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St. Bernardus Abt 12

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Abt 12 detailWestvleteren 12 is a Trappist ale that is arguably the rarest and most sought-after beer in the world. A gray market has sprung up among websites and auction sites, but the only proper way to get a taste of this rare Quadrupel is to visit the Abbey at Saint Sixtus — and that’s after calling ahead to reserve the one case allowed per phone number.

Perhaps the closest the rest of us can come to tasting “Westy 12″ is through St. Bernardus Abt 12, readily available at any bottle shop with a good Belgian selection. If you haven’t guessed from the title of today’s post, this is a story about St. Bernardus, not Westvleteren.

The St. Bernardus brewery in Watou was at one time licensed to brew under the Saint Sixtus label, and St. Bernardust Abt 12 is frequently described as a Westvleteren 12 clone.

(Westvleteren 12 used to be known as Westvleteren Abt 12 — I wonder if the popularity of St. Bernardus influenced the name change?)

The label of Abt 12 suggests the drinker serve “this noble and wonderfully balanced brown ale at 52-56 ºF in a goblet glass to best enjoy its delicate bouquet.” I lucked into a Chimay goblet only a few days ago, so I’m christening that glass with St. Bernardus Abt 12 tonight.

“Abt” is short for Abbot, the highest rank available in the Abbey and, if you follow the analogy, therefore the strongest beer in the Abbey.

St. Bernardus Abt 12 poured a seductive ruby brown. The beer fizzed up with an off-white, bubbly head that fizzed away, leaving a slick of skinny foam. The ale is murky, dark, and flaked with tiny yeast suspensions that are just barely visible through brown darkness.

The aroma is very subtle, yet rich with dark fruits and spice. The most unique part of this Quad’s aroma is how subtle and tame the malt comes across while still delivering a rich, raisin and clove scent. Somehow, the peppery clove seems to hide the 10% ABV.

Abt 12 bottle glassAnd it’s that very spicy clove that leads the way with the taste, followed closely by ripe fruit (raisins, plums, banana) and a honey sweetness. There’s even some bubblegum, most easily recognized if you suck in air while your mouth is full of beer. The malty sweetness is clear and present throughout, but it seems restrained by a tight leash.

St. Bernardus Abt 12 is creamy and smooth, with a strong alcohol that mostly lurks at the edges but sometimes seems to stomp and scream. The 10% ABV comes through most clearly though the peppery, fiery aftertaste that warms the tongue, throat, and belly.

While certainly tasty, I’m not experiencing the Nirvana of taste sensations that seems to be described by imbibers of Westy 12. In fact, I believe I prefer the richness of Chimay Blue to the subtlety Abt 12. Alas, I suppose I’ll have to track down a bottle of Westvleteren to perform a true comparison.

Anyone willing to send me a bottle? :-)

Have you had St. Bernardus Abt 12? What about Westy 12? Share your thoughts and advice via the comments below.

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You make a good point, In my opinion I would go with the Chimay.


St Bernardus ABT 12 is LEAPS AND BOUNDS ahead of Chimay Blue, I mean it’s not even a contest. I can’t believe what I’m reading it’s like I’m being stabbed in my eyes with a dagger.

Unbelievable, people’s lack of exquisite taste even among so-called connissuers.


I have no tried the Chimay myself as well, but I will say that St. Bernardus Abt 12 was as a good friend put it “a meal in your mouth.” It was rich with taste and fulfilling beyond any beer that my palette had tried before. Thanks for your entry on the beer and cheers to further adventures.

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