I was arranging it for Joe and John. They were on a Belgium holiday for a couple of weeks and I had heard of this particular beer, the “best beer in the world” and I said I could arrange it for them. The “best beer in the world” is, allegedly, Westervleteren 12 made by the Trappist monks. They make enough to cover their own costs and they only sell it from their monastery. This alone makes the beer quite difficult to buy. The moniker of being the best beer in the world has made it a beer that is in high demand so to handle this the monks have the notorious “beer phone”. You call, give them your car registration, and you get a date and a time. No negotiation. You may only go once a month hence the car registration. If you miss your slot, tough. You also don’t get to choose between the beers. Blond, Dubbel, Triple? You take what you’re given.
So I arranged it for Joe and John. I was actually in Belgium at the time as I had a meeting in Brussels on a Thursday. The beer phone line opened at nine in the morning. My meeting was down the road at ten. Plenty of time, right?
I knew the line would be busy so I was ready: before the seconds had ticked over to nine o’clock I had dialed. The line cut out quickly. Occupied. I tried again. And again. And again. Each time one or two rings then silence.
Shock, anger, and frustration were not emotions that I had time for. I was redialling as quickly as possible. I wasted valuable seconds getting the number on my work phone as well as my personal phone so I could call from both. The redial count mounted. The march of time moved steadily onwards. Fifteen minutes; one hundred redials. Thirty minutes and I was getting faster: two hundred and fifty redials. Quarter to ten and I had tried four hundred and fifty times.
I was fed up, but I had come too far to give up. I was in deep. I was all in. I had bought in fully to the gambler’s fallacy: I was due any second. My number had to come up…
“Hello?” A voice asked suddenly on the end of the line. “H-h-hello, do you speak English?” I stammered through the shock, with adrenaline kicking in hard.
“Yes. Car registration?” I fumbled for the piece of paper where I had written Joe’s registration. I took a breath and read it out as calmly as possible.
“Tuesday. 2 p.m.” The line clicked dead. I looked at the clock: 10:05. I was late. I looked at my phone: 618 redials.
I arrived about 15 minutes later and apologised. I did not give a reason for being late. “I was on the phone trying to sort out beer” did not strike as particularly professional.
After my meeting I caught a train to Bruges. The three of us spent a couple of nights there before moving on Ghent on Saturday. I left on Sunday to go home, leaving them to get their beer on Tuesday. I did not get to sample it. It is not sold in bars.
Several months later at Christmas, I saw Joe again in our home town as he drove up to my parents’ house. He had with him a small box. Inside it were six bottles of the Westvleteren 12. They had arrived early for their 2p.m. slot and had killed time in the brewery shop. They saw a six-pack and, very kindly, thought that after the rigmarole of organising the two crates I had earnt a six-pack of the stuff.
I cracked one open, poured it carefully and lovingly into a crystal wine glass and brought it to my lips. If there is any moment better than the first sip of beer, it is the anticipation ahead of that first sip. The build-up adds gravitas to the sip. Knowing that in a frame of time shorter than an instant your taste buds will be inundated with flavour and refreshment.
I took a sip. It was bitter, it was sweet, it was refreshing and it was strong. It was good. It was 618 redials good.
Lorcán Murray is a poet, writer and an analyst based in The Netherlands. He was born and raised in Northern England to French and Irish parents. He studied History and French at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and European International Politics at Maastricht University.