Beer geeks of Arkansas rejoice! As you may or may not have heard, Glidewell Distributing has brought even more amazing, spiritual, world-class nectar of the beer gods to our area. ArkansasBeerBlog already has each of these new beers in our possession, and we’ve already tried many of them – it seemed like Christmas on Thanksgiving (could it get any better?!). So get ready – ArkansasBeerBlog will now outline some of the things that make the St. Bernardus beer so special, as well as review their flagship beer Abt. 12.
Isn’t all beer special? Yes, of course, all beer is special in its own little special way. But if we had to come up with an analogy for these new (to Arkansas) beers from Belgium, It may be this: Bud/Miller/Coors light products are the cheap-o foreign-made guitars of walmart, and these Belgian beers are the pre-war Gipson and Martin guitars. You have quality, love, and experience in one hand, and cheap and disposable in the other.
So, what deems St. Bernardus so special? It starts in Belgium – Belgium is truly the land of beer and brewing tradition (we will ignore AB Inbev). There are a few breweries in this world called Trappist Breweries. Well, by few, I mean 7. Only 7 – 6 in Belgium and one in The Netherlands. What’s a Trappist Brewery? It’s an abbey, populated with Trappist monks who brew beer. If you read the link about Trappist monks, you’ll notice how these guys are pretty hardcore – no laughter, strict obedience and astonishing dedication. The Trappist name is very closely guarded and regulated – you can only be a Trappist brewery if your beer is brewed inside the walls of your abbey or under stict control of the Trappist monks, and you must not make profit – rather take that money and continue the abbey and the good deeds of said abbey. So just to reiterate, a Trappist beer is basically a beer made by monks. Real-life monks.
Well, so what? What’s the difference between monks and Germans? Generally speaking (taking into account differences of beer flavor/style preference), the monks make better beer. You can look to reviews, ratings, and talk to any beer geek – a Trappist beer is as close as it gets to art and prayer in a bottle. These guys, who dedicate themselves to God and a life of that of a monk, who carry on traditions that are hundreds of years old, who have been brewing for hundreds of years (Brasserie de Rochefort opened in 1595)……these guys can make good beer. Beer that is widely regarded as the world’s best.
But here’s the strange twist – St. Bernardus is NOT a Trappist brewery! Well – then why the heck did I tell you all that?!? Just consider this: let’s say you have one amazing chef who can make some amazing food. He works for the old hole in the wall “Slick Willie’s.” People stand for hours to get a table. Now let’s say the chef leaves and starts his own place, called “One-eyed Billy Jack’s.” He still cooks the same amazing food, but it’s just a different place.
It’s the same story with St. Bernardus. The brewery was founded by French monks; due to 19th century anti-clericalism they moved the Catsberg Abbey Community to the beautiful town of Watou, West Flanders, Belgium. The “Refuge Notre Dame de St.Bernard” was created and they made cheese (not beer) to support the abbey. From around 1932 to 1992 they brewed and sold Trappist beer. During these brewing years, the Master Brewer of Westvleteren (a Trappist Brewery) came and helped his fellow Trappist monks out, bringing his wisdom, experience, and original beer recipes. This is why many believe that Abt. 12 closely resembles the legendary Westvleteren 12; arguably the best beer in the whole entire world (or so says most of the beer geeks) and guess what – it’s a Trappist Beer!
Here’s where the kink comes into play: in 1992, the Trappist brewers tightened up regulatons, and decided that the guys at St. Bernardus didn’t qualify as Trappist due to the beer production being outside of abbey walls. So there you have it – St. Bernardus is an unofficial Trappist beer. They have the rich history of a Trappist beer, the brotherhood, and the craft. They just got in a big hurry to make lots of their wonderful beer.
Let’s get to the review, shall we? Ladies and gentlemen – let’s welcome the delicious St. Bernardus Abt. 12 to Arkansas!
With much excitement, we poured this beer into a Dogfish Head goblet. It pours a dark, reddish mahogany with a creamy, rocky, thick and sticky masterpiece of a head that only Belgians seem to have mastered.
The nose is subtle yet apparent – it’s complex. You can sense some darker toasty malts, dark dried fruits like plum and raisins, sweet cream, peppery spices, caramel and brown sugar.
The flavor is wonderful and surprisingly drinkable, flavorful and refreshing – it’s like eating a perfect steak when you haven’t had food for days. We think drinking the beer is incredibly fun as well – the flavors change and open as the beer warms, just like a fine wine. Throughout the sitting, we tasted flavors like earthy tobacco, a rye whiskey-like sweetness and spiciness, creamy banana-like sweetness, huge savory dark fruit sweetness that changes after each sip and earthy soft hops to balance the beer perfectly.
All these flavors make a great beer, but the mouth feel is the icing on the cake. It’s not overly carbonated… rather, it just seems perfect. It’s not sticky or thick, yet it’s not oily or slick. It’s just a wonderful, smooth, soft, amazing feel that leaves you thinking this beer is 3.5% ABV, when in fact it’s a huge heavyweight 10%.
One of the things that makes this beer world-class is the execution of all the above – the smell, flavor and mouth feel are all so wonderfully crafted to work in balance with each other making this beer is simply fantastic to enjoy. It’s really astonishing to see that it is 10% ABV! This beer is a true championship football team where the special teams are the best, the offense is perfectly tuned, and the defense is impassable; Abt. 12’s small details and nuances all work together to form a world-class beer.
You can find this amazing beer at the following beer-worshiping places – and please note – if your favorite liquor store does NOT have this beer – ask for it! Do that for yourself, and your beer geek community!
Colonial Wine & Spirits – Little Rock
Capital Hotel – Little Rock
Lake Liquor – Maumelle
The Bottle – Fayetteville
Crush Wine Bar – North Little Rock
Flying Saucer – Little Rock
Springhill Wine & Spirits – North Little Rock
Sullivant’s Liquor – Little Rock
We give this Beer 5 Diamonds