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Vertically Horizontal

jbrus and bierkoning take on the Trappists
Features March 15, 2007      
Written by jbrus


Imagine. Your wildest fantasies. Alyssa Milano in her thong
and negligée… oh, no that’s another one. Let us rephrase. What is your dream
with beer involved? Well, Bierkoning and JBrus followed their dream. Thirty
years of patience and hard and dedicated training. Trying literally thousands
of beers just to develop a palate for this one evening in March 2007. We
traveled half around the world and a multiple of kilometers to obtain those
beers. Dozens of tasting sessions. Coping with the strangest persons and
hazardous situations. But it was worth it!

Ok, you all know this is more or less bullshit but still that
dream came true just the other night. We wanted to do a vertical on some of the
Trappists for a long time, like we did before in 1985 or so and the rumors that
St. Bernardus 12 was the same beer as Westvleteren 12 lead to the need of a
horizontal as well. Combining those in one single session is what we did.

Chimay Blue (2007, 1991, 1977)

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We started with a ‘simple’ beer. We both had it before of course and did it vertical as well. So,
been there done that, didn’t buy the T-shirt. Except for the fact that we had
the ’77 bottle this time, making it 30 years old. And that’s five years more
than the previous record. We both kept the bottles ourselves for all this time.
JBrus the ‘91 bottle and Bierkoning the ‘77 beauty. Amazing that the glassware
survived all those years while being moved from one city to another several
times. But in 1977 Elizabeth II celebrated her Silver Jubilee and her Blue
Blood is still going strong so why not the Chimay Blue?


The fresh Blue is certainly a nice beer with a great balance
but also pretty clean and it’s questionable whether it will survive the test of
time like the ’91 vintage did. Fresh is of course lively with more fresh
flavors like hints of vanilla, licorice, laurel and a soft bitterness. A
bittersweet symphony without too much character. The freshness and the
liveliness is probably why JBrus’s 16 year old daughter Gianna preferred that
one. But Bierkoning and JBrus were amazed by the more powerful and black
chocolate flavors of the ’91. Not overwhelming but the ’91 is #1 of the
Chimays. But we should say something about the 1977 beauty of course. Although
the cap says 8% ABV instead of the 9% on both others it still smelled more
alcoholic and more intense. Less sweet but still chocolate and apple. What a
character after all these years. The conclusion is that fresh commercial Chimay
is beaten by the old monks.


For us it was clear. Chimay Blue is the weaker party in the
horizontal tasting session. Surprisingly enough it aged better than
Westvleteren though. Or is this simply because the vintage Chimays started off
better than nowadays?

Westvleteren 8 (2005, 1995)

Westvleteren 8 isn’t a beer. It doesn’t even have a label on
the bottle, so should be classified as liquid dark farmer’s bread. Searching
wikipedia it seems like 1995 wasn’t a fun year. Wars and genocide went on.
Bombings and earthquakes dominated life for many but the public was occupied by
the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. Did this influence the Bakers of Westvleteren
as well?


Apparently not. The 1995 vintage gained some portish notes in
the aroma but overall it’s amazing how it still stands firm. Fresh and 12 years
old, the malts are overwhelming and solid. Nothing fancy, no strive for stardom
with silly over the top spices, hops or other stuff. If you want to rule, feed
the people bread and games and that’s what Westvleteren is all about. The 1995
vintage might just be a little thinner but that’s it.


The 8 isn’t a quadruple like the 12 and St. Bernardus 12 but
still it can compete with those although it doesn’t quite reach their levels.
But far more than Chimay Blue, which isn’t a quadruple either and doesn’t go
that direction at all.

St. Bernardus Abt 12 (2006, 1989)

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The 1989 date is estimated from the best before date on the
bottle saying ’93. As the 2006 bottle had a BBD of 2010 we assumed 4 years were
used before as well. In 1989 Solidarity was legalized and later that year the
Berlin Wall falls. A great year for Eastern Europe but did this wind of change
reach the tiny town of Watou or is all still the same? Like scientists drilling
holes in the icecaps to figure out what happened over the years, we tried
different vintages of St. Bernardus Abt 12. What immediately strikes you is the
little change on the label. But two interesting things are clear. The new label
doesn’t say ‘Sixtus’ anymore and the ABV changed from 9.5% to 10%. This
corresponds with the fact that in 1992 the license from Westvleteren ended.


We agreed the right term for the 18 years old Abt was ‘oh my
god! ‘. It’s unbelievable how strong, full bodied and flavorful this beer is
after all these years. And the connection between fresh and aged is so clear.
No doubt about it, this is still the same beer as it was before. Strong aroma
and flavors with raisins and vanilla pudding. The ’89 got a little less strong
in the aroma, gained some port and became a little fuller, almost cloying.


Chimay Blue wasn’t in sight when St. Bernardus 12 finished and
Westvleteren 8 couldn’t make it either. But Westvleteren 12 was a nose length
behind or did it win? We couldn’t agree about this one. One thing is for sure.
We’ll shoot and hang out to dry the next person that starts the discussion
whether the Westvleteren 12 is the same beer as the St. Bernardus Abt. Because
they simple aren’t! Not even close!

Westvleteren 12 (2005, 2001)

Sadly enough we didn’t have an older bottle of Westvleteren
12. But these days it’s very hard to get even a fresh one so no tears for us.
The year 2001 was the real beginning of the new Millennium. In Belgium another
Elisabeth was born, the eldest daughter of Prince Philip and therefore second
on the list of succession. Maybe this earthly event inspired the Abt and monks
of The Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren to brew with even more devotion
than before, although their devotion should be restricted to God and Beer.

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The God of Malts is the right title for a fresh Westvleteren
12 but these malts seemingly diminish while the aging process takes place. Only
6 years old but it became way less malty and also the hops aren’t as prominent
as they were in the – more or less – fresh Westvleteren 12. A pity as we had
such high hopes but aging it, made it a downgraded version of the original.


Fresh Westvleteren 12 beats all the others. But as said it
doesn’t age too well. Strangely enough JBrus even preferred the 18 years old
St. Bernardus 12 over a fresh Westvleteren 12.


<table border=1 bordercolor=#000000 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=4>
<td bgcolor=#aaaaaa><font color=#ffffff>Beer</font></td>
<td bgcolor=#aaaaaa><font color=#ffffff>Year</font></td>
<td bgcolor=#aaaaaa><font color=#ffffff>Bierkoning</font></td>
<td bgcolor=#aaaaaa><font color=#ffffff>JBrus</font></td>
<td valign=top rowspan=3>Chimay Blue</td>
<td align=center>3.6</td>
<td align=center>3.7</td>
<td align=center>3.9</td>
<td align=center>3.9</td>
<td align=center>3.8</td>
<td align=center>3.8</td>
<td valign=top rowspan=2>Westvleteren 8</td>
<td align=center>4.1</td>
<td align=center>4.2</td>
<td align=center>4.0</td>
<td align=center>3.9</td>
<td valign=top rowspan=2>St. Bernardus Abt 12</td>
<td align=center>4.1</td>
<td align=center>4.2</td>
<td align=center>4.5</td>
<td align=center>4.5</td>
<td valign=top rowspan=2>Westvleteren 12</td>
<td align=center>4.6</td>
<td align=center>4.4</td>
<td align=center>3.8</td>
<td align=center>4.0</td>

Oh, and just for the fun of it. To make our dream come true we
paid about 20 euros which is just a little more than 26 US dollars. On Alyssa
Milano we’re sure we would have had to spend more! But instead we’ll spend part
of that money to try and find old Koningshoeven, Achel, Orval and Rochefort for
our next vertically horizontal.


Bierkoning and JBrus



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start quote We wanted to do a vertical on some of the Trappists for a long time, like we did before in 1985 or so and the rumors that St. Bernardus 12 was the same beer as Westvleteren 12 end quote