See Here’s Johnny Part 1 HERE
I believe beer is an adventure. Beer tells a story. You learn about the history of beers and breweries with all the back stories that can be treated like time capsules in a breweries’ history. Stories like how a brewer’s mistake led to the happy accident at Lagunitas that created Brown Shugga and how being unable to brew Brown Shugga one year led to the creation of Lagunitas Sucks. There are so many stories that make each beer and brewery almost as interesting to research as it is to drink…almost.
When you start researching Belgian beers there is no shortage of history and lore like the story about Westvleteren 12 and St. Bernardus ABT 12. In my last post at www.SommBeer.com I discussed the history of the St. Bernardus/Westvleteren relationship and the claim that ABT 12 is a Westvleteren 12 clone. The Westie 12 is considered by many to be not only the best Belgian beer on earth, but some rank it as the best beer of any style on earth. The Westie is also pretty tough to get. When I hear about a beer that is amazing to drink but impossible to find I put it on a whale watch list and go on a quest to find it. More importantly I could answer another question about how the Westie compares to its brother the ABT 12. This is critical because if the Westie is the best beer on earth, and ABT 12 is a legitimate copy then we have nearly unlimited access to the clone of one of the best beers on earth. Since I am dedicated to the readers of SommBeer I felt that it was my duty to answer this question first hand.
In case you missed the “Here’s Johnny…” post from January, I ordered six Westies from this internet site. To recap, the site was a great place to order Westies from (they carried the entire Westvleteren lineup). Their communication was great and the beers arrived well packed along with two Westvleteren glasses suited for drinking this Belgian quad.
So I set up the side by side test on a Friday night, opening both beers with my SommBeer .50 Caliber Bullets to Bandages opener. I poured both beers at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit into chalice style glasses and the tasting commenced.
Visually, both beers looked a lot alike; hazy dark brown with a tan head around one to two fingers that did not linger and left some lacing behind. Visually they were virtually identical.
Both beers smelled very similar as well. In both beers you pick up quite a bit of raisins, cloves and figs, like you would expect from a Belgian Quad. If you blindfolded me I would not have been able to tell them apart by smell and I would have been really eager to drink both of these beers based on the nose alone.
Taste was another place where these beers are doppelgangers. They both had a bit of booziness and warmth that was quickly hidden by the sweetness of the Belgian yeast, brown sugar, bread, and ripe fruit. Both beers were extremely drinkable. The general strength of these beers is evident (10.2% for the Westie and 10% for the ABT 12) and you can get a little light-headed if you have a couple of these back to back. Again a virtual tie.
Mouthfeel was the only place where the Westie really had an advantage. It was creamy and velvety like no beer I had ever tasted before. The carbonation lasted a bit longer than the ABT 12’s too. The Westie had the best mouthfeel of any beer I have ever drank but it is not enough to justify the premium paid.
So after my buzz faded a bit I decided that it was almost a dead tie between the Westie and the ABT 12 with the Westie being just slightly better overall. These two beers are so close that I would challenge anyone to be able to tell them apart in a blind taste test. My recommendation is that if you were in Belgium and had a chance to grab a Westie you should do it. I do not think it is worth the premium I paid to have them shipped from Belgium considering that the ABT 12 is virtually the same beer to my less discerning palate. The real question is if I regret buying these Westies and the answer is a resounding “no”. I enjoy beer, and I enjoy trying new beers, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. This was certainly not a loss and now I can cross another whale off the list. Sounds like a win to me.