St Bernardus Abt 12 v Westvleteren 12

What beer-lover isn’t intrigued by the his­to­ry and pro­duc­tion of West­vleteren beers, the12s.jpg most reclu­sive of the Trap­pist pro­duc­ers? The angle that always caught our atten­tion was the sim­i­lar­i­ties (or not) between St Bernar­dus Abt 12 and West­vleteren 12. The St Bernar­dus brew­ery has its ori­gins in a com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion exper­i­ment by the monks at the abbey of St-Six­tus in West­vleteren, where­by they licenced com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion of the abbey’s beers to an enter­pris­ing cheese pro­duc­er. The licence end­ed in 1992, and since then the St Bernar­dus brew­ery has con­tin­ued, remov­ing ref­er­ences to St Six­tus and Trap­pist beers.

There are var­i­ous rumours about the sim­i­lar­i­ty of the recipes; that they’re the same but the yeast and water are dif­fer­ent; that once they were exact­ly the same but now they’re dif­fer­ent for var­i­ous rea­sons etc. We’re not beer his­to­ri­ans, so don’t know what’s true and what isn’t; if you want to read more, an old arti­cle by Stonch with relat­ed com­ments and links is a good place to start.

12s3.jpgWe thought we’d try the two togeth­er and see how sim­i­lar they were. We tried to make the exper­i­ment as fair as pos­si­ble, serv­ing them in iden­ti­cal glass­es at the same tem­per­a­ture etc. How­ev­er, our West­vleteren has been “aging” in our “cel­lar” for about five months where­as the St-Bernar­dus was bought last week.

There’s an obvi­ous dif­fer­ence in that St Bernar­dus is 10% where­as the West­vleteren is 10.2%. Inter­est­ing­ly though, the St Bernar­dus (right on our pho­to) has a stronger body and bet­ter head reten­tion.

As for colour – there is a slight dif­fer­ence, with Westy being more brown and St Bernar­dus being more red-black. But that could be down to the amount of yeast shak­en into both.

There is a stronger aro­ma with the St-Bernar­dus – it smells like a good sher­ry, with lots of fruity flavours. As for the taste – we always strug­gle to describe the flavour of Bel­gian beers, but here goes. We’d describe both as fruity, but West­vleteren had more milk-choco­late flavours, whilst the St-Bernar­dus had more tangy apple over­tones. St-Bernar­dus was both sour­er and more bit­ter (though in a very bal­anced way). As you go down the glass, the St-Bernar­dus gets more tangy, where­as the West­vleteren gets sweet­er.

We con­clud­ed that we would be pret­ty hap­py to be served both; Bai­ley had no pref­er­ence but Boak pre­ferred the St-Bernar­dus. But they’re def­i­nite­ly dif­fer­ent beers with their own iden­ti­ties.

Of course there is a slight pos­si­bil­i­ty we mixed the two up dur­ing the pho­to-shoot…

Notes

The West­vleteren web­site is here and has got to be my favourite beer relat­ed web­site… You should go there to pur­chase your share, but you could also have a look on the “top shelf” of var­i­ous touristy beer bars in Brus­sels.

St Bernar­dus site is here. Their prod­ucts are avail­able in a few more loca­tions, includ­ing Quaffs in Lon­don where we got ours.

5 thoughts on “St Bernardus Abt 12 v Westvleteren 12”

  1. Thanks for sav­ing me the time and mon­ey!

    Seri­ous­ly though, I’ve always found the abt 12 to be a superb Bel­gian, and I like the St. Bernar­dus Christ­mas Ale as well. I’d love to get my hands on a West­vleteren 12, but I have yet to shell out for it, and would like to get an authen­tic expe­ri­ence. Per­haps a trip to Bel­gium is in order…

  2. Bel­gium is always worth the trip!

    You should def­i­nite­ly taste for your­self. I’d hate for our ama­teur attempts to be tak­en as seri­ous crit­i­cism…

  3. I pre­fer the St Bernar­dus accord­ing to my rat­ings, but I’ve not had them blind, side by side. Some­thing I must one day do.

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