St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale Review

Beer: St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale

Style: Dubbel or Quadruple, depending on who you ask

Brewery: Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV (Watou, Belgium)

Importer: D&V International, Inc.

ABV: 10%

Bottle size: 1 Pint, 9.4.Fl. OZ

Instructions: “Serve between 53-56 degrees in a goblet glass.”

Let’s say you live in a large southern city. One night five inches of snow falls and shuts down the city and frees you from your work obligations for a couple of days. You spend the first snow day shoveling snow off your driveway and your neighbor’s driveway. Cabin fever sets in on the second day of Snow-mageddon 2011. Suddenly, through the digital grapevine, you learn the Whole Foods a half a mile away is open for five hours. What do you do? Throw on your boots and camo coat and make the hazardous, icy trek – that’s what you do.  And once you are there you pick one beer – that’s right, one bottle of beer – that you’ve never had before so you can sip it and write a review of it while you wait for the snow and the ice to disappear. And that, friends, is how we ended up with today’s featured cerveza, St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale, brewed by Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV in Watou, Belgium

I know what you’re thinking – St. Bernardus Abt 12 Belgian Abbey Ale is one of the fancy and fabulous Trappist beers I’ve heard so much about. There is a brother of some order on the bottle, it’s called St. Bernardus, and it’s from Belgium – it has to be one, right? Not so fast, friend. To make a long story short, Abt 12 is not Trappist ale even though Brouwerij St. Bernardus has a long association with a monastery. In 1992 a trade group was established that agreed that the Trappist name could only be applied to beer brewed within the walls of an abbey or under the control of monks. Because St. Bernardus sits just outside the abbey, St. Bernardus Abt 12 is “abbey-style” ale, not Trappist ale.

If all that wasn’t confusing enough, there is also a disagreement about what style of beer St. Bernardus Abt 12 is. The importer calls it “classic ‘Dubbel’ style” ale on the bottle. Beer Advocate and other brew publications and websites swear it is a “Quadruple.” In the importer’s defense, no one has been able to articulate what exactly a Quadruple is. The best description that folks have come up with is that it is a dark, malty ale. Everyone agrees that it is bolder than Dubbel and Tripel style Belgian ales.  And they also concur that Quadruples have a higher alcohol content (usually somewhere between 8-12%). But the agreement ends there. Unfortunately this skeletal description could apply to a number of types of beer – Russian Imperial Stout springs to mind immediately – so this description is of limited utility. So who do you believe – the importer or the beer intelligentsia?

So how was Abt 12?

Appearance: As it fills the glass, we noticed the slight head and minimal lacing immediately. The light brown head disappears rapidly in standard glass. In a stemmed Duvel glass, which has a ring etched in the bottom, the bubbles continued to form but never in any significant amount.  It sits opaque, brownish amber in the glass. It is alive with carbonation.

Smell: Surprisingly dank because of the hops. We  expected a lot of malts like Odin’s Tipple and we didn’t expect any hops. A slight hay aroma. It also smells like beer, a nice break from the fruitier, perfumy beers we have sampled recently.

Taste: A bready taste with a trace of yeast. There is also a slightly bitter metallic taste thanks to the hops but it is mellowed by a bit of malt. The carbonation prevents makes it surprising light.

Mouthfeel: Solid. The carbonation gives it a lighter body than we expected.

Drinkability: St. Bernardus Abt 12 is a solid, mellow, non-confrontational beer. In fact, this review was very difficult to write because one or two aspects of the beer didn’t leapt out at us. In spite of the higher alcohol content, it lacks a noticeable alcohol smell or taste. This could be a problem because we could have another one of these 10.5% ABV bottles after we finished this one unlike Odin’s Tipple.

It would taste great with fried seafood or even meat-topped pizzas during the cooler months of the year. Abt 12 works as a good transitional beer between the fizzy, light summertime brews and the thicker, dark monsters that provide sustenance during the bleak, snowy and icy months of winter in the South. . . at least this year.

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3 comments so far

  1. Chris Colby on

    Nice review. It really helps me to have a feeling about what to expect. I’m still working through a full beer fridge of holiday gift-beers, and this one has been making its way to the front. It’ll be me next target and I’m looking forward to it. I just had a Trappistes Rochfort 10 ale this evening and it had a complex taste, rich, malty, but also liquorish or something of the sort , that definitely did compel me to drink another right away.
    Thanks for the great reviews. Keep em coming.

  2. Chris – Thanks for the kinds words. Let us know what your think about the St. Bernardus Abt 12. As far as we are concerned, you can’t go wrong with Belgian ales.

  3. Dave on

    Abt 12 is one of my go-to beers when I want a sipper for after dinner. I love this stuff…and if you like it you should try St. Bernardus Christmas Ale when it comes around. It is a spiced version of Abt 12, but unlike many other Christmas ales the spicing is subtle. They didn’t go overboard and ruin the true essence of the beer…just enough to enhance it. I actually prefer it to Abt 12, myself.

    Chris – Rochefort 10 is an amazing trappist beer…one of the best beers in the world, in my opinion…and I put Abt 12 just a fraction of a grade lower. The Rochefort is just so good and complex.


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