The intriguing history of the St. Bernardus brewery has been explored thoroughly and well enough elsewhere that it bears no exhaustive repeating here. Suffice to say that St. Bernardus made its name in post-War Belgium as the contracted brewer for the Abbey St. Sixtus (better known as Westvleteren) for nearly fifty years. When that arrangement eventually lapsed, the monks at Westvleteren brought their production back in-house and St. Bernardus established its own brand; the recipe, they say, did not change. Thus the brewery itself has been active for many decades but only recently begun to accumulate broader accolades for its work. And although it is a secular endeavor, St. Bernardus still is strongly associated with the Trappist culture: their brewery lies a scant few miles from Westvleteren’s, hard upon the border with France, and a rosy-cheeked monk adorns each of their abbey-style brews.
THE ABT 12 IS St. Bernardus’s ceremonial mace—the central symbol of their aspiration s and bearing the name of a monastery’s highest office: Abbot. Generally regarded as one of the world’s finest beers, it is more subtle than its rare air might suggest and considerably smoother and more finely textured than some others of comparable stature. Despite its higher strength (10%), the Abt is less immediately robust than the 8% Prior, and its alcohol is extremely well masked beneath an unblemished smoothness, crispness, and mineral-focused entry to the palate almost more reminiscent of strong Belgian lagers than Trappist ales. Rather well attenuated and with a very generous, slightly metallic-tasting head of admirable retention. Quite effervescent, some bubbling activity is visible in the deep root brown color. Flavors of toffee, sassafras, cherry, and cola emerge to fill out the body once the phenols make their opening statement. Auxiliary flavors are less heavy on the yeasts overall and led by a modest clove spiciness that lingers on the lips. A little dark chocolate and an overall powerful creaminess keep its mouthfeel rather soft, though. Altogether a series of small movements, each segueing smoothly, if a little unexpectedly, into the next with admirable delicacy. Difficult to recommend any improvements, particularly after a couple years’ meditation in the cellar.
Served: 750 ml best before 13.03.17