Friday, February 17, 2006

Tasting notes - St. Bernardus Prior 8 and St. Bernardus Abt 12

There is another. Much like the Leia to Westvletern's Luke, St. Bernardus labors in near obscurity behind the beer world's focus on the yellow cap. But as a close sibling linked by Westmalle genes, its Prior 8 and Abt 12 deserve a spotlight similar to the former, and are certainly a force to be reckoned with on the dark side of winter.
Why yes, Yoshi, I think you're correct: The 8º does appear to be brewed from second runnings from the 12º.
Is it *as* good as the yellow cap? Yes, but since it's just that much harder to get one's hands on the holy grail of illegally imported Trappist ales, it's hard to convince folks that it could be true. I mean, they sell it at Whole Foods, fer cryin' out loud, and it isn't $15/bottle! I suggest that people heed the advice given in the weirdly titled but stunningly revelatory "Brew Like A Monk", wherein Stan Hieronymus warns people to be leery of the implied quality of the six named Trappist monastery breweries in comparison to abbey breweries who don't qualify for the fancy appellation label "Trappist" - much in the way one mustn't avoid California sparkling white wines méthode champonaise simply because they can't be labeled "champagne" (*cough* Navarro brut *cough*). [Sidenote: My thoughts on appellations are too tangential even to include in a blog (!), but I'm not hesitant to admit that I just enjoyed a glass of a "lambic" style barrel-aged, wild-yeast fermented, sour cherry-infused, pale ale that just *happens* to be from Santa Rosa, California, and could easily shame many of its saccharinene-influenced relatives from the true"lambic valley". And I'm eagerly eyeing another one from New York in my fridge. Nuff said.]
Gee, thanks a lot, autofocus.
These are both big beers of the "dried fruit and rum" persuasion, thick with luscious yeast aromas of plum and raisin and spice, best enjoyed somewhat on the warm side (55º at least), and just beg to be enjoyed slowly after dinner on a cold winter's night. One could speculate that like the brewers employ a technique used at Westvletern whereby the two beers are drawn from the same mash in a system similar to parti-gyle brewing. It would make sense, as the two seem quite closely linked in character (probably just one or two grains with sugar added?), yet varying in strength and body.
Perhaps the greatest joy in drinking a glass of the St. Bernardus Abt 12 is in realizing that Westvletern isn't alone. It even makes one believe that with a little homebrewing creativity (not to mention learning how to cook your own brewing sugar), you might actually be able to do something similar yourself. Fantasy, I'm sure. But with the snow level dropping and the winds picking up, it's a tempting fantasy to indulge in.



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