Monday, May 28, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Westvleteren 12: Great beer, or the greatest beer?

Last year, if you asked a random sampling of enthusiasts what the best beer in the world was, the vast majority would likely — and without hesitation — answer Westvleteren 12, a Quadrupel-style ale produced by the Trappist monks of the Saint Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren, Belgium. It's also fairly likely that none of the people asked would have ever tried it.

The monks who produce Westvleteren have the most rigid beer distribution model in the world, restricting sales exclusively to the abbey itself and the adjacent, abbey-owned In de Vrede cafe and gift shop. Sales of Westvleteren 12, the brewery's most popular beer, are limited to one case per vehicle; you must call in advance to reserve your case and find out if, and when, it will be available. This is all due to the fact that the Saint Sixtus monks brew only as much beer as they need to sustain their abbey; the brewery produces roughly the same amount of beer it did in 1946.

As a result of this scarcity, Westvleteren 12 has gained a near-mythical reputation. For those of us on the opposite side of the Atlantic, the only option is to either dream of a European vacation or attempt to find a bottle for sale. The latter option involves a gray market created specifically as a result of this one beer's scarcity, a practice that the monks of the Saint Sixtus Abbey vocally oppose.

Of course, the scarcity of this beer would hardly be a story at all if it weren't widely considered the best beer in existence. In 2002, Ratebeer.com gave Westvleteren 12 the title of "Best Beer in the World." Currently, Westvleteren 12 boasts perfect 100 scores on Ratebeer and Beer Advocate, the primary rating sites.

And therein lies the beer connoisseur's conundrum: the world's best beer is also the most difficult one to get your hands on. That is, until the Saint Sixtus Abbey's roof sprung some serious leaks, prompting the monks to export 15,000 six-pack gift boxes of Westvleteren 12 to the U.S. market late last year to generate enough extra profit to repair the abbey. The six-packs consisted of six bottles of Westvleteren 12 and two goblets, encased in an oversized cardboard box designed to look like a stone abbey with windows, and priced at $84.99 retail. These were released in select locations in 22 states, primarily at Total Wine & More stores, on Dec. 12, 2012 — 12/12/12.

Amazingly, I missed this release, only hearing about it the day after it was over. But on Christmas morning, I unwrapped a heavy and awkwardly-sized box gifted to me by my wonderful, beer-loving girlfriend and saw the name — clearly, unmistakably — Westvleteren XII. I was now the proud owner of six bottles of the best beer in the world.

Later that day, my excitement was offset by a sudden fear — what if it was underwhelming? Could it possibly live up to a decade of anticipation? I had placed a bottle in the fridge earlier and it was ready to drink. I set my expectations right where I felt they should be and cracked it open.

The beer poured a deep chestnut brown, with about three-quarter inches of thick, creamy head. As always, I started with the nose, detecting a sweet, raisiny aroma as well as a faint hop bitterness. I took a sip. It was good. Really good. I've heard that Westvleteren 12 was overly sweet, but it struck me as perfectly balanced. The initial alcohol blast — 10.2 percent ABV — was immediately and fully dissipated by a complex palate of moderately sweet, rich fruit and, surprisingly, straw and grass. Earthy, sweet, densely-layered.

Was it the best beer in the world? Perhaps. It's certainly the best Belgian Quad I've ever had, by a fairly wide margin. As many would consider that style to be the apex of craft brewing, it stands to reason that Westvleteren 12 would be an extremely strong contender for the title. Rather than describe it as the best beer, I would call it a perfect beer. It contains absolutely zero flaws and is the finest example of one of the most highly-regarded styles of beer in the world. It stood up to the hype.

Unfortunately, the Saint Sixtus monks have indicated this would be a one-time-only offer. After years of waiting patiently, then finally getting hold of the Holy Grail of beer, it's going to be tough going back. As it stands, I'm already two empty bottles closer to a plane ticket to Belgium.

Comments
Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

SAFETY HARBOR — Denis Phillips cracks a pop-top and pulls a can that looks a lot like him to his lips."It’s got that citrusy feel to it," he says. "Which is a Florida thing. That’s not bad." Indeed, there’s a grapefruit finish to Rule #7 Hurricane Sa...
Published: 05/25/18
Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

It’s where former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams had lunch with current Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.It’s where University of South Florida fans often gathered to watch the program’s biggest road games.It’s where folks showed up in...
Published: 05/24/18
Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Lakeland’s a little out of the way, but I’m always eager to check out the bar scene there when passing through or attending an event. Every place I’ve visited just seems so pleasant.I regret missing the boat on the city’s first brewery, Lakeland Brew...
Published: 05/24/18
tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

The saga of Barley Mow Brewing Company and its eventual offshoot/successor Sea Drift Ales & Lagers is a complicated one. The most interesting part is how the latter came to be as a result of brewery-distributor tensions, in which Barley Mow pulled an...
Published: 05/24/18
Lee Roy Selmon’s original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon’s original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon’s, the restaurant that paid homage to the community icon who rose to fame as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and grew to become a popular civic leader, will shutter the doors of its original location on Tampa’s Boy Scout Boulevard in June.Employ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughter’s Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

OPEN NOW: BAHAMA BUCK’S Feel a shiver? Just in time for Florida’s sultry summer, Bahama Buck’s opened this week in Trinity with an avalanche of sno. The 2,346-square-foot island-inspired shop opened at 8815 Mitchell Blvd. with more...
Published: 05/23/18
Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

ORLANDO — The popular breakfast and brunch chain First Watch will be opening a new restaurant in Orlando that will add cocktails, beer and wine to the menu. The new concept restaurant, set to open on Memorial Day at 1448 N Alafaya Trail, will be 1,00...
Published: 05/23/18
Transform your weeknight cooking with this kitchen tool

Transform your weeknight cooking with this kitchen tool

Once upon a time, way back in the annals of home cooking, there was an era before sheet-pan suppers.In that dark age, even well-equipped kitchens did not have so much as a single professional sheet pan, let alone the two or three deemed indispensable...
Published: 05/23/18
Up your homemade smoothie game with these tips

Up your homemade smoothie game with these tips

You could head to your neighborhood juice shop and order a $7 or $8 smoothie. Blending your own, however, is not only easier on your wallet, but you can customize to your heart’s content and make several batches at a time.Whether you’re making a nutr...
Published: 05/23/18