Sunday, 19 April 2009

Westvleteren

It was my birthday yesterday and although we didn't do much, as I had a headache for much of the afternoon, I had recovered enough by the evening to start baking bread and breaking out the three bottles of Westvleteren I bought in Brussels a few weeks ago.

Before I start, I should note that the hype around these beers put me against them somewhat. I always reckoned the rarity of them alone would make the general community pump them beyond the actual flavour, but I was prepared to open my mind and let them wash over me while waiting on my Bauernbrot to rise.

First up, the Westvleteren Blonde, weighing in at 5.5%, the baby so to speak. A honey-gold colour with a large billowy head that just would not disappear as it was constantly fed from below by a stream of tiny bubbles; I thought I was going to need a spoon to break through it. It has an aroma of fresh, sweet yeast, clean, floral hops -- just like sticking your nose into a bag of the things -- and hints of mandarin orange. At first taste, the hops seemed to dominate, again like the raw product with a pleasant floral hit. But an orange pith flavour is present that builds up in intensity. The finish is a long lasting hop spiciness with an orange pith-like bitterness. An enjoyable beer, but not one I would reach for first given a choice. Well, it depends on the choices available I guess!

The Westvleteren 8 gushed on me when opened, really lifting chunks of yeast from the sediment into suspension. Not to worry. Yeast doesn't bother me, but it did kind of soak a table runner. The aroma is port-like with doses of chocolate, figs and dark fruitcake. On first taste, the flavour is remarkable chocolate-like, with a vinous, port-like character bringing up the rear. Across the middle of the tongue a fruitiness lingers, again suggestive of figs, raisins and fruitcake. A slightly roasted, woody note adds to the mix, but it's deep down. At 8%, this goes down pretty easily, probably aided by the low levels of carbonation, although much may have been lost in the initial gush. With a warming character, this was very nice indeed.

And so on to the Westvleteren 12. This bottle had almost 2cm of sediment, and I was dreading opening it in case it gushed like the 8. As it happens, it opened gently and I was able to decant a clear, rich, dark brown ale off the yeast. The head did not last long, unlike the blonde which now strikes me as being one of the most persistent heads I have ever seen. I have to say, I found the aroma wasn't as in your face as the 8, but it did share some similarities in having a fruity figginess, but less of the port-like qualities. What it does have is more carmelised sugar, and this also comes out in the flavour, partnered with oakey, vanilla-like notes and a warming alcohol that makes it a slow-sipping, chill-out beer. Very smooth, with a fruity warmth from the 10.2% that is very comforting. I like this.

Overall, I have to say that although I liked these beers, they weren't the revelation of taste that the hype would lead one to believe. The likes of Cosmos Porter are the ones, that for me at least, really make you stop and go "Wow!". It's the unexpected and the accidents in life that really count, but I'm glad I got to try these. If asked, I'd happily have the 8 and 12 again for the lovely, fruity complexity.

13 comments:

Leigh said...

Still not had westveleteren, and I fear much like yourself, the longer I wait, the longer I succumb to hype (also known as thornbridge jaipur IPAism)...nice review though, as always!!

Adeptus said...

Thanks Leigh. I'm averse to hype of any kind, but that clearly doesn't mean to say I don't get sucked in now and again. After all, I just had to get these once I saw them sitting on a shelf in front of me. :D

I should have posted a picture of the bread for you. :D

Adeptus said...

Oh, and where the hell can I get some Thornbridge Jaipur IPA around here? Gah!!!

Mark said...

Haha, Jaipur is just brilliant. The last two beer festivals I've been to have had them and we;'ve always had to start with them.

Good review of the Westvleterens. I enjoyed them but didn't love them. I will try them again in a year or so because I'm pretty confident they will improve in time. I did really like the simple bready, dried fruit flavours so.

Lost said...

What makes the Westvleteren's so highly hyped? Rare? Made in limited batches? Drunk by the rich & famous?

-Lost

Adeptus said...

A Belgian colleague of mine blames it all on Michael Jackson, The Beer Unter (RIP). But yes, it's made by Abdij St. Sixtus and has the smallest production of the Trappist breweries. They don't sell to the shops; you are supposed to call in advance, give them your car reg. and collect your couple of crates in person. I think all three are rated in the top 100% on Ratebeer, and BeerAdvocate. All of this, and more, combines to make them somewhat of a holy grail for beer geeks :)

The Beer Nut said...

I was rather disappointed with Jaipur the one time I tried it.

Good review of the Westvleterns. I'm going to do a Trappist/Abbey blind tasting some time which will include Westvletern 12.

Adeptus said...

That would be a great test TBN. What would you have alongside it?

The Beer Nut said...

There may have to be some whittling. It started as an experiment designed to find out which I preferred between Westmalle Dubbel (which I believe to be my favourite) and Rochefort 8. Then I thought I may as well throw Rochefort 10 in. Then I got a Westvleteren 12 and reckoned that has to be included. And then I picked up a St Bernardus Abt 12, which is generally regarded as very similar.

Five beers is a lot to open in one sitting. But I think I might need to do them all.

Adeptus said...

At that rate you're going to need an independent observer. Or a helper to pick you up at the end :D

E.S. Delia said...

Happy belated there, Barry. Sounds like a hell of a way to celebrate! I haven't tried any of the Westvleteren line, and am actually afraid to for the reasons you mentioned. My approach will be to try and talk myself out of the hype.

Adeptus said...

And belated thanks, Eric :D

I think I managed to not think about the hype. I reckon TBNs blind tasting idea is the only sure-fire way to get an independent check on whether you really like it or not.

Leigh said...

yeah, the next time you make it , post a piccy!!