For several years now, Westvleteran 12, which is brewed by monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in Belgium, has commonly been referred to as one of the best -- if not the the best -- beer in the world. And because it is almost impossible to get it outside of Belgium, Westy 12 has also created a cult-like status for itself (along with a black market).
Despite this lofty perch, however, not that many U.S. craft breweries make a similar Belgian-style quadrupel -- typically dark red or brown in color and loaded with malts and sugar that give it a high alcohol content and rich, sweet flavor.
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"They are expensive to make because of all the ingredients," says Walt Chleva, a brewer at Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora. "And it's a style that isn't really well-known."
But that could be changing, as there are currently four bottled quads and two draft-only quads -- all made by Colorado brewers -- now floating around Denver (see the full list below).
One of those is Chleva's creation, the cheekily-named Waltvleteren 12, which he first brewed in 2011; he's since adjusted the recipe to make it smoother. "I've always liked the bigger, maltier beers," says Chleva, who has been brewing at Dry Dock since 2009. "I've made an English barleywine and an Irish red. So when I had the opportunity to make one of my own, I wanted to go big."
Chleva modeled his beer off of several of the best-known Belgian quads, like St. Bernardus Abt 12, La Trappe and, of course, Westvleteren 12, which he got to try after buying a few bottles online (for more than $25 a pop). "I did some research and learned that they only use pale and pilsner malts and caramelized sugar," he says. So Chleva used similar malts, along with dark syrup and candied sugar, and a Belgian yeast strain similar to one used by the Trappist breweries.
Chleva has gotten good feedback on the beer, and is hoping to enter Waltvleteren 12 into the competition at the Great American Beer Festival -- "that is every brewers' dream," Chleva says -- and maybe even bottle it as a Dry Dock seasonal at some point.
Brewing the Waltvleteren 12.
Dry Dock Brewing Facebook page
Waltvleteren 12 Dry Dock Brewing 11.6 percent ABV Draft only, seasonal Waltvleteren 12 is only made a couple of times a year. It has all of the sweet flavors of a traditional Belgian quad, but was boiled for a long time at a low temperature to keep it from getting too "hot" or alcohol-y tasting. Smooth, rich and elegant.
Absconder Belgian Quad Renegade Brewing 9.5 percent ABV Draft only, seasonal Renegade made this beer earlier this year and is almost out of it. It describes it like this: "From the first whiff to the last sip, fruity Belgian esters take the stage...offers a full mouth-feel and a bubblegum finish. Sweet and fruity aren't the only flavors present. A subtle tang keeps the palate interested."
False Summit Elevation Beer 11.1 percent ABV Bottles, spring seasonal Elevation released this long-anticipated beer just last week. Unlike Apis IV, another quad that Elevation released last year, False Summit was aged in Breckenridge Distilling bourbon barrels to give it deeper layers of complexity. Notes of dark fruit and vanilla.
Cascara Quad New Belgium Brewing 10 percent ABV Bottles, one-time release Although New Belgium released this beer in January as part of its Lips of Faith series, you can still find bottles on some shelves around town, and it's worth a try. Much lighter than most quads, the traditional flavors you would expect are merely hinted at, rather than fully expressed. The beer has unusual tobacco and date flavors brought on by using tea made from cascara coffee bean husks along with dates.
River North Brewery
Quandary River North Brewery 9.6 percent ABV Bottles, year-round River North's take on the Abbey-style brew was one of its first bottled offerings and is available at Denver-area stores that specialize in craft beer (and on tap at the brewery). It shows all of the raisin-y sweetness and malty warmth as true Belgian quads.
The Reverend Avery Brewing 10 percent ABV Bottles, year-round Avery has been brewing The Reverend for years, and it is a big, bold blast of a beer, typical of the kind of thing the Boulder brewery does on a regular basis. Made with imported Belgian specialty malts, it exudes a complexity that goes beyond the dark cherry, currant and molasses notes that the brewery mentions in its description.
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