Sunday, 26 August 2012

On Scarcity, Sanctity and "the Best Beer in the World" at Bellwoods

Last week I had the opportunity to check out the new-ish Bellwoods Brewery on the trendy Ossington strip and to have my first Westvleteren 12 (the oft-called "Best Beer in the World").

The brewpub itself was packed by 5 pm on the day of my arrival, which could be perhaps partially explained by the pleasant patio weather which left the terrace entirely occupied, while my companion and I procured the last two remaining seats at the bar.

Bellwoods is a bit cramped, with extremely limited bathroom space and indoor seating, though the summer patio helps out a bunch!  The appetizer/light entree sort of menu looks good, if a bit pricey, though the beer (and excellent, knowledgeable, friendly staff) certainly meet the expectations.

I had $3 5-ounce samples of the following: the Biere de Garde (7.5% ABV - lightly funky mustiness, with a nice yeasty nose and slight sour cherry notes, slightly tart yet nicely dry; Grade: B+/A-), Lost River Baltic Porter (7.7% ABV - cola and biscuit aromas with toasty notes and a pleasing crispy-dry finish; Grade: B+/A-), Fortune Cookie Tripel (8.2% ABV - dry-hopped with Amarillo hops that makes it a bit of a hybrid US/Belgian somewhat like Urthel Hop-It, excellent nose, good flavour; Grade: A-), Mash Pipe Berliner Weisse (3.6% ABV - very unique nose something like sweet lemonade, with a taste of sour lemon and sourdough, but more like a weisse than a true sour; Grade: A-), Monogamy Pale Ale (excellent very fruity nose of pineapple, mango, and grapefruit citrus, with a moderate taste of fair dryness, but with mellowed rind that pales in comparison to the great nose; Grade: B+/A-), and the perfectly sessionable Muggle Weisse (a 3.9% ABV dark sour with a wild yeast start that offers an accordingly mild, lightly funky aroma with a taste a bit like sugar-free sour keys alongside a finely drying finish; Grade: A-/A).

Though none of these beers blew me away, all were quite good and remarkably unique.  What is great about this brewery is the obvious commitment to uniqueness through obscure styles and twists on old favourites.  This portends a promise of the sort exemplified by Dieu du Ciel, which is high praise indeed if you know my tastes and/or DDC itself.  Bellwoods isn't there yet - if off to a great start - but it fills a needed and crucial Toronto niche for breaking from the English predominance of Southern Ontario craft beer (much as I love many English beer styles) and their ingenuity portends great things to come (such as the fitting new DDC collaboration Imperial IPA I just learned of today after already considering this comparison!)

Yet, unlike DDC, Bellwoods also offers a selection of imported bottles ranging from Dunham's stellar Black IPA to Rodenbach Grand Cru and the famed Westy 12 that provokes the reflections of this post and its title.  Awaiting the warming of my bottle (from fridge to cellar temperature) I found myself struggling to temper my expectations and to curtail my excitement, but (thankfully) Westy 12 tasted as expected - great, not earth-shatteringly so, but satisfyingly so.

Thus, like Bellwoods itself, Westy impresses, though is nonetheless slightly overrated.  By this, I mean that it is excellent - and better and different from the St. Bernardus Abt 12, and comparable to the Achel and Rochefort quads that I do so enjoy though a side by side (blind?) comparison may be required - but were it more common I believe it would be (more aptly) called "a damn good beer," and that the "best-in-the-world" label comes from scarcity and hype coupled with its consumptive quality rather than from the latter alone.

Specifically, Westvleteren 12 pours a cloudy reddish-brown with a thick tan head of solid retention and thick, but smooth lacing around the glass edges.  I personally get excellent and complex aromas of chocolate and plums initially that evolves into dark fruits, prunes, dark/molasses bread and candied sugar as it evolves.  The taste is similarly complex, as anticipated, yet is dominated by a sweet licorice, before it evolves to allow discernment of some figs, brown sugar, and an herbal/floral mix of the drying yeast and hops presence which clears the palate well.  It is thickly carbonated, yet somehow smooth and creamy nonetheless, with no hint of the 10.2% ABV discernible.  Grade: A/A+

Yes, this is an excellent beer and, at $30 a bottle at Bellwoods for a limited time, well worth trying/sharing once at this price, but it is not that much better (if at all) than a Trappist Rochefort 10 that is available regularly for $4.65 a bottle in Quebec.  For scarcity, hype, and the experience, grab yourself one while you can - then enjoy the best Bellwoods has to offer complementing your unique experience with the uniqueness of Toronto's virtual abbey.

Personally, though, much as I love quads and with all due respect to this delicious rarity, I love Imperial Stouts more and would call a few I have already tasted "better," such that a pursued tasting of Dark Lord now tops my remaining beer-bucket-list.


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