My expectations were very high when I took the unlabelled bottle of Westvleteren 12 in my hand, opened it and started to pour it into the glass. The first difference with St Bernardus Abt; a much thicker, almost sticky head which was obviously going to stay around for a bit.
No great difference between the two as regards colour, but the aroma was far more subdued.; marmitey yeast and bread and a good alcohol ( 10% alc. Vol ) base but little sign of fruit and the rich complexity of the St Bernardus.
I left the glass for a short while to give the contents a real chance to develop; when I started to taste, it became apparent to me that what was probably needed was a few more years in the bottle. This bottle was brought to me fairly fresh (about three weeks ) from its collection at the brewery and I’ve had it on my shelf also for about three weeks. In contrast the St. Bernardus had a best before date on the label for November 2013 so it was at least 3 years old.
In all probabilty a young St Bernardus 12 would have tasted just the same; the depth of flavours was missing; bitterness, phenol, cloves up front but not really harmonising followed by a faint mustiness. The marvellous combination with layers of rich fruit, spice and a warming alcohol that I found in the St B were not apparent.
Obviously there needs to be a rematch before I finally answer the question, “which is the world’s best beer?”. Since the chances of finding a similarly matured bottle at the same price as St. B are vitually equivalent to hell freezing over, I’ll just have to wait three years for the next bottle.
In the meantime I’ll keep on savouring St Bernardus Abt 12 whenever I can so that I can be 100% ready for the next contest.
Happy beer drinking!