THE ADVENT CALENDAR OF ALCOHOL – 9th December (8%-9%): Duvel

It was February, it was cold, it was a Publog unDiplomatic five-headed fact-finding mission to Brussels. It was that key landmark birthday for the vinyl obsessive: I was turning 33 and a third.

The obvious thing to do was to spend the day procuring the products of the glorious Belgian brewing industry and then enjoying the consumption thereof. We decided we needed a high concept to shape our day’s activities. It was decided: our delegation would sample thirty three beers between us. We would, at the end of this effort, take a straw poll and I, chief celebrant, would drink a second and a third of that brew.

It all seemed so simple at the time. I’d had a trundle around some art shows while my companions slept, and we met at the world-famous caf’ brun, the Mort Subite. One of our band of goodwill ambassadors was tasked with recording the proceedings, and rumours persist of records of the day’s travails and consumptions, hidden in jars in caves somewhere deep below Crouch Hill.

The day passed off well and without pretension. We’d left plenty of time, and although much beer was sampled, it was at a leisurely pace. We visited some tremendous pubs, drank some terrific beer and made some temporary friends. I’m delighted to recall our not making any enemies. We weren’t maurauding.

It was a Sunday and, as Sundays do, it worked its way around to closing time without much noise. I hadn’t yet embarked on the second or third beer. We took our straw poll. Orval! Ah glorious Orval, sipping beer of the Gods, tart holy glorious Orval. I sank my second and -oh!- we had drunk the Orval supplies of Bar DaDa dry. Onto the Chimay Bleu. And the same thing happened! No more blue for me. We took this as a hint from the beer gods and pressed on.

On to our final destination, the last bar open in our neck of the woods. They were operating with no Orval and no Bleu also, despite ‘ or perhaps because of – the fact we’d drunk both there earlier in the weekend. We searched the menu for a beer we’d already sampled, because embarking on a three-beer run on a new beer was a touch ambitious.

And there it was. Duvel. The Devil itself, in blonde smooth sparkling form. I love it but it’s lethal, it flatters your palette and tempts you into its treacherous world of deferred pain. On ordering, we checked that they had plenty of Duvel in stock. Yes they did! We were set.

Except? Except that as I made my way to the bar to complete my task, they closed. It was time to go home, beaten though unbloodied, happy yet sad. But hold on! Pete had not only spotted an off-license, he had persuaded them to allow him into their locked premises followed by all manner of night-dwellers who had appeared from nooks and crannies in the street. We abandoned our helpful beer-off friends with a shop full of crazies. We didn’t care. With our prize of a bottle of Duvel achieved, we set off for our hotel and glorious success.

And when I awoke, bright, early and surprisingly fresh, the sight which awaited me was a bottle of Duvel by my head, opened but undrunk. Defeat snatched from the slobbering, snoring jaws of victory.

The question remained: were we saved by the holiness of the Trappist brews we had consumed so enthusiastically? Or had our plan been foiled by The Devil?