|One of these things is not like the others...|
A few weeks ago there was a multi-birthday party at the home of our friends Brett and Debbie. Since lots of our beer-loving crowd was going to be there, I decided it was time to trot out the bottles of Westvleteren 8 and 12 (one of each) that I brought back from Belgium this summer.
To make it more interesting, I decided to make it a blind tasting, comparing the Westy 12 with St. Bernardus Abt 12. Westvleteren 12 is one of the world's rarest and most sought-after beers: it is only distributed at the Abbey St. Sixtus where it is produced. St. Bernardus is very easy to find: I bought the bottle for this tasting for $4 at the CVS on East Burnside. The two beers are often compared to one another, and have some history in common. I had tried them side-by-side in Amsterdam, but I knew which was which, so I was probably biased in favor of the rarer, more expensive Westvleteren. This blind tasting -- with a lot of experienced palates -- would be a great experiment.
But the best laid schemes go oft awry, and so it was with this tasting. See the bottlecaps in the picture? I popped the blue bottlecap from the bottle of St. Bernardus and poured some samples into small glasses, and then popped the Westvleteren bottle with the blue bottlecap and divided up that beer. Westvleteren bottles don't have paper labels, so the bottlecap was my indication of which style was in each bottle. In my excitement about what a fun tasting this would be I let the color fool me instead of reading the numbers, which means that instead of comparing two similar quadrupels, I had pitted Abt 12 against the dubbel Westy 8 -- also a fine beer, but quite a bit subtler than the 12. I didn't realize the mistake until all the glasses had been passed around and drained, and I went to open the third bottle as Act Two of my show and tell. "OK, now try the Westvleteren eigh... uh oh."
Not too surprisingly, the Abt 12 handily defeated the Westy 8 in the blind tasting, 5 votes to 2 -- hey, a couple of people enjoyed the more subtle pleasures of the dubbel, anyway. Before I knew about the mix-up, I was perplexed by how different the Westvleteren was than my memory of it from a few weeks earlier. And I was even more disappointed because the Abt 12 seemed a little cloying to me that day, not worthy to knock off such a sought-after beer.
We did share the Westy 12 around after that. It was as spectacular as I remembered it being, and in my opinion was better than a 3 year-old Westy 12 that Angelo generously shared with a few people back in August. Cellaring beer is fun, but sometimes your best bet is to drink things fresh. At the party, I think most of us agreed that the Westvleteren 12 was indeed a notch above the St. Bernardus. But by then the damage had been done -- it wasn't a blind tasting anymore.
Almost forgot to mention: it was this tweet by Matt at portlandbeer.org that inspired me to finally write this up!