THE EXPEDITION OF THE BOSTON BOGGLER AND ALE MAN BY JOSH MITCHELL

JOSH MITCHELL WICKID PISSA FILMS
mitchmitchell24@hotmail.com

http://www.wickidpissapublicity.com

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“Give a man a beer, he’ll drink for a day. Teach a man to brew, he’ll be drunk the rest of his life.”

Bronsan “Suds” Belton sits on his front porch and greets the parade of visitors to his cottage on the beach in Brant Rock. “Welcome kingmakers!” he cackles to a posse of beer enthusiasts lugging hefty clampdown ceramic top growlers. “I think it was the great philosopher Humphrey Bogart who once said: ‘The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind’”. Inside the cramped living room, an iPod is blaring Carbon Leaf’s “What About Everything?” and people are dancing. It’s as rowdy as a house party, and the sun hasn’t even gone down yet. Just another typical summer afternoon at Suds’s, but it’s a helluva way for a Boston brewmaster to try to rest up between mixing his next inventive beverage. A fratboy in a Ford pickup, looking for Suds’s son, eases through the parked cars littering the beach. He needs someone to help him lift some kegs tomorrow. Suds tells him to check back in the morning. Next comes a high school history teacher, a straight-laced dude holding a six-pack of Mayflower Pale Ale. This is me. My Hawaiian shirt and TJ Maxx clearance-rack cargo shorts tickles Suds, and he laughs like a man who’s seen it all and done damn near everything, a sinister laugh that comes from dark places that I never imagined in my worst nightmares. “Life is too short to drink cheap beer,” says Suds, flashing his bright-white grin. “People who like light beer don’t actually like the taste of beer – they just like to piss a lot.” He ambles through the living room and back through the kitchen to his bedroom,

3 where he keeps his own private fridge to guard against prying kin (which includes a gaggle of snooping grandchildren). He pulls out a couple of Coronas, grabs a liter of Bacardi Limon and prepares his specialty: “Happy Corona”. “I only drink this Mexican urine sample in the summer,” he says. “The rum gives it enough of a kick where I can make peace with it.” I take a couple slugs of my Happy Corona (good stuff – I never was much of a rum man) and tell Suds about my approaching wedding. It all started with a bottle of cheap champagne (Cristalino), I explain. He nods in sympathy – turns out he proposed to his wife when he was cocked on Mai Tais. That’s how it is with Suds. Any story you’ve got, he can top it with something better, funnier, crazier. “I stuck the ring at the bottom of a Scorpion Bowl and made my lady-to-be slurp the whole thing down like a Slush Puppie,” he says. “I figured the odds of her saying ‘yes’ would be much better if she was helplessly obliterated.” The first thing you need to understand about Suds: Forget everything you think you know about beer – and the polished turds of Budweiser imitators that use TV to sell beer. Next to those amateurs, Suds’s beer wisdom is like Homer Simpson compared with Jessica Simpson. So what is he doing with a new brewery, full of wild ales and farmyard beers? For Suds, this sort of cross-cultural whiplash is nothing new. It comes as natural as mixing Coronas and rum. It doesn’t matter what he decides to brew a beer with – the final product always comes out vintage Belton. “Suds is a raging enigma,” says Bobby “Baby Suds” Belton, his son and manager of the new brewery. “His whole life revolves around inhaling the sacred incense of the drinking man.”

4 Baby Suds is a thirty-year-old Northeastern grad (“1.3 GPA,” he brags) who’s spent the past decade making moonshine in his basement. “The thing about Suds is that he does not pay attention to public opinion,” says Bobby. “He gave me my first pilsner when I was three years old and I thank him every day for it.” Suds spent the large bulk of his existence doing backbreaking labor jobs, such as roofing, until the past decade, when he hit his stride at an age when most people are migrating into middle management. His gift is to take the rough knocks he’s had in life and instill them in unique beverages. Take the case of his black lab, Oreo, featured on the label of his seasonal Dead Dog Ale. Oreo was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. “Some drunk dickheads passed by at night and he ran out to the road and started to bark, and they popped off two shots and killed him.” Oreo was not only a loyal friend but also a guard dog – protecting Suds’s sacred and stocked beer fridge: “If any of my amigos touched my good shit he’d get at them,” he says. “One time Baby Suds tried to take a quick sip of my secret sauce and he bit him in his man business.” Suds’s wicked sense of humor is part of what makes Crotch Vomit one of the oddest concoctions ever made by a brewmaster, anywhere, anytime. It was created in three months in a rented hunting lodge not far from his house. He used three oak casks for aging, so that each of their respective native funks would culture the beer. At the end, the casks were blended together. Before it was released last year, Crotch Vomit had already become like ultracollectible rare-release Air Jordans, with beer geeks fretting over the fact that there were only eight barrels, and anxiously strategizing about how and where they’d get a bottle. Its awesomenimity was a nearly foregone conclusion.

5 A reddish hue color with a cloudy texture with a scent reminiscent of fruit nectar and a Border Collie’s stale breath – it was dry champagne and as mouth-puckeringly sour as a package of SweeTarts. One beer blogger wrote: “Crotch Vomit smells like the small crevice behind a homeless guy’s grundle but tastes like magical babies and Angelina Jolie’s ear salsa.” In a single day, it was gone. Beer purists called Crotch Vomit blasphemy – others hailed it as the greatest farmhouse ale that had ever graced their lips. “It exemplifies Suds’s real spirit more than any other beer,” says Bobby. “His brewing is so physical. He’s got brass balls – I haven’t tasted anything as strong. I was still busted stuff a week later.” Crotch Vomit is a one-of-a-kind beer packed with as much bitter flavoring and spices as Flavor Flav and Ginger Spice’s lovechild – and it showcases Suds, the genius brewmaster, in all his unfettered glory.

I’m not much of a wine aficionado, but after visiting Europe with my fiancé last year I had become something of a beer buff. Some say my bushy eyebrows, wirerimmed glasses, and diarrhea of the oral cavity make me ideally suited to the parsing of obscure beverages. A few years earlier, I’d discovered a bar in Boston called Pepe Le Brew that had several unusual beers on tap. The best, I thought, were from a place called Barecove Brewery, in southern Massachusetts. The brewery’s motto was “Create like a God, command like a king, and drink like a Kennedy.” They made everything from elegant Belgian-style ales to experimental beers brewed with lobster claws and onions sautéed in butter. I had never seen anything like it – or tasted anything like it for that

6 matter. The summer seasonal Burnt Human Hair was as adventurous as its name and its thin white head bubbled with fruit nectar and nutmeg. I was hooked after one visit. Every night for the next two weeks I would leave work and mosey up to the bar and sample a new bold and brave beverage: Boiled Cabbage Ale, Decaying Elephant Corpse, Bacon Grease Stout – I tried them all. There was something about the place – the décor, the location, the service, the people – that I thoroughly enjoyed. For some reason, most likely the high-alcohol content of the beers, I felt invigorated, free – almost audacious. Before I give off the impression that I am a neurotic couch-surfing worrywart who calculates the risk of riding Ferris Wheels, let me save you the drama for your baby’s mama: I am. Put it this way, I had never been out of the country until recently, I wore three condoms the first time I had sex, and my bachelor party is being hosted by my mother and we are having a Yankee Swap. My entire life has been one safe move after the next and lately, for some reason, I have been craving The Safety Dance. Yes, I want to rock out to the best-selling single from the 1980’s synth pop group Men Without Hats. And the weirdest part of it all is: I don’t even dance. I don’t know how to. Well, at least not good. Heck, not even vaguely good. My fiancé says I look like “The Tin Man with an atomic wedgie.” We’re scheduled to take ballroom lessons next month. That should be as smooth as an epileptic bluefish. So the bottom line is that my wedding is two months away and my inner bowels are urging me to explore. What I don’t know. I thought I was having a midlife crisis but I’m only 34. I ruled out the Jack Kerouac open road possibility since I despise jazz, poetry, and drug experiences. Plus, the idea of having sex with random loose women is not exactly conducive to starting a marriage off on the right foot.

7 After two weeks of exhaustive soul searching, I abandoned the need to know exactly what in the wild was calling for me. I just embraced the fact that an expedition was in order. Luckily, one of my colleagues in the English department is a major literary and cartoon enthusiast and subscribes to The New Yorker. One day on my lunch break in the teacher conference room I stumbled upon the May issue. In it was a compelling profile on Brother Thomas Schmitz, a Trappist monk who lives in a luxurious castle on the top of Mount Schadelfreude, Germany’s highest mountain. He spends his waking hours obeying an ancient way of life guided by the principles of simplicity, selfsuffiency, and prayer. Oh, and brewing, what he claims to be, the world’s first holy beer. A beverage that not only tastes like God’s saliva but intoxicates you with “a divine and indestructible feeling that makes you believe you could bend lightning bolts and use them as toothpicks.” He has spent the last five years in seclusion working to perfect all the essential ingredients of his “celestial golden nectar”. Next month he is opening the gates of the castle and inviting the public, well, those brave and capable enough to scale the dangerous summit, to join him in sampling the world’s first “God-breathed brew.” It was obvious. I had found my almighty excursion. The big question mark was: who in the hell was I going to get to join me on this fantastic journey? After much careful and thoughtful debate – there was only one obvious choice: Bronsan “Suds” Belton.

I found Bronsan’s email address on the contact section of the Barecove Brewing website and, on a whim, I sent him a long and detailed message outlining my plight, the specifics of the trip, and the allure of the “unprecedented Godly beer”.

8 Suds was used to having bizarre correspondence with customers. On Monday mornings, his brewery’s answering machine was always full of rambling meditations from fans, in the throes of booze-fueled mysticism at their local watering hole. But my winded message was different. Much different. I had a proposition for him. The ultimate random and, almost stalker-like, proposition: would he climb Germany’s largest mountain with a perfect stranger to locate a monk brewmaster who claims to have created an unrivaled holy beer. I expressed how I hoped to bring a fistful of cutting-edge growlers and transport the “golden nectar” back to the states to serve to our guests at the wedding. This would be the ultimate bachelor party (Sorry mom) and adventure for a

guy who pretty much has shunned adventure his entire life. I shiver at Six Flag roller coasters and I’ve never been to a strip club – nor do I have any friends who would go to one with me. Apparently my sincerity (desperation?) spoke to Suds’s own exploratory ambitions for himself and Barecove Brewery: to make beers so revolutionary and

dynamic that they couldn’t be judged by ordinary standards, and to live a life less ordinary and extraordinary – always challenging the norms of the clockwork universe. And so, a week later, Suds gave me a call: “Come down to my beach cottage on Brant Rock this Saturday,” he said. “We’ll talk shop and drink like The Prohibition might make a comeback.” I, by then, of course had begun to have second thoughts. What am I doing? Shouldn’t I be home with my wife-to-be updating our Knot page and editing our seating plan? A twelve-hour bus ride across Munich followed by a half day’s mountain

9 expedition into the wilderness is crazy for anyone – especially a high school teacher who TiVos Jeopardy every night so he can carefully grade his students’ papers.

The day I met Suds at his brewery he was wearing flip-flops, warm-up pants, and a Larry Bird throwback jersey, and looked about as concerned with refreshing himself as the customers bellied up at the bar, drinking free samples. When tour groups visit Barecove Brewing, they’re greeted by a quote on the back wall from Benjamin Franklin: “Beer is proof that Gods loves us and wants us to be happy.” From what I know of Suds so far, this playful creed could be etched on his tombstone. His eccentricity is of an agreeable sort: brewing beer, shunning corporate drudgery, living on the beach. For a while after college, he did some acting, and he still looks as if he belonged in, well, a Kevin Costner movie. He has a swimmer’s lean, long-muscled frame and a perpetual tan. His chiseled features are set in a blockish head and topped by a messy, spiked dirty blond quaff. When he talks, his lips twist slightly to the side and his voice comes out gruff, like a smoker singing karaoke in the back room of a Chinese restaurant. Barecove’s reputation has been built on extreme ales like its Manmeat I.P.A., one of the strongest beers of its kind in the world. This was the first beer I sampled from them and its power instantly hit me like a torrential downpour. I was buzzed after one pint. It has more hops than LeBron James and it’s stronger than him too. “A typical I.P.A. has six percent alcohol and a busload of bittering,” said Suds. “My version has eighteen percent alcohol and it’s brewed for two hours, with continuous infusions of hops, and then fermented with a barrage of more.”

10 Although I appreciate its ingenuity and brilliant alchemy, I don’t care for it. To me it tastes like dead worms after an acid rainstorm – but I would never admit that to Suds. Plus, it’s a bestseller so maybe my palette is just not mature or refined enough yet. “When you’re trying to create new brewing techniques and beer styles, you have to challenge the norms,” explained Suds. “I admit, I’m an intrepid iconoclast, but I have a stellar palate. Those who don’t agree with that are probably just sober.” Like most successful craft brewers, Suds came to beer from something else. He grew up in Cohasset, the middle child of a real estate lawyer and the heir to a long line of pastry chefs. His mother and grandmother have won numerous national awards for their elegant and awe-inspiring wedding cakes. He never graduated from high school, though he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English, at Roger Williams University, in Rhode Island. In 1992, he moved to Manhattan, to take film classes at NYU and work toward a Master of Fine Arts. It was there, while waiting tables at Cuchi Cuchi Brew in Gramercy, that he had his first taste of craft beer. Before long, he was brewing beer in his cramped studio – his first was a pumpkin spice ale – and spending his afternoons at the New York Public Library, researching the beer industry. The rest is history.

Barecove Brewings and Burgers, the first pub that Suds opened in 1993, sits on the main drag of Nantasket Beach, on Massachusetts’s southern shore. The pub’s name “Barecove” comes from what European settlers first called the town of Hingham – its location was inspired by his father, Bruce, who grew up in Hull’s Gut. He’s now coowner of the brewery and does all the event planning and catering. The property is a

11 stone’s throw from the ocean and the tavern has been a smashing success from the day it opened. The beer took a little longer. Suds had brewed fewer than ten batches before he decided to hang the OPEN sign, and he rarely used the same recipe twice. “I’d just grab whatever was in the cabinet and throw it in,” he says. “I made a canned tuna and Ramen Noodle golden ale that gave me and a handful of customers the backdoor trots for three days!” The pub’s brewing equipment consisted of two eight-gallon kegs on propane burners, and a rack of modified kegs for fermenting the beer. To keep up with demand, Suds had to brew two or three times a day, every day – between shifts he slept on an air mattress in the cellar. When the beer was ready, him and his father would don hockey masks and snowsuits and bottle the beer by hand, with a siphon and mechanical capper. In ten hours they could fill a hundred cases. By working in small batches, Suds became the MacGyver of experimental brewing. He made a medieval gruit with Twizzlers and wasabi. He made a summer seasonal with baked beans and clam chowder from Legal Seafood. He made a stout with roasted peanuts from Fenway Park and black olives. His unconventional and bizarre handmade beverages caught on in a flash and he quickly became the Tiger Woods of the extreme-beer era.

My fiancé is sixty percent of my age, and I am old-fashioned enough that it bothers me. Her name is Maureen and she is an accounting manager for a big health insurance firm in Boston. She is neat and efficient in her every little thing, from her shining marmalade hair to her careful calculations of Excel spreadsheets.

12 On a muggy Wednesday night, we dangled our feet over the edge of the Charles River, watching the listless rowers and sailboats reflect off the Big Dipper. I had already mentally checked out for my sashay, but there was still a kind of magic in having my arm around the delicate shoulders of a girl by moonlight, hidden from the hustle of the homeless by the Esplanade, breathing the warm, moist air. Maureen plumped her head against my chest and gave me a butterfly kiss under my jaw. “The summer wind came blowing in,” I sang, gently. “From across the sea,” she sang, warm breath on my deltoids. “It lingered there and touched your hair and walked with me,” I sang. I’d been startled to know that she knew Frank Sinatra. He’d been old news even when I was a teenager. But her parents had given her a thorough – yet eclectic – musical education. She heaved a dramatic sigh. “I am going to miss you,” she said. “You better come back to me in one piece.” “I’m going to come back to you with Reece’s Pieces and a few growlers full of intoxicating ale that even your grumpy uncle Al is going to love.” She reached up and gently tweaked my nipple, and I gave a satisfying little jump. I felt her smile against my shirt. She loved being engaged – loved hip wedding venues like The Artist For Humanity Center – loved to try to convince me to agree to spend more money on printing out fancy colored menus and place cards. I loved it all too, but I really loved just sitting there with her, watching the water and the ducks. As much as I was in my glory, I was also fired up for an adventure.

13 Once I stepped on the plane, my heart dropped and I was consumed by an overwhelming anxiety that stemmed from already missing Maureen. But I overcame the awful feeling in an instant. A sexy and stylish forty-year-old Cougar seated across the aisle told Suds that from certain angles I look just like Ryan Seacrest. Or maybe it's John Cusack. It's somebody kind of famous, and by the time I finish feeling good about this, it doesn't matter. The two pints of Arrogant Bastard we had on the way in start warming my bowels, and anyhow you should see my new hiking boots. Timberlands, baby. I bought them yesterday at Marshall’s for forty bucks and had them polished twice in the airport prior to takeoff. “In Germany, I'm going to wake up with the rooster,” Suds tells me. “In Germany, I'm going to buy a David Hassellhoff CD and sing all his songs as we hike the mountain,” I tell him. “In Germany, I might kill you then,” he says. “In Germany, I’m going to dress like a gay Hitler and sing David Hassellhoff," I say. “In Germany,” he says, “I'm definitely going to fucking kill you.” And on and on like this we go for the entire flight – the back and forth and fastforward drivel that beats saying nothing, if only by a fraction. Just enough chitchat to make us ignore the cheesy Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy playing and, for me, just enough alcohol to ensure that I'm a hundred percent pain free by the time the stewardesses have their little hush-hush up near the cockpit and decide I've drunk all the complimentary Stella I'm going to drink. And my attitude is like, fine, so be it – look at me, mom, first class, baby.

14 We land in Germany without incident. On our way off the plane, the woman who thinks I look like Dave Matthews reminds us to watch out for “the radical jihadists on the mountain” and that this is Munich after all, and who can know what she means by this, though I wouldn't be surprised if she can tell just from looking at me how long it's been since my penis had been touched. We take a shuttle to our digs, making the kind of talk you make upon first arriving someplace – the weather, the architecture, what we're going to eat. It's our first night in Germany, and so we'll hit all the tourist spots, acclimate ourselves to the Germanness of it all, and, most likely, buy some steins and fill them with the good local shit. At check-in, Suds does all the talking. In German. I can't stand it. I'll admit as well to being a little disappointed by the girl they got working the desk. I'd expected maybe something more glamorous, something a little more Marlene Dietrich? Claudia Schiffer – she is not. But me, I'm pretty much shut out of things as Suds rolls a spitfueled rant and the girl takes his credit card without so much as a smile. I'm left standing there with a tightened sphincter and a runny nose while Suds and the German girl laugh about something related to my hair. She hands him two keys and Suds points to our bags and says, come on, kingmaker. In the elevator: “What was that all about?” I ask. “I told her you were a famous gay hair stylist,” he says, laughing. Our room looks like any other Holiday Inn room you've ever seen, only Germaner. Suds heads for the shower. I turn on the TV and quickly learn that some American shows do not translate well into German culture. A good example is The Office. Instead of just dubbing the original British or Steve Carell version, the German

15 version is a remake called Stromberg that uses German actors and incorporates German business practices and culture. Not funny, or maybe it is, I don’t know, I can’t relate or comprehend any dialogue – same with The Simpsons which they call Die Simpsons here and which, for some odd reasons, reminds me of O.J. Simpson. Suds rushes out of the shower and quickly gets dressed. He grabs a growler from his bag and pours us both a pint. A cluster of quality German beer gardens await us and we toast to the health of all air travelers as we leave for the swank European nightlife, which seems to me now, with its chic fashion and its whoosh of constant cigarette smoke, both exciting and dreadful.

Situated just a hundred kilometers East of Berlin, Mount Schadenfreude is famous for its natural vistas of steep and narrow paths, its precipitous crags, and its dangerous hiking trail to the summit. It is home to several influential German castles and

monasteries where monks of past dynasties made pilgrimages, making Mount Schadenfreude the holy land of isolation and enlightenment. Known as the “Number One Vast and Vertical Peak under Heaven”, Mount Schadenfreude proudly lives up to its reputation through its perilous “der Schwanz”, a twelve feet long, one foot wide plank path situated along a jagged cliff, where just one false step means falling in the abyss below. Extreme weather conditions don’t make the traverse any easier either as fog and vapors rise up from the heavily vegetated valley below, resulting in constant haze and limited visibility. Plus, the tropical downpours cause frequent mudslides.

16 Those are the potentially deadly obstacles you need to keep in mind if you plan to tackle this beast: Schadenfreude Trail is not about mountain-climbing but hiking. As such, you don’t get to use high-tech equipment that could save your life – it’s just you, nature and, if you think ahead, a few custom-made growlers full of potent farmyard beer.

The morning we began our travels the mountain was in its finest colors. Summer had brought to it a splendid robe, gorgeous and glowing, its green adorned with wild flowers, and the bloom of bush and tree like a gigantic stretch of tapestry. The vast alpine meadows and rocky deserts sprawled out in endless rows and overhead the foliage gleamed, a veil of emerald lace before the sun. I drank in the glory, eye and ear, but never failed to watch the underbrush, and to listen for hostile sounds. I knew full well that my life rested upon my vigilance and, as often as I had watched Rambo, I valued too much these precious days to risk my sudden end through any neglect of my own. A mysterious bird which preened itself on a nearby branch caught my attention. When the shadows from the waving shrubbery fell upon its feathers it shined a bright purple, but when the sunlight poured through, it glowed a glossy blue. I did not know its name, but it was a cool bird, a happy bird. Now and then it ceased its hopping back and forth, raised its head and sent forth a deep, sweet, thrilling note, amazing in volume to come from such a small body. Had it dared to sing a full song I would have crooned a bar or two of Sinatra in reply. The bird was a friend to one alone and in need, and its dauntless melody made my own heart beat faster. If a creature so tiny and fragile was not afraid in the wilderness – why should I be!

17 A peculiar sound erupted out of the rickety unknown. It was so slight that it was hard to differentiate it from the whisper of the wind. It was barely audible but when I listened again and with all my powers I was sure that it was a new and foreign noise. Then I separated it from the breeze among the leaves, and it seemed to me to contain a quality like that of the human voice. If so, it might be hostile, because my partner-incrime, Suds, was among the missing. We lost each other halfway up the mountain. The muffled shriek, scarcely more than a variation of the wind, registered again though lightly, and now I knew that it came from the lungs of man, man the pursuer, man the slayer, and maybe, in this case, man the brewmaster, perhaps Suds, the fierce beverage inventor. Doubtless it was a signal, one beer devotee calling to another, and I listened anxiously for the reply, but I did not hear it, the point from which it was sent being too remote, and I settled back into my bed of hedges and grass, resolved to keep as still as a scarecrow until I could make up my mind about my next move. I was keenly apprehensive. The signals indicated that the pursuing force had spread out, and I was worried that they might enclose me in a fatal circle. My eager temperament, always sensitive to impressions, was kindled into fire, and my imagination painted the whole chase scene in the most vibrant of colors. A mere thought at first, it now became a conviction: terrorists are combing the mountain looking for me. They had stumbled upon my trail by chance, and, venomous about Americans, would follow me for hours in an effort to kill me. I closed my eyes and pictured them with all the intensity of reality, their malignant faces, dirty turbans, powerful guns and explosives. But my imagination which was so vital a part of me did not paint evil and danger alone – I also envisioned myself refreshed, stronger of body and keener of mind, escaping

18 every trap and trick laid for my ruin. I saw myself making a victorious flight through the cliffs, my arrival at the castle, my reunion with Suds, my handshake with the master monk, and my lips gracing a frosty mug full of the golden nectar. Before I could bask in the daydream, the bird sang again, pouring forth a brilliant tune, and I ducked down in a hidden position. It had a fine spirit, an optimistic spirit like my own and I knew it would warn me if danger crept too close. While the thought was fresh in my mind the third signal came, and now it was so clear and distinct that it indicated a rapid approach. But I was still unable to choose the right direction to flee and I looked for a sign from the bird. I figured that if the terrorists were charging at us it would fly directly away from them. At least I hoped so, and optimism had so much power over me, especially in such a situation where belief becomes assurance. The bird stopped singing suddenly, but kept his perch on the waving branch. I swear that it looked straight at me before it uttered two or three sharp notes, and then, rising in the air, hovered for a few minutes above the limb. It was obvious that my call had come. For a breathless instant or two I forgot about the dangerous Islamists and watched the bird, a flash of blue flame against the green veil of the forest. It uttered three or four tweets, not short or sharp now, but soft, long and beckoning, dying away in the gentlest of echoes. My imagination, as vivid as ever, translated it into a call for me to come, and I was not in the least surprised, when the blue flame like the pillow of a cloud moved slowly to the northeast, and toward an obvious path. We crossed a deep valley and began the ascent of another high hill, rough with rocky outcrops and a heavy growth of briars and vines. I slowed my pace and once or twice I thought I had lost my soaring tour guide, but it always reappeared, and, for the

19 first time since its initial flight, it sang a boisterous ballad, a clear melodious treble, carrying far through the windy woods. I felt like I was in a Disney film and I believed that the song was meant for me. Clearly it called out for me to follow, and, with equal clarity, it told me that safety lay only in the path I now traveled. I believed, with all the ardor of my soul, and there was no fatigue in my body as I scaled the pebbly gorge. I was between the horns of a crescent, and the top was not far away. I felt little weariness as I climbed the rugged ridge. My breath was easy and regular and my steps were long and swift. My chivalrous chaperone was flying slowly in front of me. Whatever my pace, whether fast or slow, the distance between us never seemed to change. The bird would dart aside, perhaps to catch an insect, but it always returned promptly to its course. I reached the crest of the summit, and saw the epic castle in the distance, fold on fold, lying before me. My coveted haven was not so far away, and the great pulses in my temples throbbed. I would reach the top, and I would find refuge in a cold beer. The forest remained dense, a sea of vegetation with bushes and clinging thorns in which an ignorant or incautious hiker would have tripped and fallen, but I was neither, and I did not forget, as I fled, to notice where my feet fell. My skill and presence of mind kept me from stumbling or from making any racket that would draw the attention of possible extremists who might creep up on me and cut my head off for Allah. I sprinted up the last hilly knoll and before me spread the imposing castle in its deep moat setting, a glittering spectacle that I never failed to admire, and that I admired even now, when my life was in peril, and seconds were precious.

20 The bird perched suddenly on a protruding stick, uttered a few thrilling chirps, and was gone, a last blue flash into the dense sin-concealing chaos. I did not see it again, and I did not expect to. Its work was done. Strong in the faith of the wilderness, I believed and always believed that my furry friend would lead me to safe grounds. I crouched a few moments on a ledge and just stared at the majesty of the castle. Suds was nowhere to be seen. I found a quiet section of refuge, grown thickly with ivory, and I followed it at least a football field long, until the gargoyles towered above me, dark and intimidating, and the castle came up against me like a wall. I could go no farther. I had reached my destination. I had successfully scaled Mount Schadenfreude. Before I could bask in my accomplishment, a slight sound came from the undergrowth, and I stayed still. It appeared to be the cry of a wild boar, calling to its mate, but my attention was attracted by an odd inflection in it, a strain that seemed familiar. I listened with the utmost attention, and when it came a second time, I was so sure that it was Suds that my heart almost bungee-jumped out of my chest. It was naive of me to think that he would arrive in full daylight, exposed to every hostile eye. It was his natural course to approach in the dark and send an incognito signal that only I would know. I imitated the call, a soft, low note, but one that traveled far, and soon the answer came. No more was needed. The circle was complete. Suds was hiding somewhere close and I knew that he was lingering by the overskirts of the castle, waiting. I took a long breath of intense relief and delight. One less cautious would have immediately repeated the call, but I knew that Suds had found me and I did not want to run the risk of tipping off the terrorists where we were. Meanwhile, I listened attentively for any quiet sign, but many long minutes passed before I heard a faint whistle. I never

21 doubted for an instant that it was my devoted drinking buddy and again my heart felt that triumphant feeling. Surely no man had ever had a more loyal or braver comrade! If I had vicious enemies I also had a faithful and, most likely inebriated, friend who more than offset them. I saw a shadow, a deeper dark in the darkness, and I whimpered the low bellow of the wild boar. In an instant came the answer, and then the shadow, turning, glided toward me. I leaned out from the tree to the last inch, and called in a penetrating whisper: “Suds! Over here!” In the dusk his iconic figure loomed up, more than ever a tower of strength, and his slender but muscular form seemed to be made of gleaming bronze. Had I needed any infusion of courage and determination his appearance alone would have gave it to me. “There he is!” said Suds, in a whimsical tone, obviously drunk. “What happened to you?” I asked. “You disappeared like Whitey Bulger.” “I made a beeline down an open path and when I turned around you were nowhere to be found. So I drank the rest of the growler and passed out on a huge stump for a few hours.” “I am being chased by Islamic terrorists with suitcases containing homemade chemical bombs. I have not seen them, but I know from the venom and persistence of the pursuit that they were after me. I eluded them by coming down the cliff and hiding among the sand dunes.” “I’m here now, brotha,” said Suds. “There’s nothing to fear but beer itself, baby!”

22 He spoke in his usual Boston bravado and in a light playful tone, but I knew the depth of his feelings. The friendship of the brewmaster and the high school teacher was held by hooks of steel like that of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. “I heard your hearty wild boar call,” said Suds. “It wasn’t very loud, but never was a sound more welcoming and inviting.” “It is merely the custom of my people, forced upon us by need, and I but follow.” “It doesn’t alter my astonishment, kingmaker. You, my friend, are the ultimate adventurer and I have to say – you passed the test.” We awkwardly hugged and headed toward the entrance of the monk’s castle.

The doorbell sounded with a loud chime. Brother Goric, head of the brewery, answered, dressed in the Cistercian habit of white robe with a black, hooded outer robe, gray socks and leather sandals. His dark hair was cropped short. He wore a plain digital watch with a black band. The interior of the monastery was circled by sandstone walls like a medieval fortress (it was founded in the twelfth century and rebuilt in the nineteen-twenties), but its brewery was as high-tech as they come. From the grain bins to the onion-domed copper kettles to the fermentation tanks, the operation was largely gravity-driven and even a seasoned professional like Suds was extremely impressed. It was the biggest brewing day of the year, but the abbey was still quiet and peaceful. Brother Goric led the way past the aluminum tanks and the bottling room, where the infamous Brother Thomas was addressing a handful of hardcore travelers.

23 He was a wizardly figure with a long white beard and large glasses that seem to draw his eyes together at the inner corners. He had a quiet but penetrating voice, a sharp wit, and a near total lack of pretension. "As monks, the rule is pray and work. These are the two pillars of a Trappist life," Brother Thomas explained. "If all we did was pray we would lose our mind. There has to be a break between work and monastic life. So we find our balance in brewing.” Brother Thomas, 45, retreated to the castle eight years ago. Before that, he was a captain in the Belgian police force. "We are separated from the world, but we encounter the world in ourselves," he said. "You do not become a saint simply by entering a monastery. Like anything of value, you have to earn it and it takes time.”

The historical King Jehu was an idolater ruler in what is now central Israel. When he was buried, around 700 B.C., his tomb was filled with more than a hundred and fifty drinking vessels – parting toasts to the dead king. By the time he was excavated, in 1948, the liquid inside them had evaporated. But Brother Thomas, more than fifty years later, was able to analyze some residue from a wooden ladle and identify its chemical content. By matching the compounds to those found in the foods and spices of ancient Jerusalem, Thomas gradually pieced together the liquid’s main ingredients: laurel leaf, fennel, barley, autumn crocus, and a chunky substance that was probably matzo ball soup. “A top-notch beer may be judged with only one sip but it’s better to be thoroughly sure,” Thomas said, as he poured us a stein full of his famous Do You Feel Lucky Monk Ale. We sat at a spacious oak table in his office in the brewery, surrounded by daunting bookshelves and meticulous lab equipment: a furnace, a microscale, a spectrometer, a

24 liquid chromatograph. Here and there, pottery sculptures, arrowheads, and other artifacts were wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil and stuffed in file drawers or cardboard cases. “Let us drink to the replenishment of our strength,” he said, raising his beefy glass of grappa to the sky. “And to you, trusted high school teacher: May you and your bride-tobe grow old on one pillow.” Thomas had recently published his findings on King Jehu and was preparing to make a modern-day replica of the beverage when The New Yorker called. Jehu Juice, as it was later called, has a brilliant rose-gold color – every batch contains about a bathtub full of wild rosemary – and a thick, honeyed, spicy flavor: a cross between beer, milk, and Jolt. It is the world’s most unorthodox drink. “To have a sip is to taste heaven,” Brother Thomas said. “I’ll pledge you a mile to the bottom.” He filled our growlers up to the brim and we talked about the cosmic carpet of the future unrolling before us, of the certainty that we would encounter alien intelligences some day, of the unimaginable frontiers open to each of us. He told us that a passion for politics was a strong indicator that one’s personal reservoir of introspection and creativity was dry – and that without struggle, there is no real victory. He believed that Obama recaptured the true essence of socialism: in the old days, if you were broke but respected, you wouldn’t starve. On the other side of the coin, if you were rich and hated, no sum could buy you security and peace. By measuring the thing that money really represented – your personal capital with your spouse, friends and neighbors – you more accurately gauged your success.

25 And then he lead us down a subtle, carefully baited trail that led to my admission that while, yes, we might someday encounter alien species with wild and fabulous lifestyles, that right now, there was a slightly depressing homogeneity to the world.

It was a strange ending to a voyage that had commenced in a most auspicious manner. The charm of new acquaintances and improvised amusements served to make the time pass agreeably. We enjoyed the pleasant sensation of being separated from the world, living, as it were, upon a royal castle, and consequently obliged to be sociable with each other. I dwelled on how much originality and spontaneity radiated from a couple of random dudes who, two weeks ago, did not even know each other, and who were, for several days, condemned to lead a life of extreme intimacy, jointly defying the anger of the weather, the terrible onslaught of terrorists, the anxiety of approaching nuptials, and the agonizing monotony of the terrain. Such a life becomes a sort of strange existence, with its hiccups and its grandeurs, its serendipity and its diversity – and that is why, perhaps, we embark upon escapism voyages with mingled feelings of pleasure and fear. But, during our descent down the mountain, a new sensation had been added to the life of the transatlantic traveler. A little floating island of adventure was now attached to the world from which it was once quite free. A bond united us, even in the very heart of the steep gorges of Mount Schadenfreude. During the final day of our hegira, we felt that we were being followed, escorted, preceded even, by that distant voice, which, from time to time, whispered to one of us a few magical words from the receding world.

26 THE END