Year-in-Review: Best beers of 2012

From the December 27, 2012 edition

I drank many new beers this year. By new I don’t necessarily mean beers new to the market, just ones I tried for the first time. I had finally narrowed it down to my five favorite. Then I was awarded the opportunity to try Westvleteren XII, a beer produced by Belgian Trappist monks that’s widely considered the best in the world. I’d never had Westvleteren XII, but the hype around it was impossible to ignore.

Whether or not Westvleteren is the best beer in the world, it’s definitely the best beer I drank this year, so I had to make some last minute changes to this list. There are a few thoughts on the four other beers that make up the list and a full review of the Westvleteren XII.

5. Founders All Day IPA (4.7 ABV)

The most sessionable IPA out there also has a bold flavor profile. I drank the All Day IPA after finishing the much more potent Founders Devil Dancer — an intensely hopped brew with 12 percent ABV. I much preferred the All Day seasonal to the Devil Dancer, one of Founders’ most sought after specialty releases.

4. Stillwater Cellar Door (6.6 ABV)

An excellently unique saison from Stillwater, a recent addition to my favorite breweries. It’s crisp, slightly citrusy and the touch of white sage puts this above other farmhouse ales.

3. Rodenbach Grand Cru (6.0 ABV)

The Grand Cru has so many flavors — sour, sweet, oaky — and textures — fizzing, yet silky — that it seems like something Willy Wonka would’ve created. A complex and truly delicious beer.

2. The Brew Kettle White Rajah (6.8 ABV)

This West Coast IPA made by the outstanding Akron brewery ranks up there with the best IPAs, ever. The hazy, golden brew has the perfect balance of citrus and hops, with a subtle fruity-sweet finish. The best thing to come out of Akron since the Black Keys.

1. Westvleteren XII

About the brewery:

The Westvleteren Brewery is located inside Belgium’s Abbey of Saint Sixtus and operated by Trappist monks. These monks have been brewing since 1838, but only enough to sustain the brewery and abbey. None of the three beers made at the brewery are sold commercially, and the only way to obtain them is to purchase them at the monastery — in Belgium.

The brewery recently decided to release the Westvelteren XII for commercial sale in the United States for the first time ever. Beer geeks have been falling all over themselves trying to obtain one of the 15,000 Westvelteren XII gift packs ($84.99 for six beers, two glasses) available in the States. Although for a limited time, Westvelteren is selling (through a Belgian beer store, Beer Planet) the Ultimate Trappist Collection on their website. It includes two bottles of 18 Trappist beers and one bottle of Westvelteren XII for $139.90.

About the beer:

It’s worth repeating that Westvelteren XII is regarded the best beer in the world for a couple reasons. First off, this sets incredibly high expectations. Also, why is Westvleteren XII considered the best? Is it really that good? Or, does its scarcity have an effect?

So, is this the best beer in the world? Potentially. It’s surely the best beer I’ve had in a long time. The auburn-coffee colored beer pours with a rich — but not huge — creamy off-white head. There’s a crisp effervescence to the first sip. After a while this dies down, but a noticeable ring of foam remains around the outside of the glass.

The flavor is quite amazing; a mixture of chocolaty plum and figs comes through instantly. It lingers as an ever-so-slight hint of spices trickles in. You can taste the 10.2 percent ABV, but it’s not over-powering. The most intoxicating element in drinking a Westvleteren XII is the velvety texture. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

The best example I can give explaining this beer’s excellence isn’t even my opinion. My lovely and beautiful lady is not a craft beer fan. It doesn’t matter what beer — IPAs, sour ales, milk stouts — I convince her to take a sip of, it always results in a scornful look that says, “Why did you make me drink that?” Well, after tasting the Westvleteren XII, she smiled and simply said, “Wow that is really good.”