Dawn of the beer geeks | Westvleteren 12 release at Binny's Lincoln Park
Brandon Pape, a server at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, staked out his spot outside the Lincoln Park Binny's at 4am today. "Gotta beat the rush," Pape, who was first in line, explained nonchalantly. "This is not my first rodeo."
It was 8:47 am by the time I arrived, thirteen minutes before Binny's would open its mechanical door to the growing line outside, unleashing a special, $85 six-pack of Westvleteren XII, a prized beer made by Belgian monks, who brew only enough to sustain their abbey. Aside from this release of gift packs, the only way to buy Westvleteren beer has been to make an appointment with the monks at the abbey, in Vleteren, Belgium, on the third Saturday of each month—but even then, there are restrictions on how much and how often one can purchase bottles, in an effort to discourage a secondary market. To fund repairs for the abbey, the brewery decided to sell its beer overseas for the first—and possibly last—time, releasing a special gift pack, with six 11.2-ounce bottles of their prized beer, XII, and two glasses. Last week, Binny's announced that it would be the only retailer in Chicago (and one of the few in the country) to receive some of the six-packs, which is why, as the hour approached 9am on 12/12/12, 72 men, women and children (yes, two babies) waited patiently, lined up single-file against the wall of the Lincoln Park store. Each adult would be allowed to purchase one six-pack, which came in a cheesy box whose graphic design appeared inspired by Harry Potter. No one knew how many six-packs were waiting inside.
"There's rumors of there being 50–100," said Pape. "I'm thinking there's less, but no one knows for sure. I guess we'll see when the doors open." I took my place in line with Gabe Klinger, a film professor and friend. "On Black Friday, there were three hundred people in this line," a burly man near us murmured, unimpressed. Klinger had arranged to split his six-pack three ways. Pape had a similar plan. "Friends couldn't make it," he explained. "I'm the one who took initiative to come and do this, so [I'll] share it with them and also age a few beers for years to come." At 9am, the line began to move, in a quiet but determined fashion. Binny's employees eased the crowd's fears as we entered the store, assuring us there was "plenty of beer." An employee dutifully cut open cardboard boxes, each one filled with Westvleteren XII six-packs, arranged in a display, handing one pack to each person in line. Apparently not satisfied to spend only $85 (plus tax), some of the beer fiends abandoned the orderly line once they'd received their "Westy" box to make other purchases. The man behind me simply filed slowly through the check-out, Westvleteren in hand and $100 bill in mouth.
The line was gone once we exited the store, and all the beer-lovers who had waited had claimed their gift box. A huge pile of Westvleteren 12 was still left. I turned to Klinger. "You didn't even need to get here so early," I said. He shrugged: "You never know."