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Monks need a new roof, so beer geeks relish 'world's finest'

THE "WORLD'S BEST BEER" finally comes to America, you're damn straight Jason Johnson is going to get himself a sixpack.

THE "WORLD'S BEST BEER" finally comes to America, you're damn straight Jason Johnson is going to get himself a sixpack.

By 4:30 a.m. yesterday, the Acme meat cutter was first in line outside a Delaware liquor store, patient but shivering in anticipation of the long-awaited arrival of Westvleteren 12.

"Hell, I want to try this beer so much, I was ready to tailgate this motherf-----," said Johnson, 32, of Wilmington.

The prayerful monks who brew the strong, dark ale at a Belgian Trappist monastery would no doubt cringe at Johnson's salty language. Indeed, if they had their way, they wouldn't have bothered even to send it to the crude crowd over here.

Normally, the beer is sold only on a few days a month at the tiny St. Sixtus monastery in the countryside 100 miles west of Brussels. Even then, you've got to telephone ahead and reserve a case, then promise not to resell the sacred liquid.

But the monastery needs a new roof, and the brothers figured the easiest way to raise the needed bucks was to sell it to American beer geeks, who almost universally regard the brew as the world's finest.

After several frustrating delays, special packs - or "bricks" - containing six bottles and a pair of glasses went on sale in 22 states at $85 each. With a dispute over distribution rights blocking sales in Pennsylvania, Total Wine in Claymont, Del., was the closest outlet to Philly. By the store's opening at 9 a.m., more than 100 people were in line at its front door.

Anil Pillay, 38, who arrived from the Mayfair section of the city about 7 a.m., said, "It's my first opportunity to taste it, and $85 is a lot cheaper than going to Belgium and making an appointment to try the beer."

Jim Phillips, 42, of Center City, had tried two other varieties from Westvleteren but never the much-revered 12 (named for an old European scale for measuring alcohol strength). "They were probably close to the best beers I've ever tried, so I couldn't miss out on the 12," he said.

Cecil Daniel, 46, an oil-refinery worker from Texas, was thrilled when he learned the beer would be available during his temporary work stint in the East. "When I found it was for sale right here in Delaware, I had to come," he said. "I'm so excited."

Bill Bessette of Burlington, N.J., said the ale's scarcity "is part of the reason for all of the attention.

Indeed, not all beer aficionados were going nuts. In New England, beer critic Andy Crouch grumbled online that Westvleteren was nothing more than a "beer-geek merit badge."

Still, its arrival energized beer fans nationwide, many of whom tweeted about scoring treasured sixpacks and offered bottles to friends. Some locations around the country reported that they had sold out in a matter of minutes, but Total Wine still had a healthy supply by late morning.

Newly married Jen Harkness, 26, of the Graduate Hospital area, who was sixth in line, was one of the lucky ones. "He dragged me here," she said, pointing to her husband.

"Nah," replied Michael Harkness, 26, "she was more excited than me."