Belgian Beer Smackdown: Westvleteren vs. St. Bernardus vs. Rochefort

If you have been following this blog since its infancy, you will know that I really enjoy beer – especially Belgian Trappist beers. Some of my family and I decided to have a blind taste test and compare three well known Belgian beers: Westvleteren 12, St. Bernardus 12, and Rochefort 10. This post gives a quick background of the beers and our blind taste test results.

Background on Beers

Trappist beers are brewed by Trappists monks. These monks follow the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which originated in the seventeenth century in French abbey of La Trappe. Monks in this order often produce foodstuffs, including beer, to sustain themselves and the monastery.

The popularity of Trappist monk produced beer grew and eventually led to the establishment of the International Trappist Association and the Authentic Trappist Product (ATP) label. Throughout the world, there are 12 Trappist monasteries producing beers that carry this label.

While this blind taste test did not have access to all the current Trappist beer offerings, two were selected with one being a former Trappist beer (more on that later). The chosen three were gifted by my friend Bruce Ng (Thanks Bruce!). The next sections give a quick overview of each of the beers.

Westvleteren

The Westvleteren monastery currently brews 3 beers:

  • Trappist Westvleteren Blond (5.8% ABV)
  • Trappist Westvleteren 8 (8% ABV)
  • Trappist Westvleteren 12 (10.2% ABV)

The Westvleteren 12 has been heralded as the best beer in the world by RateBeer in 2002. With any title, it’s debatable; however, many beer aficionados would not pass up the chance to try this brew.

These beers are notoriously difficult to find. The monastery prefers if you buy these beers at their Abbey store. While the beers are not overly expensive, the process is challenging. You have to phone in and IF (major IF) you get through, you have to make an appointment and register the license plate number of the car you will use to pick up the beer.

As with many elusive items, there are many outlets in Belgium and online that sell the beer (though it does violate the conditions of the monastery). And of course, there is a significant mark-up. Fortunately, the Westvleteren 12 used for this blind taste was gifted by my friend Bruce Ng, who procured the beer in the monastery-approved way.

St. Bernardus

The St. Bernardus brewery currently brews 8 beers:

  • St. Bernardus Extra 4 (4.8% ABV)
  • St. Bernardus Witbier (5.5% ABV)
  • St. Bernardus Pater 6 (6.7% ABV)
  • Watou Tripel – Belgian Tripel (7.5% ABV)
  • St. Bernardus Tripel (8% ABV)
  • St. Bernardus Prior 8 (8% ABV)
  • St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (10% ABV)
  • St. Bernardus Abt 12 (10.0% ABV)

In the beer community, there are rumors that St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Westvletern 12 are made with this same recipe. This is not exactly true.

In the mid-20th century expertise and recipes were shared amongst the breweries; however, each brewery has made distinctive decisions surrounding many aspects of the beer making process (e.g., yeast strain). So while there are similarities in the overall recipe, they are not the same beers.

Also, St. Bernardus is no longer an official Trappist beer. This designation ended in the 1990’s.

Nonetheless, the similarities to official Trappist are striking enough to make compare the two beers in a blind taste test. My friend Bruce specifically wanted to me to compare the St. Bernardus 12 against the Westvletern 12. and I was happy to oblige.

Rochefort

The Rochefort monastery currently brews 3 beers:

  • Rochefort 6 (7.5% ABV)
  • Rochefort 8 (9.2% ABV)
  • Rochefort 10 (11.3% ABV)

As with the other Trappist beers, the monks only brew enough beer to support the monastery. We did take a trip to Rochefort. While you can certainly visit L’Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy, it’s definitely an active abbey that is not focused on beer or beer tourism.

The Rochefort 10 is one of my favorite beers. I wanted to include it in the blind taste test to see how it held up against the other beers.

The Blind Taste Test

Some of my family and I decided to have a blind taste test to compare the Westvleteren 12, St. Bernardus 12, and Rochefort 10.

My husband, sister, mother-in-law, and father-in-law participated in the blind taste test. We are all fans of beer and represent a range of ages (20s, 30s, 60s), cultures (USA and Germany), and years of experience with beer (3-50+ years).

The results are as follows:

Overall, the Rochefort 10 was the clear favorite. My husband (and I) love the Rochefort 10 and he was also happy that his preference came through in the blind taste test. Personally, I love both the aroma and taste of the Rochefort 10. During this taste test, it definitely had the strongest carbonation out of the three.

In terms of the of the comparison between the Westvleteren 12 and the St. Bernardus 12, I felt that the Westvleteren 12 had finer bubbles and a subtle aroma. It definitely tasted smooth and came across as well-crafted. The St. Bernardus was a bit banana-y in taste and the flattest of the three.

My sister felt that the Rochefort 10 and the Westvleteren 12 had more similarities than the St. Bernardus 12. She was the only one who ranked the St. Bernardus as her top choice.

These beers are definitely strong. While my father-in-law and I had the same ranking, he found the beers too strong for his taste.

My mother-law and my husband had the same ranking and she seemed to enjoy the beers. Her only comment on the beers was, ‘It helps.’

Closing Thoughts

As with food, beer preferences are definitely a personal preference. While there were some trends in our blind taste test and even exact similarities, each individual had their own rationale for their ranking.

Thanks again to my friend Bruce Ng for gifting the beers for this taste test! This post wouldn’t have been possible without you!

Are you a Trappist beer aficionado? How would you rank these three beers? Let me know in the comments below!

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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