Ultimate 6er | The Literary Beer Collection
Brewers get their inspiration from a great deal of sources. It is by no surprise that we see beers giving the proverbial nod to great literary works and writers. Both are art forms in their own right that tend to fuel our imaginations. In my opinion, our respect for the literary imagination rivals that of any other creative art. Second only to really good beer, of course!
There are a plethora of beers out there with reference to literary writers, characters and stories. Some are vaguer than others. I have hand-picked a few that stand out to me, and in no particular order. Here’s The Literary Beer Collection Ultimate 6er.
First on the list is Baltimore-Washington Beer Work’s “The Raven Special Lager“. This is a classic beer style for a classic poem. Everyone has, at least, heard some reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “The Raven“. It is of Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous pieces. Which is fitting for it to be paired with what is one of histories most famous styles of beer. Baltimore-Washington Beer Works brews a tasty Lager that leaves their patrons happy and refreshed. Yes, a stark contrast to the poem, but a welcomed one. I am sure that, had Mr. Poe held a glass of this during that long night, he might have fared better until the morning. The malt profile is a familiar one that is paired with a modest hop flavor. Nothing like their Tell Tale Heart IPA, another of the five total brews from their Raven Beer Collection. The brewery offers a splendid variety pack that includes the 4 core beers, The Raven Special Lager, Tell Tale Heart IPA, Pendulum Pilsner and The Cask Dopplebock. The newest edition, Annabel Lee White, a Belgian-style witbier, is arriving soon.
Next up, is Bell’s Oberon Ale. This is a summer seasonal hit that beer drinkers wait all year for. Oberon (also spelled Auberon) was the King of the Fairies in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. To say this brew is the King of Summer seasonal beers would spark great debate. Not unlike the custody battle between Oberon and his wife, Queen Titania, which is nothing short of a brutal description of the play… So, like Oberon, this beer tops the list of summer beers! There is even an Oberon Day that is held every year, upon the release of the beer. You will find it has a mild zest and citrus flavor that mingles with a hop finish, which may be considered more prominent than other summer beers. It is a brew that I have recommended to imbibers who prefer a subtler flavor than Pale Ales, Stouts or IPAs.
Seeing how you stuck around for the next beer on the list, let’s talk about Mephistopheles’ Stout from “The DEMONS of ALE” series by Avery Brewing Co. It is hard to call any of these simply “beer”; they are, truly, not of this world. This stout is as intimidating as the fallen-angel it was named after. Mephistopheles is mentioned in the 16th century German legend of Faust (which there are many variations of), and again by William Shakespeare the Merry Wives of Winsdor, as a shape-shifting demon who can be summoned by anyone to serve, but eventually claims their souls. According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the name comes from Hebrew mephitz “destroyer” + tophel “liar”. This stout is unlike any other, no debating on this one. Its rivals are only the other demons of this series. It is beyond complex with flavors of licorice, chocolate, cherries, rum and so much more. It is perfect for aging alongside its brethren. Drink this one in a snifter with good company, one sip at a time. I recommend a dimly lit parlor or library.
Number 4 of the list is a little less of a nightmare and more of a dream inspired brew that was named after Lewis Carroll’s maniacle character, the Mad Hatter, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New Holland Brewing Co. has an entire line of IPAs centered around the tea-obsessed character, but the year round IPA that started it all is simply Mad Hatter. It is specified by the brewery as a “Midwest India Pale Ale”, possibly because the Cascade hops it is brewed with are grown in the brewery’s home state of Michigan. Unlike its literary counterpart, the IPA is underwhelming by American IPA standards, but will still put an Englishman on his rump. There are 6 other variants in a series, referred to, simply, “Hatter”. Imperial Hatter, MI Awesome Hatter (comprised of all Michigan grown ingredients), Rye Hatter, Tasmanian Hatter (using Galaxy hops), White Hatter (Belgian-Style Wit IPA) and Oak Aged Hatter. All of these variants are seasonal, but the original is year-round.
Our second IPA on the list is A Hopwork Orange from Blue Mountain Brewery. I usually think of Dark Hollow, a bourbon barrel aged stout, when I hear Blue Mountain, but this one makes the list over other “Hopwork Orange” IPAs, of which there are a few, because I enjoyed it on a recent business trip. Its name refers to the controversial novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. This is the most contemporary of all the literary references in this article. It was a book that was later adapted for film, like most of the above. However, the film only served to confuse and misconstrue what Burgess had intended the story to be about. Coupled with the fact that the book was written for the sole purpose of revenue in a short 3 week span is why Burgess resented the novel. There is little to misconstrue about Blue Mountain’s orange-infused IPA though. It is a delicious IPA that hugs instead of punches your tastebuds. The orange is prevalent, but not obtrusive to the hops. The balance between fruit and beer flavors are reminiscent of Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin, but with a smaller price tag.
Finally, we end our 6er with the only beer on the list that I have not tasted yet, The Lost Abbey’s Inferno Ale. I added it, because I, oh so badly, want to try this one. Named after Dante’s Inferno, an excerpt from the 14th century epic, Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, this ale has got to have some serious flavors going on. Dante’s Inferno tells of the journey by Dante and his guide, Virgil, through the 9 circles of hell. The two suffer and agonize through the journey as they travel through the center of the earth and into the bowels of hell to confront Satan. On a lighter note, this Belgian-Style Pale ale pours with a, deceptively, lager like appearance that cloaks a 9% ABV. According to The Lost Abbey, it has a heavy yeast aroma and flavors that are malty, then sweet with some spices. The bottle is conditioned with the brewery’s highest concentration of CO2 to provide texture and further conceal the booziness within.
There are so many more beers that appeal to the librarian within us; we may have to do a part 2! These are just a few that stood out to me and I hope you give them a chance if you have not tried them already, both the beers and the stories they were inspired by. It brings an extra layer of great conversation to the next bottle share.
Special thanks to North Augusta Wine and Beverage for lending me a couple beers to photograph on location, to Poetry Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Project Gutenberg for their work to preserve these literary masterpieces. Also, thank you to the Bell’s Brewery Inc., Avery Brewing Co., New Holland Brewing Co., The Lost Abbey, Baltimore-Washington Beer Works and Blue Mountain Brewery for brewing these libations and providing access to the labels you see here.