03 November 2011
Panic in Flanders
So I was awakened at the crack of dawn today with that same incomprehensible fervor I remember from camping trips as a child: "Hurry! It's almost daylight! We've got to GO!"; only this time I wasn't being jostled into the back of a car and being wedged between a cooler and a 4-man tent, this time I was being forced out of slumber by one of the most frightening phenomenons of nature: A Belgian on the quest for a rare Trappist beer.
Because, as it was explained to me while we sped through traffic on our journey to one of the chosen outlets, this beer, Westvleteren XII, is extremely rare. It's brewed by monks only in this one particular abbey in West Flanders, where they make it according to centuries long tradition solely for their own use. The monks have a secret process by which they make it, which I'm guessing involves trampling it with their tiny monk feet in huge oaken vats decorated with Masonic symbols, while the elder monks alternately whip them and chant encouragement.
The very small excess amount the monks make each year is sold only on a certain day and you have to know someone connected with the abbey, be able to perform a secret handshake, recite a magic password, and be able to hold your hand over an open flame without flinching to be allowed to purchase it. And of course, in addition to being near impossible to get, it has also been rated several times as THE BEST BEER IN THE WORLD.
So now these monks need to do repairs on their abbey, and to raise the money needed they've brewed exactly the amount of beer they'll need to sell to complete the task, had it packaged (through donations) in 6-packs that look like abbey bricks (cute, huh?), and set up a one-day-only deal with a newspaper and a chain of shops. First you had to clip a special coupon from the paper, then you had to show up at one of these shops (Colruyt) today, with your coupon, and then you were only allowed to purchase one 6-pack per person...so you see why, of course, I had to be present as well. Had I been conjoined twins I would have been even more useful.
Our local Colruyt opened at 8:30, and when we got there at 8:34 it was already a mob scene. Parking was impossible to find, so I was sent running into the shop, clutching our coupons. I had to dodge under, over and around a sea of shopping carts and finally got to the first palette of beers just as the stack was depleted. There were already people standing in line waiting to pay for their beers. 8:34. 4 minutes after the store had opened. Incredible.
By the time Mr. Jovanka was able to find parking and get inside, he was trapped behind the barricade of shopping carts, and I could see panic in his eyes. But as they brought out the second palette, I was on the case. Using my newly toned yoga arms I was able to get not just one, but both cases and carry them back to the safety of our shopping cart. It's possible some old people may have been trampled in the process, but I wasn't looking back. We'd won.
Within minutes, the precious beers were purchased and safely nestled in our car.
Each 6 pack was nicely arranged with two official Westvleteren XII glasses, because as everyone knows, Belgians can only drink beer out of a glass that says the name of that beer on it. Including 2 glasses was a kindness on the part of the monks. Had they been stingy and provided only 1 glass, it would have meant that Belgians would have had to take turns drinking their beer: one Belgian sipping while the other looked on in envy.
By the way, the "XII" stands for 12% alcohol. Because Belgian monks don't mess around, baby.