Catching the White Whale – Westvleteren 12

Imagine if the worlds best chocolate was not commercially available. The producers set forth rules that stated that they would only make so much chocolate per month, and that if you wanted a taste, you’d have to come to their facility to pick it up. Oh, and if they ran out? Well, that’d be just a shame for you, but no skin off of the producer’s nose. You should have come in sooner, or at least put your name on an e-mail waiting list.

And if you did get a bar of their chocolate, it would come in a plain, unmarked wrapper, because such activities mean brnding, and quite frankly, they see branding as a waste of time.

Such a chocolate would become an item of myth, one where chocolate fans from around the world would seek out when the moment was right. Those who had a taste would remember the moment for the rest of their life, those who hadn’t would talk about the chocolate that “got away”.

Now replace ‘chocolate’ with ‘beer’ and you’ll have some idea what Westvleteren means to those in the beer community. It is number 1 on the list of most wanted beers for many beer aficionados.

I got to have a bottle of it this past Saturday, and it arrived in front of me only by fortuitous happenstance. Kevin, a friend of Andreas, and quite knowledgeable in the ways of all things Belgian beers, brought some with him when he came to show us about the town.

Westvleteren is another Trappiste beer. But unlike their brethern in other monasteries, these brothers are not concerned with getting their name out there. They make enough to serve their charity, and then they are done. There’s no concern of exporting, no concern with pleasing beer judges, there’s no concern in getting their beer into pubs and markets.

How do I describe the beer? It’s quintessential Belgian Dark, along the lines of another Trappist beer, the Rochefort 10, which I discussed a week or so back. But it’s a little fuller, and a little rounder in taste. It has the complexity of the Rochefort, but with the harshness (such as it is) lessened.

Aroma: Deep and maltey, with a hint of toast and figs.

Appearance: A solid chocolate brown color, but with carbonation that is appararent within the body of the beer. Not as opaque as a porter, but sort of a cross between a porter and a dark lager. Strong tan head, that left a nice Belgian lace as the beer had been consumed.

Taste: Malt, malt, and a bit more malt, whose complexity reminded me of some of iced tea made popular by Americans. A hint of bitterness that complimented rather than overwhelmed, and a very rich finish that lasted for what seemed like hours. Very , very pleasant beer.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied and, dare I say, zippy? The monks recommend serving at room temperature, to which we complied.

Overall: A+ . The perfect example of the Belgian Dark Strong Ale.