Now this is something special. A very rare bottle of TRAPPIST WESTVELETEREN 12 – VINATGE 2013 to BrewView! Our humblest thanks go out to Stu Stuart of Belgian Beer Me! Beer Tours of Belgium for sending us this revered beer to reacquaint ourselves with again for the second time within a year!
NOTE: Much of this BrewView has the same content as our BrewView on TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN 8 from last year. A few minor details (dates and product) have changed.
BrewViewing TRAPPIST WESVLETEREN 12 was a very welcome reunion of sorts. My friend Doug got married to his fiancée Kim in the Spring of 1999. Fortunately for them, they traveled throughout most of Europe for their honeymoon.
One of the countries Doug and Kim did visit was Belgium. I had advised him if he was going there, to attempt to bring back some Trappist Westvleteren beer. 18 years ago, bringing beer back through US customs was not as stringent as it is today.
He did have success bringing back a six pack of Trappist Westvleteren 12 (in the older, green six-pack container) purchased at the retail shop at IN DE VREDE café (we’ll mention them later in this BrewView.) I remember the beer being truly sublime- simply Heaven in a glass! Doug did mention that the people of Belgium were very friendly and hospitable, which made their stay very enjoyable.
When I first joined RateBeer.com in 2006, the Trappist Westvleteren 12 beer was the first that I rated, going back on my memory from 7 years prior:
From that great moment in 1999, I would not experience the pleasure of drinking another Trappist Westvleteren beer for another 17 years.
In late October 2016, my business communication with Stu Stuart of Belgian Beer Me! Beer Tours was one that resulted in several excellent beers from Belgium sent to our office. This time, he blessed us with all 3 Trappist Westvleteren beers:
I enjoyed the “8” right away, as I had already written a BrewView on it in April 2016. The blond I had enjoyed in February 2017 (sorry, no BrewView was written for it). The first bottle of “12” he sent me in early 2016 was part of the QUATTRO QUAD BrewView done in October 2016. This version of the “12” was very special indeed. I saw that it had a “best by” bottle stamp date of March 19, 2016 (read the details on it in the BEER STYLE AND COMMERICAL DESCRIPTION section of this BrewView).
We decided to wait to BrewView it until it turned 4 years old. The brewery states that all their beers will reach their full flavor potential when allowed to age at least 3 years in the bottle. So since this bottle is now 4 years, any further aging beyond the 3-year mark simply allows the beer to develop even more complexity…
ABOUT SINT-SIXTUSABDIJ WESTVLETEREN
In the winter of 1814, Victoor Jan-Baptist (married to the widow of J.F. Lebbe / Poperinge) removed himself to the forests of Sint-Sixtus to settle for rest of his life as a hermit. Only a few hundred meters from his new surroundings, were two monastic communities already established centuries earlier: From 1260 to 1355 the so-called ‘sisters of the home of Saint Sixtus’ and from 1615 to 1784 a community of the Birgittijnerorde monks.
When the Prior of the newly founded monastery of Catsberg with a few of his monks in the summer of 1831 establishes himself in the hermitage, a new Cistercian monastery is born. The early years of this cisterciënzerstichting (1831 – 1836) were difficult. Yet there was a steady growth of the community. There were 23 members in 1835 and 52 in 1875.
Twice, the community of monks was sent to create new monasteries and to increase their presence. In July 1850, monks from the abbey came to the village of Forges to found another monastery (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourmont / Chimay). With no real “modern” equipment available to perform this monumental task of clearing the undeveloped land and perform major landscaping, the brothers of St. Sixtus endured a hard road. However, since a monk does all of his work for the Glory of GOD, I believe this is what spoke to their spirit, and helped them complete the task- (Philippians 4:13).
After the French Revolution in 1803, a group of 20 Cistercian monks from La Trappe sent by Father Augustine de Lastrange, wanted to escape European persecution and hostility in the hopes of establishing a Trappist monastery in America. For eleven years these Trappists struggled financially to settle, and eventually returned to France after Napoloeon’s defeat. By GOD’s divine intervention, one monk, Father Vincent de Paul merle (1768-1853) stayed behind to in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1815. In 1825, he founded the abbey of Petit Clairvaux.
Up until 1857, the abbey struggled to expand its member base due to the fact that the overall challenges of life at that time in America paired with the stringent Trappist way of life were not especially appealing to members of secular society. The fathers of Petit Clairvaux appealed to the abbeys in France for support to build their base, but were unsuccessful.
In 1857, the Sint Sixtus abbey responded to the appeal of Father Xavier Kaiser (1785-1862). The next 5 years saw the abbey of Sint Sixtus sending a total of 18 monks to help with the struggling Petit Clairvaux monastery. The Flemish monks helped with the development of the land, and to assist with the overall needs. In this period of time, the Westvleteren monks helped brew the first batches of beer there. In the years 1858-1860 helped to breathe new life to Petit Clarvaux, now known as Trappist Spencer in Spencer, Massachusetts.
THE WORLD WAR YEARS
During the World Wars, the abbey housed in (and around the abbey) hundreds of refugees and almost 40,000 allied soldiers.
The Second World War turned out for the abbey, an economically and politically precarious time. There was a lot of human suffering as a result from various battles that the soldiers endured, and the abbey had to deal with.
The period after the Second World War was very decisive for the community. The former Abbot Dom Gerardus Deleye (abbot from 1941 to 1968) made the fundamental decision in 1945 to reduce the growing brewery to smaller proportions. In 1946, they decided to license out the brewing duties to Brouwerij Sint Bernardus for commercial sales of the monastery’s beers. (You can hear my conversation with Marco Passarella (Sales Manager of Brouwerij Sint Bernardus) about this here.)
CURRENT BREWING EFFORTS
In 1989, the licensing agreement with Sint Bernardus came to an end when Sint Sixtus installed a new, state-of-the-art brewing system. In terms of brewing capacity, the abbey limits itself to only 6,000 hectoliters, making it one of the smallest of all the Trappist breweries, in terms of total output. Recently, the abbey received a major face lift with new renovations that were desperately needed. (You can view more about that in the video below.) In 2012, the Westvleteren beers were available in the USA, Canadian, and Belgian markets for an extremely brief period in order to help fund the renovation project. Word got out about the select retail outlets that were going to carry the coveted Trappist Westvleteren 12 degustation box (6 bottles with two glasses). We tried ourselves to get our hands on one, but it was too late. The December 12, 2012 release date sold out all stock in a matter of minutes!
IMPORTANT NOTE: There are only 2 OFFICIAL locations to purchase the Sint-Sixtus beers…
1. Through special arrangements directly with the abbey (click here for details in Dutch)
2. From the retail shop “in the shadow of the abbey” at IN DE VREDE café just down the road from the abbey.
They are not available through any retail outlet in the United States.
THE DEBATE: WHICH IS THE MORE AUTHENTIC VERSION OF THE FAMOUS “12”? – AS ARTICULATED BY MARCO PASSARELLA OF BROUWERIJ SINT BERNARDUS
When I interviewed Sales Manager of the Brouwerij Sint Bernardus in October 2015, Marco Passarella brought up a very interesting fact: When the Sint Sixtus abbey came to them to commercialize their beers in 1946, Marco mentioned that the brothers brought their brewing know-how, but more importantly, the recipes.
From 1946 – 1989, Brouwerij Sint Bernardus brewed the beers for the abbey. When the licensing agreement came to an end, the brewery was able to retain the original recipes handed down to them by the monks.
Here’s where the debate comes in: Marco stated that Brouwerij Sint Bernardus (and it’s world class Abt 12 beer) is still brewed according to the original Sint Sixtus recipe- including the original yeast strain. The only difference is the water source that St. Bernardus uses versus the source that Sint Sixtus currently uses. So, is the beer brewed at Sint Sixtus (by the monks themselves at the monastery) the genuine article, even though they do not use their own yeast (they use yeast from Westmalle) or is the Sint Bernardus Abt 12 that is brewed to the original recipe, the real deal? As with all Belgian beers, the one ingredient that separates them from all other beers in the world are the unique yeast strains. Our opinion is that HUGE respect must be given to Sint Sixtus for providing the original recipe, but respect must also be given to Sint Bernardus for continuing to brew the masterpiece to this day. We’ll leave it for you to decide… (Listen to our interview with Marco Passarella here.)
WHERE TO ENJOY THE TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN BEERS
“In the Shadow of the Sint Sixtus Abbey”, (just about 200 feet down the road) is In de Vrede (In the Peace). The visitor’s center hosts the only café on the globe where you can taste the “Best Beer in the World”: they are the only ones authorized to serve the famous Westvleteren Trappist beer. The beer is brewed with the utmost care, using 100% natural ingredients, in the local Sint-Sixtus abbey. You’re more than welcome here to savor this exclusive, divine drink, either inside their modern, spacious cafeteria, or while enjoying the sun on their green terrace.
Combine the beer with a tasty sandwich, a delicious fresh, farm-made ice cream, Mazarine cake (with cinnamon, butter and ice cream) or a piece of hommelpaptaart (hop porridge cake). Or why not try their “Coupe In de Vrede”: delicious ice cream with Westvleteren Trappist beer! If you’re bringing the kids, they’ll surely have fun on their modern and safe outdoor games. And don’t forget to buy some Trappist beer, abbey cheese or pâté, kruydekoecke (gingerbread), hennepot (chicken in gelatine) or one of their many other local specialties (if available), so that you can enjoy the taste of the “Westhoek”, their region, at home too. By the way: if you plan to come in group, they recommend making an appointment and reserving some space. That’s the best way to guarantee that you’ll find a cozy corner to indulge in their beer and that they’ll be fully at your service. (Source: In de Vrede)
BEER STYLE AND COMMERICAL DESCRIPTION
Style category: Belgian Trappist Quadrupel
(Alc. 10.2% Vol.) The Westvleteren 12, with a distinctive yellow cap, has been awarded the title of “Best Beer in the World” several times. The beer, also called Flemish Bourgogne, has a dark amber colour and a stable, very lacy white head. Carrying a massive nose of raisin-sweet, nutty blends, the Westvleteren 8 has a very full, creamy aroma and a rich, caramel-like and malt-flavoured palate, thus making it the ideal nightcap. The aftertaste is bitter and lingers.
Bottle date: March 19, 2013
Best by date: March 19, 2016
OUR BREWVIEW ON TRAPPIST WESTVLETEREN 12 – vintage 2013
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
Poured into the signature Trappist Westvleteren chalice and served at 60°F. We truly wanted to take our time with this one, and experience the flavor profile changes as the beer warmed up. The slightly off-white colored head poured a 2.5-finger height, cotton ball density with large and small bubbles (we did ensure that it was a “Beer Clean” glass).
SRM value is between a 20-24 (Brown to Ruby Brown.) We took great care not to pour the yeast sediment in the initial pour; we did so later. 7-8 minutes later, as the head collapsed, it left behind dense, even sheeted lacework on the sides of the glass, around 1mm thick. The meniscus is medium to slow rising, the rim color variation is in between an SRM value of 9-12 (Pale to medium amber.) Post yeast dump: There was about an 1/8 ounce of liquid with the yeast sediment left; and of course, the beer became super murky after adding it into the beer in the glass.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
Pre yeast dump: Wow, wow wow… classic Trappist Westvleteren aromas of rum, raisins, treacle toffee, super deep candy caramel, marzipan, figs, dates. There are also notes of milk chocolate, Heavy bready, Trappist yeast aromas round it out nicely. The spicy phenols in this version versus the younger version used in the QUATTRO-QUAD BrewView are softer. Post yeast dump: Obviously the bready yeast character increases, it almost creates a root beer aroma.
Pre yeast dump: Sensory overload… The flavors carry over from the aromas / bouquet: rich in the bitter chocolate, (cacaõ) deep candy caramel, raisins, figs, dates. As the beer warmed up, it started to develop smooth, marzipan flavors. The spicy taste phenols have softened in this version as well. Post yeast dump: As you know, we like our beers with the yeast in it, and this was no exception! The spicy phenols increase slightly, the treacle toffee flavors intensify a bit more.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Pre yeast dump: Full-bodied, it leaves behind a rich, treacle toffee finish that lingers for a while. It coats the entire mouth with its richness and creaminess. Post yeast dump: The spicy phenol finish increases slightly.
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS:
While you can pair a wide variety of food dishes with this beer, we will suggest dishes off the menu from In de Vrede, and a few of our own! (NOTE: The suggestions will be the same as for the “8”).
Trappist , washed rind cheeses. Port salut, high quality Blue chesse, Stilton, Roquefort, Gouda. A well portioned Charcuterie platter would do nicely. Westvleteren pate from In de Vrede.
Moules-frites / Mosselen-friet, Waterzooi, Carbonade flamande. Dishes from In de Vrede: Smoked ham sandwich, Sandwich with abbey pâté, Sandwich with Bolle Beef (corned beef), Croque Monsieur (Grilled ham and cheese sandwich) Croque Monsieur “In de Vrede” (grilled ham, monk’s cheese and tomato).
Excellent choices from In de Vrede: Hommelpaptaart with ice cream and whipped cream, Mazarinetaart with ice cream (spongy cake sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with a hot sauce of butter and ice cream). Plus their artisan ices would be excellent: Coupe In De Vrede with Trappist beer, Coupe Vanille, Coupe Dame NoireCoupe Brésilienne, Coupe Banana Split.
Grand beer! We most certainly understand why Belgian beer enthusiasts seek out the Trappist Westvleteren beers. They are products of the utmost quality and character. Is it the best beer in the world? For us, that is a matter of debate. We were very purposeful to taste the beer before and after the yeast dump…
Being able to taste the highly coveted and rare Trappist Westvleteren 12 for the second time within a year was again, a very cherished moment. It is a uber world class beer for sure, and a must have. The 4-year version had taste complexities that developed greatly, and surpassed the younger version we had last year.
And as mentioned before, there are only 2 OFFICIAL locations to get the Trappist Westvleteren beers, but you must make the trip to Belgium to get them… what else can we say? Seek this one out for sure… It is suggested that you buy as many as you can, and cellar them up to 3-5 years.
Our sincerest thanks go out to:
Stu Stuart from Belgian Beer Me! Beer Tours for your generosity and kindness in sending us this great surprise, and allowing us to get reacquainted with Trappist Westvleteren beers multiple times this past year and a half! If you haven’t been on one of Stu’s great beer tours, you owe it to yourself to go!
Christopher Barnes of I Think About Beer.com for providing research material from your website!
Sint-Sixtusabdij Westvleteren for also providing research material for quotes, text, and the video used in this BrewView.
GORDON A. PONCE is the main driving force behind Belgian Beer Journal.com. Since 1983, Gordon recognized that beers from Belgium were special, set apart from the typical craft beer.
He views beers from Belgium (plus Belgian-style and Belgian Inspired beers from other countries) great examples of the brewer’s art. Gordon and his wife live in beautiful Northern California- a great place to enjoy Belgian beer! Ecclesiastes 8:15