This month, Albertans have a brief opportunity to taste what’s purported to be one of the rarest and most heavenly beers on the planet — Westvleteren 12 Abt. This Belgian-style Abt/Quadrupel is an ultra-strong beer that evokes port or brandy with big fruity notes of plums, figs and Christmas cake.
The monks of St. Sixtus, who brew the beers of Westvleteren, are the smallest of seven Trappist monasteries approved by the Vatican to brew and sell beer for charitable endeavours and abbey upkeep. But, St. Sixtus, unlike the other six Trappist breweries, doesn’t commercialize its sales.
With the exception of this release, the monk’s three brews are usually only sold at their abbey gates, but you can’t just walk up and place an order — you need to make an appointment first. (The beers are also sold in very limited amounts at the In de Vrede Café — the “garden of peace” — directly across from the abbey.) The product comes in unmarked bottles identifiable only by their caps.
Of course, beers this rare inevitably wind up on the black market, and even make their way onto eBay — naturally, the monks disapprove of this.
St. Sixtus, the most reclusive of the Trappists, have sold their beers that way for decades — this current sale of their most famous brew is only happening because their abbey needs structural repairs. The last time St Sixtus had any sort of large-scale commercial sales was in 1992 when their beers were contract brewed at the St. Bernardus brewery a few kilometres away.
The current St. Sixtus special gift pack is only available in select countries, with Canada, fortunately, among them. As you can probably imagine, beer geeks have been clamouring to try this beer and most stores selling it started taking deposits more than six months ago. The gift pack, which retails for around $75, includes six bottles of the Westvleteren 12 as well as two specially commissioned glasses.
Given the rarity of this release, many stores are touting the Westvleteren as “the best beer in the world.” I have to admit that I’m not a believer. In our market there are three other world-class examples of the ABT/Qaudrupel style available year-round. Here is a chance for readers to get all beer geeky and conduct a blind taste test to determine which of the four beers is best. I’ve done this several times and the Westvleteren has never won. Here’s your chance to make the comparison for yourself. The other beers are:
• Rochefort 10 (11.3 per cent): This is from the second most traditional and cloistered of the Trappist breweries and this product has been available in Alberta for close to a decade.
• St. Bernadus Abt 12 (10.5 per cent): These guys have the inside skinny on how to brew the Westvleteren-style — as noted above, they did it for 50 years as contract brewer.
• Dieu du Ciel Rigor Mortis Abt (10.5 per cent): The respected Québécois brewmaster of DDC studied at some of the Trappist breweries to formulate his own homage to the Quadrupel style. [editor’s note: Mike Tessier is the distributor for Dieu du Ciel in Alberta, but the beer really is delicious.]