ABOUT THIS time of year, Andy Musser and I would catch up with each other for a glass of Anchor Our Special Ale, the San Francisco brewery's Christmas beer. With the recipe for the dark beer famously changing every year - a different spice or grain - he and I would spend an hour or so trying to guess the secret ingredients.
Nutmeg, I'd say.
Spruce, he'd reply.
Andy had retired from the Phillies broadcast booth in 2001 after 26 years as a play-by-play announcer. Years earlier, on an off-day when the Phils were visiting the Giants, he had met Anchor Brewing founder Fritz Maytag. The two men clicked, and Maytag eventually asked him to be his East Coast sales "ambassador."
That's how I met Andy: first as an interview subject for my beer column, then as a friend. Lunches, beer festivals, dinner with our wives. He took me to the home opener of the 2008 season and introduced me to my childhood hero, Dick Allen.
These little holiday get-togethers gave us a chance to share our two loves, baseball and beer.
For the first Christmas in a decade, Andy and I won't be enjoying a glass of Anchor together. My friend passed away in January at the age of 74.
He'd been ill; we could all see that. Always skinny, he'd lost more weight. His stamina was gone. Heart problems. There was beer at the table the last time we had lunch, but Andy wasn't drinking. The restaurant chef fixed him a plate of unsalted hummus. It tasted like wet plaster, but Andy - always the gentleman - passed along his compliments and took home the leftovers.
When I drove him back to his place in Wynnewood, Andy told me he had something for me in the garage.
"Over there in the corner," he nodded. "I don't know if I'm ever going to get around to them."
The cardboard box was sagging and faded, but I recognized it immediately as a case of magnums of Our Special Ale.
"I think there are some pretty old ones in there," Andy said. "You'll have to tell me how they taste."
I guess I knew then . . .
The funny thing is, Andy wasn't a big fan of cellared beer - at least not this beer. For him, Our Special Ale was best just after it was bottled, when the spices are vibrant and the hops still fresh. But he'd saved these bottles because, I suspect, he'd known plenty of beer lovers enjoy comparing the flavors from the various years.
I hauled the case to my car, gave him a hug, and that was it.
After his funeral, I stopped in a deli, grabbed a bottle of his favorite - Anchor Steam - and drank a solitary toast to Andy. I tried to remember some of his old baseball stories. About his partners in the broadcast booth, Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. About the old Veterans Stadium. About the players of the past.
Schmidt, I'd say.
Carlton, he'd reply.
The magnums have been sitting in my cellar since last Christmas. Another year older.
On Saturday at Fergie's Pub in Center City, I'm going to open 'em up and share them - a vintage tasting in honor of Andy Musser. Another friend, Anchor enthusiast Keith Kelleher, is going to bring his stash of bottles. Owner Fergus Carey will tap a keg of this year's brew.
Together, we have about 15 years' worth of Our Special Ale. We'll all savor the beer. I'll savor the memories.
The vintage tasting of Our Special Ale is open to the public at Fergie's Pub, 1214 Sansom St., 6 p.m. Saturday. Admission $10. Proceeds benefit Joe Sixpack's Eat, Drink & Be Generous campaign for Philabundance.