The fifth and final beer we are BrewViewing for BREWERY OF THE MONTH – October 2015, is for ST. BERNARDUS ABT 12. The CROWNING GLORY and most famous of all the St. Bernardus beers, it is ranked as one of the best beers in all the world, and it is in our top 10 list. Many people have tried to copy it, but there is only one ABT 12.
BEER STYLE AND COMMERCIAL DESCRIPTION FROM ST. BERNARDUS
Style category: Abbey / Trappist-style Quadrupel
The St.Bernardus Abt 12 is the pride of our stable, the nec plus ultra of our brewery. Abbey ale brewed in the classic ‘Quadrupel’ style of Belgium’s best Abbey Ales. Dark with a full, ivory-colored head. It has a fruity aroma, full of complex flavors and excels because of its long bittersweet finish with a hoppy bite.
Worldwide seen as one of the best beers in the world. It’s a very balanced beer, with a full-bodied taste and a perfect equilibrium between malty, bitter and sweet. One of the original recipes from the days of license-brewing for the Trappist monks of Westvleteren.
2006 World Beer Championships- Gold Medal
OUR BREWVIEW OF BROUWERIJ ST. BERNARDUS ABT 12
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
10% ABV. We poured it at 56°F (verified with a VacuVin snap thermometer on the bottle) in the signature St. Bernardus open-mouthed goblet. We took great care to serve it at the temperature that the brewery specifies that Abt 12 be served at (52° – 56°F) so that the aromatics and flavor complexities could fully express themselves.
It poured a deep mahogany, deep brown color, with an SRM value around a 24-30. It easily poured a voluminous ivory colored / light tan colored, dense, creamy 2.5-finger head with tight bubbles. Rim color variation- slightly lighter than the beer body.
The meniscus is extremely slow rising, as it would be expected for a beer of this gravity. The Brussels lacework the beer leaves behind as the head collapses, is even-sheeted- (we ensured this was a “Beer Clean” glass) it almost resembled what artificial snow looks like when you spray it on your front windows for Christmas. There is a very heavy cloudy haze to the beer, due to the bottle conditioning (second fermentation with yeast in the bottle). Like the Pater 6, and the Prior 8, this particular bottle had a very large deal of yeast in suspension when poured into the glass. There were not visible yeast chunks when the sedimentation was poured into the beer like Pater 6 or Prior 8, the whole body of the beer just turned very murky. As with all the St. Bernardus beers, this particular bottle had been sitting in the MIXED SELECTION box on the shelf for at least a year under good temperature conditions. We did not even take our first sip of this beer until 10 minutes after pouring, in which the head still kept a 1/16″ height.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
We feel that Abt 12 takes the fruitiness and spiciness of Pater 6 and the caramel aromas from Prior 8, balanced with hop bitterness (hops from the brewery). The immediate aromas are deep coconut, deep caramel, deep baker’s chocolate, raisins (think raisin liqueur or Muscat), deep butterscotch (yeast characteristic), there is also a very faint tropical fruit aroma in the background (mango or papaya)- breathe in deep to get that one. Fresh baked bread, heavy in the Trappist yeast (signature St. Bernardus yeast aroma really shines in Abt 12). After 10 minutes, more of the caramel, butterscotch, fresh bready yeast aromas really express themselves, and learns toward a marzipan bouquet. However, we could not hold out much longer, and had to taste this Heavenly nectar…
As much as we have enjoyed this beer of the decades, this part of the experience of this beer NEVER GETS OLD… The temperature we tasted it at was closer to 60°F, still within acceptable parameters. The intensity of the flavors of chocolate, raisins, with a little bit of black pepper mixed in (almost a burnt toast flavor) are amazing. Deep caramel, deep treacle toffee, it almost has a barrel-aged taste to it. Superb.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
One thing we noticed right away- the difference between the Prior 8 and the Abt 12 is the alcoholic / carbonic bite. There is more of a pepperiness / hop bitterness than the Pater 6 or the Prior 8… the spicy phenolics in the Abt 12 are off the chart. The initial sip hits the tip of e tongue, but the alcoholic strength coats the sides and the back of the mouth, however the richness of beer truly fills the entire mouth. Heavy bodied, the finish is rich dark chocolate, speculoos, butterscotch, caramel. For being a beer of this strength, we find it quite easy to drink- who wouldn’t?
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS:
APPETIZERS: A wide variety of rich cheeses would pair well- cheddars, soft ripened, washed rind, blue veined. Bacon wrapped shrimp and steak tartare immediately come to mind.
ENTRÈES: When visiting the cozy are of Watou, t’ Hommelhof has many dishes on their menu. We suggest paring this with rich, savory meats- a great aged Ribeye steak, blackened and served medium rare with a side of fresh horseradish with buttery, creamed sweet potatoes would be excellent. Flemish hare, Goose from Visé (Oie à l’instar de Visé) would be a gastronomic delight.
DESSERTS: Anything chocolate, anything with raisins, anything with butterscotch. Far too many dishes to list here.
We remember our first sip of this beer when it was called St. Sixtus in the late 80’s. Anytime we could get our hands on a prized 11.2 ounce bottle in those days was a cherished event. Sadly, the last time we drank the beer with the St. Sixtus name had to be 1993 or 1994. The brewery’s agreement to license brew for the Westvleteren abbey came to an end in 1992, thus making the final St. Sixtus beers enjoyed a year or so after, very rare. Unfortunately, we did not know that at the time. If there are any unopened St. Sixtus bottles (besides what the St. Bernardus brewery has) around beerdom, guard them with your life!
We had a beer enthusiast post a message to us at our Facebook page: “Westvleteren in disguise…….ssshhhhhhh it’s a secret…..” His comment was not that far off base. For those of you that do not know, the Abt 12 is a close replication of the Westvleteren 12, currently rated as the #2 beer in the world by Rate Beer voters. (For a number of years, it was consistently voted the #1 beer overall). There are some similarities, and some differences.
The main aspect of the beer, (as Sales Manager of the St. Bernardus Brewery Marco Passarella points out) is that the Abt 12 uses the ORIGINAL yeast strain from Westvleteren from the years (1946 -1992) that St. Bernardus license brewed for the monastery. The yeast that Westvleteren uses today is from another Belgian Trappist monastery, Westmalle. The water sources for the two breweries are different. The St. Bernardus brewery obtains its pristine water from it’s own well- water from the days of Joan of Arc. The Westvleteren monastery sources its water from a readily available local source. So, it is easy to enter a vigorous debate as to which is the more authentic tasting beer- is it the one who STILL uses the original yeast, or the one that comes from the abbey itself with a different yeast strain? You decide.
Whatever you may decide, one thing is for certain: ABT 12 is one of the top beers in the world, hands down. It is the beer that brings the St. Bernardus brewery the most financial success. It is enjoyed in over 40 countries worldwide, and has become a household name for beer drinkers. The famous monk on the label has it’s own story, which you can hear about in our interview with Marco Passarella.
We obtained our 11.2 ounce bottle as part of the St. Bernardus Mixed Selection 6-pack, purchased at our local Liquor Barn as well with the 750ML bottle. If, you are going to introduce a friend to the world of Belgian Abbey Quadrupels, our suggestion is to start with the Abt 12. When a beer is called world class, the criteria that follows is not easily obtained. The masterful mixture of art and science in the brewing of beer is one that only a large handful of brewers worldwide achieve. Browuerij St. Bernardus has achieved that status thousands of times over. The Abt 12 is not only a must have, but it is a beer that you MUST drink before you die. Thanks to the wonderful distribution network, you don’t have to travel to a monastery in Belgium and wait several hours in line to get a precious few bottles. It is available far and wide- thank ALMIGHTY GOD for that! Buy as much as you can of this beer- drink some now, and lay some down enjoying one as each year passes. The aging potential of this beer is beyond comprehension. The Abt 12 is truly, “HEAVENLY NECTAR WITHIN REACH.”
2 Corinthians 9:15
St. Bernardus Abt 12 is available in the United States from D&V INTERNATIONAL.