Arguably the 'best beer in the world', Westvleteren 12 has become a topic of rising interest amid beer enthusiasts and beer culture alike. In terms of quality, no doubt, they have that down. As for taste, that, too, is of little debate. And when it comes to experience--drinking & enjoying beer made directly from monks' hands--they have undoubtedly accomplished such a feat. The seemingly icing on the cake would be the limited availability and necessity of travel to enjoy said beer. However, despite these credulous ratings, there are many beers of similar stature with considerably similar quality and taste that deserve equal consideration for such a title.
Take, for example, the once-commercialized sister brewery of Westvleteren, St. Bernardus, and their renowned Abt 12, which merits question of originality and similarity of recipe use. Back in the day, the monks of St.-Sixtus in Westvleteren offered their beer recipe to the abbey for a trial period of commercialization under the name of St.-Sixtus. The license ended in 1992, but St. Bernardus continued brewing beer of similar style up until today. If one was to blindly sample both beers, one would find unique similarities of each, with perhaps the hybrid version of St. Bernardus gaining more popularity. Hence, St. Bernardus becomes just one of a surplus of credible candidates for 'best beer in the world' award.
Leaving Belgium, and taking our focus to North America, and the more recent beer-booming culture, the possibility of 'best beer' candidates are truly endless. Despite the fact that ol' Westy has more years of brew under its belt shouldn't undermine recognition of many equally worthy microbreweries in the U.S. and Canada. A few personal favorites worth examining would be Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA, from Boulder, Colorado, which in my own opinion does an excellent job of making a strong IPA (10.24% ABV) that's balanced with both hops, malt, and fruit character to create a full-bodied and deliciously deceptive brew.
Another deceptively strong and flavourful favorite would be Rigor Mortis (10.5% ABV), by Dieu du Ciel, in Montreal, Canada. This quadrupel style beer is bold in flavour, smooth in texture, and balanced in malt/bitterness content. Its overtones of caramel, raisin malt make it a good candidate in comparison to Westy's own similar body and flavour. Yet another example of a note-worthy beer candidate would be Uinta Tilted Smile, from Salt Lake City, Utah (9% ABV). This heavy Imperial Pilsner is delightfully crisp and malty, with a perfect touch of carbonation. It appears more like a well-balanced, Belgian-style Tripel than Imperial Pilsner, but with the Pilsen malt, it accomplishes a perfect completion of flavour, body, and crispness.
The aforementioned brews are only a few examples of meritable forerunners for 'best beer in the world' award, but with so many brews out there, the decision for the title should be more intricate and exploratory, heeding to different avenues of process of elimination before denoting one as the best. The simple fact that Westvleteren is hard to come by, as the monks brew for survival and not for prosperity, does not give it by default the title of being the best in the world, as there are plenty other beers just as worthy of consideration. With that being said, it is not meant to detract the essence of a beer pilgrimage St.-Sixtus, but after having myself completed a pilgrimage to ol' Westy, I can say with confidence, I've had better.