Aha, here we go. This is one that everybody knows, and that most people love. It's supposedly the best beer in the world, and with a reputation like that, it surely wouldn't disappoint... would it?
Westvleteren 12 pours a dark murky brown with red highlights in the light, and pitch black in the shade. It's got a thick and creamy off-white head, and it bubbles menacingly from the bottle. Thankfully, no spillages here. Primary aromas of champagne yeast with deep layers of dark fruit, toffee apple and caramel sweetness. Although there was no spillage, opening the bottle was enough to rouse the yeast from the base and initiate a cola like fizz on the top. After a small while, the yeast element dies down, as does the sparkling fizz, and you can enjoy the chocolate malt and caramel notes much better. It's looking pretty good right now...
...and then you put it in your mouth.* It really is gorgeous stuff. Deep earthy malts to the fore, bringing slight funk with the toffee apple, bubblegum and candy sweetness. The finish then is predominantly dark fruits with the usual stuff - raisins, cherries, berries and figs - and a slight spice touch that livens things up a little bit. As time goes on, the chocolate note at the very finish grows more and more powerful. Delicious. The complexity is great, and it's all carried on a creamy, velvety, thick full body that slightly degrades as time goes on. Takes nothing from the beer though.
The combination of the taste and mouthfeel left my mouth tingling after every sip, and with that gorgeous aroma that kept me busy for the first 5 minutes of the tasting, it's an intensely satisfying beer all-round.
Now then, I suppose I can't neglect to address the question everybody will ask about Westvleteren 12: Is this the best beer in the world?
No. Probably not, at any rate. It's been one of the best beers I've had, yes, and one of my top five favourites, yes, but any one of those other four beers could be better in my eyes. And that's not to mention the staggering amount of great beers I've yet to try. To be honest, I don't think there even can be a 'best beer in the world'. For instance, at the moment Pliny the Elder seems to be edging this as the best in the world, but as I've mentioned before, I generally don't go for hoppier beers. Therefore, it's very likely that Pliny wouldn't even break into my top five. It's all about personal preference.
As such, I feel it's important that I recommend you buy it only if it really means that much to you. I dropped €50 on six bottles of this, and as great as it is, I can't see where the extra €6 per bottle goes when compared to, say, Rochefort 10. In fact, it would be very interesting to see this compared blind to the Rochefort, seeing as it's my favourite of the style at the moment. Ponder no more though; the work has already been comprehensively done right here.
*No, the beer.