Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waiting for Westy 2012

This post is going to be self indulgent but this is a personal blog after all. I started this blog for a bunch of reasons and one was to help me figure out my relation to food, food issues, drink and the general new food movement. Be forewarned.

I spent a few hours last night trying to decide if I should go to my local LCBO and wait for the Westvleteren 12 (Westy 12). A confluence of events had made it just possible for this to happen; a kid who the doctor said couldn't go to school for a few days, an understanding wife and a release to a store within walking distance.

I am a forty something with a good palette who has had a chance to try Westies three times (Westy 12x2 and Westy 8x1). I brew my own beer at a local U-Brew-it, (Fermentations), attend beer festivals, frequent beer bars (The Only CafeBar Volo) and have a basic knowledge of homebrewing. In short, a mid level beer geek.

In my early middle age, I find that my ankles hurt when I stand on a hard surface for too long and my hands tingle from some RSI connected to either computers or cooking or general wear and tear.  I sometimes have to increase the size of font on some websites. I am mostly in good condition like some reliant automobile. In short, an average male for my age.

Why the hell would I want to stand in some line for a rare beer like some kid at a Justin Bieber concert? I didn't think there were that many mid level beer geeks in Toronto. The last time I went to Sessions, there were a wide variety of people from the young neatly bearded to the old and unshaven bearded. It was easy to see how the craft beer movement had started to move from strangeness to hipness. At first, I was a little anxious at seeing this safe haven for middle aged obsessives being taken over by these fresh young things that I likened to being a long time Star Trek fan that goes to the rebooted series by JJ Abrams. The irony of outhipstering the hipsters is not lost on me. We used to call people who drank a lot of beer alcoholics, now they are just beer geeks.

But, by virtue of having more people willing to hang out at brewery restaurants and support local cask and one off beers, it brings the whole market up. Without the young folks getting into beer in a non-ironic way, it allows for smaller innovative breweries to exist. There is also the chance that once they have tasted good Belgian, they will never go back. This statement brings us to the issue at hand, Westy 12.

I was unable to line up the first day due to the fact that I have a job. The second day was described as above. The LCBO was going to open early to accommodate the expected lineups. I walked down and arrived around 7:40 to discover three people ahead of me. One was the expected young lad with the first vestiges of winter beard, clear eyes and expectant looks. The second was an older gentleman who was shaking his head and clearly there for some reason but already looking slightly dejected. Another man was hovering nearby. His demeanor was serious as his sideways stance indicated fight or flight, leaning heavily on the flight. He was the one that looked most like my demographic and he was leaving.

In conversation with the remaining two, I discovered that this location had not received the Westy on last night's shipment and the staff had just spoken to them about this fact. What was more telling were the stories that each told about why they were there. The first man that had buggered off, I will assume was a beer geek that was already on his way to the next known location using twitterlocation and strong cellfu.

The young man had been drawn in by the romantic description of the rarity of the beer and the exceptional mythical qualities of a perfect beer. The older gentleman expressed his misgivings about the fact that he thought he wouldn't like the beer but he was getting it for his son for bragging rights. The older man talked about having other strong (tripel, quads) beers from Belgium and not liking them. This is the factor that many people miss. My drinking companion often finds the trips and quads that I drink too boozy and reminiscent of malt liquor which they kind of are. He did not like the Westy 12. These two waiters are the regular people in line.

In one way, I am glad to see them there, in another it shows how much beer culture in Ontario has to grow. The fact of rarity doesn't seem to apply to all the casks, one offs and great limited beers that we have. Once again, I bring up the Venskab. It is an awesome beer based on a Belgian triple but with champagne yeast. It was available through the brewery and through its small distribution chain. It was also one of the best beers I have tasted. If the Westy provides a market for these rare birds, maybe our local industry will produce more of them.

The second opportunity for learning (as opposed to problems) is that beer is still being treated like a second rate product by the LCBO. In large, I don't mind how they do things but it's these little things that can make it unpleasant for all of us. They could have used a lottery system or some type of futures based system that they use for other products but I believe the perception of beer drinkers is still warped to those with poorer tastes and therefore poorer pockets. I have yet to see the champagne drinkers lining up for the latest release. Let's make the system the same for all products.

I left the store and walked home in the early morning, composing this blog post in my head, and trying to figure out if I was going to line up tomorrow. I know that I can get this beer around town for around 25 to 45 dollars at a time. I have had it. I like it. There are other good and great triples and quads out there (St Bernardus, Konigshoeven/La Trappe, Orval). The short answer is, if I get a chance, I would like the opportunity to lay some down and drink one every six months to notice the changes in the beer. It is strange that those timings would also echo the chances to stick my head out at various beer events and note the changes in the beer community and beer consumers. Maybe this waiting for Westy will be the birth of a wider audience for some of the local breweries who I believe have the ability of producing a great beer and not just another marketing campaign that worked.

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