the initial role of this brewery was for internal use only, and Trappist Westvleteren beers were only first made available to the general public in 1931, an entire century after the establishment of the Abbey itself. A modern brewing facility was installed in 1990.
What makes this particular Abbey’s ales so rare and coveted is the method required to obtain them. One must call a single telephone line specifically used for beer orders at the Abbey, of which getting through to actually place an order is more difficult than trying to buy tickets to a massively popular music concert these days. If you’re lucky enough to get through and place an order you must register the license plate number of the vehicle you’ll be using to pick up your order. Depending on the beer and availability you are only able to reserve one to three cases, each case containing 24 bottles. Upon this reservation you agree upon a contract NOT to sell any of these purchased beers to any other third party. On top of all that, each separate telephone number and license plate must wait a 60 day time period before they are able to place another order again. All beer pick-ups are done at a special hatch at the entrance of the Abbey, and each purchaser is subject to scrutiny.
For those who happen to be in the neighbourhood and are unable to place a purchase, the three Westvleteren beers—the Blonde, 8 and 12—are available across the street at In de Vrede, a facility open to the public to sample the wares of the Abbey. Depending on availability one can also purchase small mixed 6 packs of the Westvleteren beer, as well as the cheese, pâté, and gingerbread also produced by the 30 or so Cistercian monks inhabiting the Saint Sixtus Abbey.
The reason that the availability of Westvleteren 12 itself is so exclusive is that only 160 000 cases of it are produced on an annual basis. Surplus production of all Westvleteren beers are for the sole purpose of augmenting the operating costs for the Abbey, along with the charitable work the monks provide for the community and their chosen charities. The Abbey’s Abbott Father was once quoted as saying, “We are not brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford to being monks.”
However the monks are currently planning on doing some major upgrades and additions to the Abbey, and are offering a once in a lifetime global offer. In order to fund this Saint Sixtus is releasing a shipment of 70 000 gift packs which will contain six 330 ml bottles of Westvleteren 12 and two special commemorative glasses. Small allotments of these are slated for Alberta and Sherbrooke Liquor is fortunate enough to be obtaining a fairly large amount of these.
With a deposit of $50 each per gift box, pre-orders are still available either in person at the store. More specific information on ordering can also be found on the store website. The final price is expected to be around $74.99, meaning you will still be required to pay the difference beyond the deposit in order to pick up the product. Westvleteren ages incredibly well, so you can consider cellaring some of the bottles in order to sample later.
I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to sample the Westvleteren 12 (lovingly referred to as Westy 12, also along the lines of brevity), and can confirm that this is a special opportunity worth investing in. In fact it’s the only technically legal method of obtaining this beer outside of Belgium and not lying to monks.
To prepare you for what to expect I’ll walk you in advance through the process of sampling this remarkable ale. Of course you’ll want to sample it out of one of the special glasses that will come along with the gift pack, however if you manage to obtain a bottle of Westy 12 through other means, some type of glass goblet or chalice is highly recommended to serve it in. However this is one of those rare beers where you can serve it in a ceramic goblet and not miss out on too much. My personal impression of Westy 12 is that it looks like hell but tastes like heaven. Use your own discretion based on that. Anything from cellar to room temperature is desired to sample this Trappist ale, chilled is not recommended given the depth and range of the flavour profile.
If poured into a glass receptacle you’ll be greeted with a nearly opaque deep mahogany brown, very murky and turbid in texture. If you’re lucky enough to obtain a head off the pour expect it to disappear just as quickly as it came, and to be a creamy tan colour in its short existence. If you can’t get beyond the appearance then the aroma will easily convert you. The nose is rich with vinous dark fruit, brown sugar, caramel, plums, spice, some sweet candi sugar, hosted by mild alcohol warmth. There is surely more depth of character to be found in there on your own. The flavour reveals itself as even more complex, starting off with bready, nutty, and toffee malt at first. Expect to follow some sweet sugary alcohol warmth, a candy-like berry sweetness, along with vinous dark fruit. The finish is surprisingly dry, with some sweet yet earthy notes, with a lingering aftertaste akin to Turkish Delight. Another surprisingly trait is a curiously thin mouthfeel that has a thin and somewhat watery texture, with low carbonation, but also has some residual stickiness.
If you’re planning on pairing Westvleteren 12 with food some careful consideration should be taken into account, due to complexity as well as its rarity. When it comes to cheese pairings any combination of Brie, Gouda, Havarti, Swiss, Old Cheddar and Bleu cheese will hold your taste buds in glorious captivity. For heartier combinations pursue a dish based on game meat or fowl, smoked meats, braised beef, or beef brisket. For the vegetarians in the crowd an earthy mushroom risotto will also hold rank. I’ll also take this opportunity to mention that Westvleteren 12 is an entirely vegan beverage, for those who hold this concern. Taking a sweet tooth in mind rich fruit based pastries and chocolate desserts should be desired, as are pieces of high quality dark chocolate.
The next steps in the cooler:
Other Belgian Quadrupels:
St. Bernardus Abt 12
Trappistes Rochefort 10
Ommegang Three Philosophers
La Trappe Quadrupel
De Struise Pannepot
DDC Rigor Mortis ABT
Mikkeller Monk’s Elixir
Other Trappist Beers:
La Trappe Tripel