Book-Beer Pairings (Part I): Arianna Huffington, Michael Chabon, Lauren Groff, and More
For a long time, I’ve wondered why wine and food should have all the fun. Here at Omnivoracious, we also believe in the complementary pairing of books with...beer. Now, please note that we’re not advocating irresponsible reading, but with the current popularity of micro-breweries and the role of beer in the writing of books over the centuries, it seems somehow irresponsible not to pair the two. We’re frankly a little surprised no one’s done it before.
Thus, I took it upon myself to explore the connection between hops and writing chops, going far afield to ask a diverse group of writers what beer or beers would go best with their latest work. The results were so revelatory and comprehensive that we’re running the first half of this feature today and the second half on Thursday...
Light Beers, Lambics, Arrogant Bastard, and More!
Naturally, everyone approached the question in a slightly different way. Eastern European surrealist Zoran Zivkovic appeared to have already sampled a brew or three, sending in the rhyming verse, “Drink Bud West, drink Bud East,/Drink Bud reading Steps through the Mist.” Elizabeth Hand echoed Zivkovic, even while confessing she hasn’t drunk beer in thirty years: “But the last time I did have one, it was almost certainly a glass of Bud with a shot-glass of Jack Daniels in it. A boilermaker, which is what Cass Neary in [the dark thriller] Generation Loss would drink--24/7, and minus the beer.”
Arianna Huffington, author of the just-released Right Is Wrong, decided on a more political (and surprisingly conservative) approach, writing, “Busch, of course! Besides the homonymic convergence, distribution of this beer helped make Cindy McCain rich and funded John McCain’s political career.”
Other books that apparently take a lighter approach include Karen Joy Fowler’s Wit’s End, paired with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: “The company describes it as a new take on a classic theme; it's light, but complex. This is a North Californian company, which fits me and my book. But what I like best is the slogan--‘the beer that made Chico famous.’ The where?”
Similarly, new writer Jo Graham says of her wonderful fantasy novel Black Ships, “I think [it] needs a nice lightweight beer for hot days--I recommend Corona with lime!”, while Ekaterina Sedia (The Secret History of Moscow) suggests “Flying Fish Indian Pale Ale. It looks so golden and welcoming and safe, but you take a sip and it assaults you with its unexpected hoppy bitterness.” Francie Lin also named several relatively light beers for The Foreigner, a great mystery set in Taiwan: “The literal-minded might go for a can of Boddington's or Taiwan Draft" to evoke Taipei's seedy back alleys. "Taiwan Draft is also the drink of choice among expats in Taiwan, so there's that connection too.)” She also suggests “a pint of the People's Pint's Provider Pale Ale...Fast and hoppy, it's a summer drink, but one with enough bitter undertones to remind you that autumn is near.”
Of course, some writers have more invested in the beer-book question than others. Rising star Lauren Groff, author of the Orange Prize-nominated The Monsters of Templeton, has first-hand experience, having worked as an intern “one very fuzzy summer in college” for “the country's best brewery (in my humble opinion) in Cooperstown, New York, which is where my novel is based--Brewery Ommegang. They make Belgian-style beers. Though all of their beers are absolutely stellar, I'd say their Three Philosophers goes best with Monsters--they call it a "luscious blend of rich malty ale and cherry lambic." Like MOT, it's fruity on the surface with a dark, rich texture beneath.”
Soft Skull Press’s Richard Nash also suggests a cherry lambic for another “monster” book, Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl: “There's an earthiness to the role of the werewolf, a carnality, that's the lambic for me, and then the cherry is the fruity feminine, but not so purely feminine as a raspberry lambic...[Besides,] it looks gorgeous, and I think our book does too, if I do say so myself.”
Peaches and badgers, not cherries and monsters, enter the beer discussion for Tim Lebbon’s gritty heroic fantasy novel Fallen. Lebbon rates highly Badger's Golden Glory, a Hall & Woodhouse ale: “It’s a bitter but subtly flavoured beer with a hint--some would say a forbidden breath--of peach. It's long been said that a gift of peach blossom bring good fortune and happiness to the recipient, and such a gift would be well-received by the two yoyagers in Fallen....Golden Glory would light their [forbidden journeys] with its eager freshness, but it's definitely an ale with a hint of danger ... and it's not afraid of a fight.”
Fanciful pairings or not, Groff’s, Nash’s, and Lebbon’s suggestions are rooted in reality--whereas Michael Chabon and Daniel Grandbois seemed to have been drinking from the same strange, other-worldly brew when they responded. Chabon rightly pointed out that “The proper pairing with The Yiddish Policemen's Union would of course be a nice cold bottle of Bruner Adler lager, brewed right in the Federal District of Sitka by Shoymer Brewing, Inc.”
Grandbois, meanwhile, went off on this riff for a very rare beer that seems like it might appeal to Flann O'Brien: “The peculiar pallor of Feathered Hat Lager from rightfully obscure upstarts Three Men on a Bike Brewery, whose marketing plan consists solely of the three founders donning feathered caps and riding a single bicycle together through any town that will sell their products, should yield enough warning about the taste and possible health risks to come from ingesting it, but to those who little heed such counsel, my tales of Unlucky Lucky Days [out in June] offer the perfect complement (or, should we say, antidote) to the beer. The absurd ‘fritzing-bulb’ punch lines throughout these stories should prod even the most obtuse cerebellum into convincing its maverick mouth to eject the lager before it’s too late.”
Beer lovers with less “maverick” mouths may prefer the more sensible choices of nonfiction writers Peter Zheutlin and John Grant.
For Zheutlin’s Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride, the author suggested a brand I like a lot: "Fat Tire Amber Ale, a Belgian-style beer with picture of a retro bike on the label. It's a U.S brew named in honor of the founder's bike trip through Belgium. Though the bike on the label is more of a 1950s-style bike, it's just sitting against a tree without a rider. Annie would have hopped on and never looked back.”
I would also enthusiastically second Grant’s choice for his brilliant Corrupted Science: “for the later chapters--where I'm talking about the political, theological and ideological crim --I'd certainly suggest as most appropriate the Californian brew called Arrogant Bastard. This also has the advantage of being a fairly strong beer, as strong as some of the less potent wines, and thus one that efficiently delivers the necessary soothing effect.” (For those looking for more information on beer, Grant, under the name Paul Barnett, has written a great book on the subject called simply Beer: Facts, Figures & Fun.)
Sometimes, too, the beer chosen has a distinctly personal relevance related to the emotion surrounding a certain place and time, as with the vastly underrated Tanyo Ravicz's new and excellent short story collection called Alaskans. “Don't get me wrong, I'll drink a boutique beer as easily as a Rainier...but not as happily. Alaska [to me] is sitting on a gravel bar in the summer sunshine in the middle of nowhere without my shirt on drinking cheap beer with a friend while the sunlight plays on the water and the river rustles by. The beer must be Rainier. Up through my 30s that's all I would've ever bought is a cheap, watery beer like Rainier. Nowadays in the Palm Springs Albertson's I can't find a Rainier, not even in the warm beer section, and I get a dry feeling in my throat and have to remember there is no recovering the past. But even so, the beer that goes with Alaskans, like a caper with its caviar, is Rainier, not because I put down a fair number of them back when, which I did, but because that's where my heart is.”
Now posted: the thrilling conclusion: T.C. Boyle, Chip Kidd, Lydia Millet, James Morrow, Margo Lanagan, and more!