I tried two beers from St Bernardus recently, in an effort to erase from my memory the debacle that was their Tripel. The two I chose were the Pater 6, and the Abt 12. Much has been written about the Abt 12's similarity to the rare and supposedly brick-shittingly good Westvleteren 12, due to the shared history of the breweries, but I'm not going to bang on about it here. Google the breweries and you'll find the information from a much better informed source. The Pater 6, on the other hand, is one that I kind of only bought because it was dirt cheap. Only kind of, though - I still really wanted to try all the St Bernardus beers. Anyway, on with the liquid.
The Pater 6 pours a murky, rusty brown with a three finger foamy head and lots of carbonation. It's dark complexion led me to believe I'd be getting caramel malt by the bucket load, when actually the first thing to reach my nose was the grassy, sweet citrus peel and dark fruit notes of something else entirely. Malt is there though, in the form of sweet bread dough, as well as in the muted toffee background. The taste too is pretty much all malt, with woody caramel biscuit, light smokiness and a sweet fruit in the finish. The flavours are carried well by a great full body, with a nice fizz and a creamy feel. Overall the beer starts well and only improves as it sits in the glass. Probably the best Dubbel I've had, though I'll have to compare it to the Rochefort 8 to test this out.
The second St Bernardus here was also being compared in my mind to a Rochefort. This time it was the 10, and although the splendour of that particular elixir may have grown in my memory, I firmly believed that the St Bernardus Abt 12 would be hard pressed to beat the Rochefort quad. I also made sure to take plenty of notes and, as usual, give the beer a rough rating in each category to ensure that I remember exactly how much I enjoyed it when the time comes to try the Westvleteren 12.
The Abt 12 poured pretty much as I'd expect it to; a dark ruby red with tons of carbonation, a conservative creamy head and a nice silky lacing. Opening the bottle was enough to cue the gushing of foam, thereby raising up all the sediment. As such, the bready Belgian yeast smell was strong at first, with cherries, figs and raisins, bread malt, toffee and caramel malt and hints of over-ripe, slightly sour apple all forming a rich and quite intense complex aroma. It's one of those rare beers where I'm quite happy to sit there sniffing it for five minutes, like some sort of alcoholic pervert. However, my already considerable respect for the beer doubles with the first taste. Toffee malt is at the front, with caramel and chocolate, hot spiced rum, bread yeast, and the sticky fruit sweetness from the berries, cherries and green apple all joining in. You can definitely taste the dark fruit in this, especially with the strong presence of raisins at the very finish. It's beautifully complex and overall malty - just the way I like it. What makes the beer so damn satisfying though, is the fact that all those flavours are carried on the velvety smooth, creamy full body. It's fulfilling and very warming - you feel like you're drinking Christmas.
I definitely feel that this could contend with Rochefort 10 - I've already added it to my three-beer list of Stuff I Would Like to Drown In - but to find out for sure I'll have to compare the two side-by-side. I don't really know why I feel so compelled to actually compare them, but to be honest, it's probably just an excuse to drink two savage beers in a single sitting. Maybe I should throw in the Piraat too, for, erm... balance?