Courtesy of my mother. Thanks, Mom.
I knew I had read something, perhaps in the spring, about the possibility.
But until I heard a piece on NPR’s Morning Edition on the morning of Dec. 12 that I remembered — Westvleteren 12 was on sale. In my country.
A brief bit of background: Westvleteren is brewed by an order of Trappist monks in Belgium, and, to put it mildly, their beer is highly regarded; their quad, Westvleteren 12, generally shows up near the top — if not in the top spot — of best-beer-on-the-planet lists. Part of the hype has to do with very limited supply and the resulting mystique.It’s available only at the monastery, and not always there; if you’re nearby, you contact the monks, and if you’re lucky they’ll give you a date and time to show up and buy your share.
The monks make only enough beer to fund a fairly simple existence. But that’s what was behind the exports of 2012 — the monastery needed repairs, and the monks figured selling special packages of the 12 in Europe and North America would be a good way to raise the money.
I heard the NPR piece while I was on the way to work that morning. After taking care of some work stuff, I fired up Google and found a list of the locations that would have some of were being called the “bricks” — boxed gift-packs, with six bottles of Westie 12 and two logo goblets.
Pennsylvania? To the surprise of no one, nope. Ohio? Of course, Vintage Estate in Boardman had the beer, but it was holding a lottery the following Sunday to unload its allotment, and I would be at work. We were going to be in Cleveland on that Saturday, but I was certain the two stores there would be sold out by then.
And then my eyes drifted to the Florida portion of the list. There, I saw that Total Wine and More stores in every Florida town of a decent size were carrying the beer. Including the one in Naples, a store we know well from our visits to my sister and her family.
Ooo. This has promise.
I called the Naples store, and a bored-sounding clerk said they had plenty.
I then left messages for E, on her home phone and her cell. I must have sounded desperate, because she called me back shortly. After some initial chatting, I popped these questions:
“So, you think you could go buy me an $85 six pack? And then ship it to me? And could you go do it now?”
My sister, a mother of three, is a woman of infinite patience, because she immediately got in her car, drove to Total Wine and dropped a ridiculous amount of money to satisfy a whim of her brother. I PayPal’ed money to cover the cost of the beer and the shipping … and about a week after my sheepish phone call, there was the box, on my desk at work.
The package arrived safely. I got it home safely as well. I put two bottles in the beer fridge and stowed the other four in our cellar. We would drink two for Christmas this year and crack one for each of the following Decembers, until they were gone.
How was it?
Very, very good. A silky texture. Ripe, dark fruit, mixing with caramel. A little bready, a little funk. Not too hot, especially for a beer with a hefty ABV. And not overly sweet, as I had been led to expect.
A world-class beer, worth the money I paid to get it? Absolutely.
The best beer I’ve ever had? No.
Or, at least, not yet. Ask me again in four years.
I don’t think I saw the Blues Brothers movie in the theater when it was released in 1980, but I know I watched the hell out of it when it showed up on cable.
I am not exaggerating here. I was fascinated by the band, having seen its SNL appearances through the 1970s, and I loved the music, especially as an alternative to the disco that passed as the popular music of the day.
And when the movie showed up on HBO? I watched. Daily.
Seriously. In the first week it was released on cable, it fell into a rotation where it was on in the late afternoon nearly every day for two weeks. And I fell into a rotation of my own, turning it on when I got home from school and watching right up until it was time for dinner.
My father didn’t seem irritated to see me watching the Blues Brothers every night for a week, although I may recall an eyeroll or two. But I remember this distinctly: somewhere around the second week of my Blues Brothers binge, Dad told me to turn off the TV and follow him into the living room.
He sat me down on the couch while he knelt in front of the cabinet that held the stereo components and all of his records. He flipped through one stack and pulled out a red double LP. He put one of the vinyl discs on the turntable and gently dropped the needle at the start of the record.
He turned up the volume, set the album cover in my lap and said: “If you’re going to listen to this stuff, you should know where it comes from.”
And at impressive volume, I heard a by-then-familiar horn line. And I heard Otis Redding singing “I Can’t Turn You Lose,” the song that Belushi and Akroyd adpoted as their theme music.
I looked at the liner notes inside the album. And that’s when I found out that Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper were real musicians with an unreal history. My father’s impromptu lesson was about Otis Redding and the band (Booker T and the MGs) that propelled him in the studio and on stage; that lesson also led me to Delaney and Bonnie, Wilson Pickett, Albert King and Sam and Dave, a lot to digest for a very white kid in a very white suburb.
My high-school friends will tell you that discovery — and the subsequent obsession — never really subsided; they got to hear plenty of Stax soul as we rode around Columbus in Turbo Pinto.
When Dunn died on Sunday, he was doing what he had always done. He was touring in Japan, playing the bass lines that held together the best soul records ever recorded. And whether you’re talking about his work in Memphis or as part of the Blues Brothers’ revival of the form, Dunn’s stamp is unmistakable.
And it will never be duplicated.
And I didn’t die. Neither did my right foot.
I took my bum wheel out for what was intended to be a short (check) and easy (actually a little quicker than I had planned) run, in order to test the foot that had been bothering me since my last run on Wednesday.
The result? No big deal. And that, my friends, is a relief.
Yesterday’s post netted me some decent advice, especially from Facebook; I will get a foam roller for my feet, I’m going to think about my stride and how my foot strikes the ground — but probably not until after I’m done with this spring’s races — and I’m going to do my absolute best not to watch the calendar. To the degree that’s possible.
Yesterday’s post also got me a call from my brother-in-law — you know, THE PODIATRIST. I actually did think about calling Chris on Friday, when my foot was still swollen, but I decided to wait until I had a better idea of whether this was an actual injury or just grumpy muscles. Chris didn’t think it was a huge deal, given that the foot felt better over the weekend; he also advised me to continue icing it after runs and to generally take it easy for a while.
And I listen to what my brother-in-law tells me. Especially if he’s talking about golf or my feet.
So, kids — I think I’m back. I’ll go out again for a little bit on Wednesday morning and if that feels OK, I may be up for meeting the North Parkers Saturday morning.
And in the meantime, that’s two straight posts about running. It’s time I write about beer. Or barbeque. Or maybe both.
See you tomorrow.