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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,

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.”


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 ultra-

collectible 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.


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, wire-

rimmed 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

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.


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, self-

suffiency, 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”.

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

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.”


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 co-

owner of the brewery and does all the event planning and catering. The property is a

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.


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


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.

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


“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 fast-

forward 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.


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 spit-

fueled 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

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.


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!


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-in-

crime, 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

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

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.

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

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!”

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.

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


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-to-

be 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.


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.