8% ABV bottled
Last Friday would prove to be one of the greatest extended drinking days of my life, and when all was said and done, I had polished off eight top 100 beers, five of them in the top 25, and three in the top 10.* The centerpiece of the day being a much-anticipated blind tasting between the two best quadruples in the world: Belgian trappist beers Westvleteren 12 and Rochefort 10. Now these beers are often said to be nearly identical. Rochefort 10 considered a worthy and accessible proxy for the rarer Westvleteren 12. In fact, many people think the 11th rated Rochefort 10 to be every bit as good as the “best beer in the world” Westvleteren 12, save for the fact that it can pretty much be bought in every Whole Foods in America while the Westy is only able for purchase on a few days a year and straight from the source, the Abbey of Saint Sixtus. I’d had one bottle of each beer previously, given each an enthusiastic A+, and though these tastings had been separated by several months, in my mind I believed that Rochefort 10 was the better beer. In my notes I had thought it boozier and with a more pleasant candi taste that the muted Westvleteren 12.
Well…let the blind tasting speak for itself: Westvleteren 12 absolutely humbled Rochefort 10. The Rochefort–how can I put this?–smelled vomitous. I thought I had a dirty glass at first, but no, it was certainly the beer. And The Captain agreed with me. Did we have a bad bottle? No, I just suspect the Westy was so damn good it had rendered the Rochefort 10 worse in our mind. Admittedly, though, the Rochefort’s taste was fine, even good. Boozy, a little uneven, a dry maltiness and minimal candi taste. The superior Westy though was sweet and incredibly smooth, liquid silk, with tastes of dark fruit, Belgian candi, and toffee. And, this time, the semi-mocking quote marks came off and it was truly THE BEST BEER IN THE WORLD. On this day at least. I had never had a better single beer. Which is what makes great beer interesting. A different batch, a little more aging, a little less aging, and even the same beer can be eons different. Perhaps the next time these two venerable quads face each other the results will differ, but on this one day in July, 2009, Manhattan, New York City, Westvleteren 12 was the ungodly victor.
Later, I got my first crack at little brother Westvleteren 8, a dubbel. I can now proudly say I have had 21 of the top 25 BA-ranked beers in the world, only lacking four hard-to-obtain tap-only offerings.** And, just like Westy 12, Westy 8 would quickly replace Westmalle as the best dubbel I’ve now ever had. A creamy yeast and malt combination with some raisins, plums, and just a touch a smooth booziness. Thinner mouthfeel and a tad more carbonation than Westy 12, which is to be expected. Perfectly constructed. Simply sublime.
5.8% ABV bottled
Finally, I got to complete the trappist troika with Westy Blonde, the low-ABV “table beer” for the Saint Sixtus’s monks. This beer is obviously not meant to knock your socks off, and it doesn’t, especially since I don’t believe monks wear socks, but it is still quite solid. Tart, fizzy, almost a little sour like a subtle Brett beer. Just nice craftsmanship. This is a very good session beer and a nice little bottle of “liquid bread.” Don’t trade the farm to acquire some, but an interesting beer curio for sure, and I am happy to have had it.
**For the record: Pliny the Younger, Dark Lord Vanilla Bean, Dark Lord Oaked, and Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. I wonder if I’ll ever locate these bad boys or attend the rare events where they are tapped.