Drink Westvleteren 12 The Best Beer In The World?

In 2005 the collected reviews 011 Ratebeer.com announced a strong, dark beer simply called “12,” brewed by Trappist monks at The Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren, to be the best beer in the world. Over a decade later and it’s still at the top of the list. But is it really the best?

Westvleteren 12 is a Belgian Quadrupel. It’s a deep, dark brown; it has a remarkable depth of dark fruits, plums, raisins, figs, rum-soaked cherries, sweet tea, almonds, tea bread, doughy cake, and some fragrant spices. The body is soft beneath the initial burst of carbonation and its joy lies in the initial pleasing sweetness and

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the smooth depth of flavor—few other beers can rival it. It’s also a beer made by monks and it’s very rare and hard to get hold of—if you want to buy a case, then you need to call the brewery/monastery during allotted times and then arrive and pick them up during another allotted time frame. This all adds to its allure.

The monastery has a café, In de Vrede, and a store on site that sells six-packs, but you never know what beer it’ll be when you get there. You can also sit and drink the three beers the monastic brewers produce: Blond, 8, and 12. The Blond is one of the best Belgian blonds brewed anywhere (it’s fruity, there’s yeast esters, toasty malt, vanilla, peppery hops; and it’s supremely drinkable— it’s a world-class brew), and the 8 is an excellent Dubbel—richly malty and dense with dried fruits—but the Blond and the 8 both sit in the enormous shadow of the 12.

The café is the place to go for the Westvleteren beers, but it’s a curious experience. These great beers are served unceremoniously, just poured quickly into your glass and placed in front of you. The café is large, bright, and open, whereas I want to drink the beer in small, dark bars. Plus, while you can order some of the world’s most exceptional beers, the food options include some of the world’s most average toasted sandwiches (although you should order the monastery’s cheese when you have the Blond, as that’s a perfect food pairing). On my most recent visit, the 12 was the best I’d ever tasted it, making it worthy of its elevated status. But the Blond was also at that level. You should go to In de Vrede, work your way through the beers, and by your third or fourth or fifth bottle, you’ll be very happy but probably no closer to knowing whether Westvleteren 12 is the world’s best beer…

The Lowdown

WHAT: In de Vrede

HOW: Check the opening times before you go as they vary through the year (www.indevrede.be).

WHERE: Donkerstraat 13, 8640 Vleteren, Belgium

LOCAL TIP: Go East

If you’re in Westvleteren, head east to Oostvleteren and Struise brewery (Kasteelstraat 50,8640 Oostvleteren; www.struise.com). They make a huge mix of beers but are best known for strong, rich Imperial Stouts, like Black Albert, and Pannepot, which is a bit like a Belgian Quadrupel. The brewery Het Oud Schooltje, or “In the Schoolhouse,” opens to the public every Saturday from 2-6pm. Time your visits to East and West Vleteren accordingly.

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