12 December 2012

"Twelve!! Twelve!! Twelve!!"

Can't help myself.....

Guy's walking alongside a wooden fence and hears a crowd of men on the other side chanting "TWELVE!  TWELVE! TWELVE!" over and over.  He sees a knothole in the fence and peers inside to see what the hubbub is about.
Suddenly his eye is stabbed by a finger poking through the hole, and as he staggers away in excruciating pain, the crowd starts chanting "THIRTEEN! THIRTEEN! THIRTEEN!"


Today is the twelfth day of the twelfth month of 2012, or 12/12/12.  Normally, to beer geeks this date would reflect the release of the latest (and last) of Stone Brewing's vaunted Vertical Epic series of "extreme" beers, released in the past on 01/01/01, 02/02/02, etc.

To the hard-core beer geek crowd, however, this noted occasion has been completely overshadowed by what is threatened to be a "once in a lifetime" opportunity: the chance to buy bottles of Westvleteren beer from the St. Sixtus Abbey, producers of the world's rarest and most desired commercial beers.  And, of course, the beer in question is Westvleteren 12.

"Westy 12," as the beer is nicknamed among aficionados, has been one of those "holy grail" missions for many, as a combination of reputation, notoriety, and scarcity elevated the beer to lofty levels of iconography and idolatry--whether or not it's been sampled by the worshipper.  The beer is quite frequently regarded as the "number one" or "best" beer in the world, a subjective and quantitative measure to be sure, and the hype is no doubt heightened by the beer's extreme scarcity: only 160,000 cases are produced a year of the 12, along with similar quantities of the lighter 6 and 8.  It has been, until now, sold only at the door of the abbey, where its 21 monks brew the beer, and actually purchasing it apparently resembles buying soup from the "Soup Nazi" of the Seinfeld TV show fame (see for yourself the obstacles to be overcome), for the equivalent of $50 a case of 24 bottles plus about $15 deposit on the bottles and wooden carrier.  The monastery insists that "Westvleteren Trappist is sold only to individual customers. Every customer agrees not to re-sell the beer to any third party."  (This condition is, of course, completely unenforceable, as a moment's thought will discern.)  Thus, there is no reliable or commercial distribution network like there is for the other Trappist beers, or basically any commercial brewery.  Bottles, or small lots of bottles, have routinely sold (illegally) on eBay and through back-channel secondhand sales for prices in excess of $25 and even as high as $50+ a 330-ml bottle, and almost no beer bar in the United States would ever admit to stocking the beer, at least officially--places like DC's Brickskeller or Baltimore's Max's Taphouse, if they had any, would only discretely share bottles on special occasions.  (The only bar at the moment publicly listing the presence of Westy 12 on the menu, the Downtown Bar & Grill in Brooklyn, is asking $50 a bottle.)

So imagine the reaction when it was announced that Westvleteren 12 was going to be offered at retail in the United States--one time only (so far as anyone is admitting), starting on 12/12/12, for suggested retail of $84.99 for a gift pack of six bottles and two goblets.  The beer was imported by Shelton Brothers of Connecticut, one of the noted specialty craft-beer importers, and a great deal of the supply--90,000 330-ml bottles and 30,000 goblets--was snapped up by Total Wine, the Delaware-based chain that now operates 85 stores in 14 states.  A total of 144 retail outlets, largely dominated by Total Wine outlets and affiliates, were offering the beer nationwide.

Why did the brewery finally cave and "sell out"?  As National Public Radio's Morning Edition reports, they simply need the money.

To the utter amazement of many, no outlets in Virginia or the District of Columbia were allocated any, and Pennsylvania, being its own bureaucratic nightmare thanks to their "case law" and the Pa. Liquor Control Board, also lost out.  But Maryland and Delaware each got a supply at two outlets, all Total Wine retail places.

Corridor Liquors in Laurel reported last night that the hype had been building.  "Every other phone call for the past two weeks has been about that beer," said one manager last night.  "Today we started getting calls like, 'Is anyone camping out in line?' 'Are you taking reservations or handing out tickets?'  Nope and nope.  First come, first serve, we open at 8:00 AM, and we got fifty-four cases of four packs each.  We've been getting calls from D.C. and Virginia, because they didn't get any."  They later reported one person attempting to "camp out" at 8:00 PM last night; his name was taken and he was told to go home and wait.

Neither Beltway Liquors in Towson nor the fanatics that went there this morning knew what to expect this morning.  Two intrepid customers, one from Columbia, Md. who works in nearby Timonium and another from Lancaster, Pa. were in line at 6:15 this morning, slowly joined by others.

At 7:15, the manager came out, and handed out numbered tickets while taking names.  "We'll hang on to them until noon or so," he said.  Most of the line dispersed for warmer locations to wait, but the first two and this reporter stuck it out.

At 7:45 the manager decided to open early for the 25 or so people now in line. "It's 33 degrees out there!" he was heard remarking to a fellow employee).  Approximately fifty of the gift-packs, out of the 192 (48 cases) they had been allocated, had sold in the first thirty minutes, as many of the shoppers continued to browse the beer aisles for additional new beers or holiday presents.  "We think we'll sell at least half today, and the rest by the end of the weekend," said the manager.  They tried to call the Laurel location for an update from them, but no one was answering--not a good sign. 


This blog has deliberately avoided raising the issue of this vaunted beer's availability until now--there is no need to hype on top of hype, and it's utterly no use extolling the virtues of a fantastic beer that's not available except by preposterous effort.

But it's there.  It awaits you for $92.64 in (or arguably close to) Towson or Laurel, or $84.99 if you drive to Delaware.

Is it worth it?  That's up to you.  There has been perpetual discussion in beer-geekery circles claiming that Westy 12 is simply a hyped version of the far more easily available and highly rated St. Bernardus Abt 12, which supposedly uses the same recipe and almost the same yeast only miles apart (see here and here and here and most of all here.)  Certainly, some of this is simply hype, and folks clustering around the latest "must-try-but-can't-get-here" beer (remember when that was New Belgium Fat TireFAT TIRE?!?!?!?)

But this beer is certainly on any serious beer expert's short list of "beers to try before you die."  And, at least for the moment, it doesn't appear that you have to push aside little old ladies or burly beer geeks, or snipe on an online auction or frustratingly try to grab a "Black Friday/Cyber Monday" deal, to grab a supply.  You know where to find them (and if not, Google/Bing/Yahoo/etc. and online maps are your friends).

UPDATE: This blogger suggests you save your money.  And reports indicate some Georgia outlets not even on the Shelton Brothers' official sales outlet list sold some packs as much as eleven days early.  More from NPR News.


Ryan said...

i rolled into laurel around 9AM, and was told of the 270 6-packs there were around 9 left. i snatched mine and rolled out.

note: the lady behind me had one, as well as two four packs of seagram escapes. HAHAHA.

Jeff D. said...

WOW! Just saw one of these on CL going for $600 (http://baltimore.craigslist.org/for/3474668207.html) I think I might head over to Beltway on my lunch break and see if they have any left

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Update us, please. My wager is that it's gone.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Oh, and by the way, that's "OFFERED FOR $600," not "going for" until someone is actually foolish enough to PAY it. >;-)

Jeff D. said...

Just got off the phone with Beltway and they are SOLD-OUT as of yesterday at 12.

Anyone else know where they are to be found?

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Either online for steep mark-ups, or off in some obscure market in another state that no one has caught on to yet!