Book-Beer Pairings (Part II)--T.C. Boyle, Chip Kidd, Margo Lanagan, James Morrow, and More
(Large beer Drayman's Porter with Small Beer's Ant King; Dudman's novel and Old Speckled Hen.)
Much has happened since posting Part I of the book-beer pairings feature. First, I tested out Three Philosophers with Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton and found that (1) it is indeed a great Belgian-style beer, with some very subtle yet strong flavors, and (2) it goes very well with Groff's book.
Then, I decided to check in with Gavin Grant of Small Beer Press because...well, how can you do this kind of feature and not talk to a publisher called Small Beer Press? Gavin has a lot of respect for both books and beer--and access to both locally. “We have a fantastic brewery (ok, we have a few) in the Happy Valley in Massachusetts: the Berkshire Brewing Company. Their Traditional Pale Ale is a summer time treat and all winter we survive on their Drayman's Porter. Which is what we were drinking when the UPS guy delivered galleys of our next collection, Ben Rosenbaum's The Ant King.” (You can now download John Kessel’s excellent new collection The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Maureen F. McHugh's powerful Mothers & Other Monsters from the Small Beer website.)
So, without further rabbiting, the continuation of this landmark feature...
Guinness Versus Everything Else?!
Although most participants in the second half of this feature preferred matching a dark beer with their books, a few hold-outs for lighter imbibification include Thomas Disch, Nick Mamatas, and Chip Kidd—Kidd mostly because, as a purist, he deferred to his novel: “In The Learners, Happy and Himillsy down Rolling Rocks at Modern Apizz in New Haven, so that would appropriate. Otherwise, everyone drinks martinis.”
Mamatas probably wouldn’t typify his pick as a light beer, although it is: “The official beer of Weinbergia, the country in Under My Roof, is Red Stripe. Short and hip, sweet and a bit more dangerous than you might at first suspect. Plus, hipsters dig it like they dig uncombed hair and T-shirts from 1985.”
Similarly, Disch, author of the forthcoming The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten (coming July 1 from Tachyon Publications), selected either Rhinegold or Lowenbrau for his forthcoming farcical “memoir”: “In the New York of my youth (I was 17 when I got here in '57, and Miss Rhinegold was then an annual tradition. The contestants had their pictures posted in the subways. There was also a Miss Subways. They have both disappeared in our new, unsexed era, but there is another good reason to serve Rhinegold at the book party. It is the beer Wagner made famous. Not much of a beer in itself, as I recall, which is why it may have become extinct, and not the best opera in the Ring either, but no one has ever dared to bring out a beer called Gotterdammerung....I was actually in Lowenbrau Hofbrauhaus in Munich (in 1966). There were tiers of drinking halls where roisterers bellowed out drinking songs. A kind of Valhalla.”
T.C. Boyle suggested a great American beer I can personally recommend, to go with his forthcoming novel The Women (Viking, February 2009): “[The novel] deals with Frank Lloyd Wright and the women in his life. It is set in rural Wisconsin, at Taliesin, just outside Spring Green. That is, in beer central. So my pick for sipping--or guzzling or even gargling--while reading this scintillating, tragic and very funny book, is Spotted Cow.” A worthy brew, indeed, as I recall from a wonderful night in Madison, Wisconsin, a few years back.
Graham Joyce’s choice involved his time living in Derby “in the dark heart of England,” where “there was this shadowy street in an interstitial zone of the city. At the road junction there were three pubs, one on each corner and one across the road. It was called the Derby Triangle because people seen going into these pubs would often disappear for days or sometimes months. One sold draught Guinness, one dispensed Pedigree Ales and the third and most cobwebby of the three pushed something called Theakston’s Old Peculiar--usually a bottled beer, but here they had it on tap. Black as night, with a mushroom and nut savour to it, it had an alarming, syrupy body. But it slipped down well. This beer is most like my book The Limits Of Enchantment. Theakston's Old Peculier. I don’t know where but it took me there.” (Old Peculier, Americanized sometimes to Old Peculiar, even has a crime writing contest.)
Clare Dudman also had memories of peculiar brews: "There is only one beer that I can associate with One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead and that is the one that the grandson of Alfred Wegener (the real-life character who inspired my novel) gave me--the product of his own brewery in a grand old Schloss in Bavaria. Like his grandfather, he showed himself to be multi-talented; after treating me to a classical recital of a string quartet in the hall of his castle (he played the violin) we had a typical German meal with the beer as the essential accompaniment. His brewery produced three sorts, but the one I liked the best was uncharacteristically dark and strongly flavoured for a German ale. In fact it was very much like Old Speckled Hen--golden rather than brown, pleasantly sweet without tasting of treacle, and a bitterness that reminds you to drink long and slow...and relish each mouthful." She added, "I wish I hadn't written that--the memory is too good and there's only wine in the house."
Michael Swanwick (The Dragons of Babel) and Daniel Abraham (A Betrayal in Winter) both recommended Guinness, Wise Old Man of Beers, Swanwick “because it's the favored draught of storytellers” and Abraham as the perfect ending for the book, after “starting off with a dark ale.” Swanwick’s selection of Guinness, he said, must include the reader picturing “me standing with an elbow on the bar and the glass in my hand, saying, ‘Listen. There once was a boy who loved dragons, and suffered because of it, but learned better...’” Abraham was also emphatic on beer purity: “nothing with funny flavors in it. No blackberries or raisins or any of that.”
Hal Duncan, author of Ink, agreed: “It has to be Guinness--dark, black and rich. It's a scientifically proven fact, you know, that Guinness is forty-five percent fortitude.”
Coming in with a variation on the Guinness theme, James Morrow wrote of the happy collegial bond between book and beer combination: “The Philosopher’s Apprentice traces directly to an informal society, devoted to freewheeling philosophical discourse and studious beer consumption, that thrived for many years at a Penn State agora known as Café 210 West. The novel is best consumed in tandem with the libation that gave it birth: the Irish cooler, created by our Plato scholar, now an instructor at George Washington University. Fill a pitcher to the midpoint with a reliable lager. Top it off with Guinness stout. Add a flotilla of lime wedges. Stir. Pour yourself a glass. Read the first chapter of The Philosopher’s Apprentice, sipping as you turn the pages...A novel is a long work of fiction that has something wrong with it. Pour and consume a second Irish cooler. Read chapter two. Repeat the process until the novel’s flaws no longer matter.”
Yet, truly, the award for Mother of All Beer Responses must go to Australian Margo Lanagan, who primes our hearts, heads, and palates for the release of her novel this fall with this Ode to beer, food, books, and everything luxurious to our senses (and which I cannot bear to truncate): “My upcoming novel Tender Morsels ( Knopf/Allen & Unwin/David Fickling, October 2008) goes perfectly with a schooner of Toohey’s Old Black Ale, ‘a great Australian dark ale’ to go with a great Australian dark tale. Not knock-you-over in the alcohol stakes (4.4% alc/vol), this is probably a good thing, because there’s a lot to keep track of in this book: bears, babes, treasure, dwarves, giant eagles and a spot of time slippage. The story is lightly hopped, giving the reader/drinker a few underhand laughs during the smooth transition from malty, dead-sexy beginning to bitter, none-too-clean finish. The black malt enhances the forested gloom of much of the book, as well as its nicknames, ‘Black Juice revisited’ and the Doylesque Tender Morsels Bwa-Ha-Ha. Many readers/drinkers are timid when it comes to dark (t)ales. If you are curious about the dark side of beer/bears, Toohey’s Old/Tender Morsels is a great place to begin your exploration. Broad-hipped childbearing flavour gives way to the berry nice esters, which blend well with hoppiness and a hint of raw ptarmigan to finish with a bitter blend crescendo that will leave you wondering WTF? Why haven’t you been a dark ale drinker all your life? Do you dare to turn off your bedside lamp tonight? Try Tender Morsels and Tooheys Old Black Ale with a juicy, still-slightly-bloody roast, with game pies and slow cooked meats. Old is also a great flavour to go with strong cheeses such as gorgonzola, blue vein and Wensleydale. But pretty much anything fart-producing will do. Just don’t expect a comfy night’s sleep after you’ve stomached this lot.”
Still, not everyone advocates beer with their book, although ironically it’s the mind-expanding, techno-surrealist Rudy Rucker (Postsingular) who urges a more commonsense approach: “I prefer to see my readers drinking a fragrant, stimulating oolong tea.”
Lydia Millet, agrees with the no-beer idea, making an even more revolutionary proposition: “To be honest, How the Dead Dream is probably best read with water. Water or coffee. Or something fresh and sour like lemonade. But if you really wanted to be drunk while you read it, and you rejected hard liquor and wine, I'd say a light-tasting beer from Europe.”
As for my own books, including City of Saints & Madmen and Shriek, I always recommend the marvelous Belgian dark beers Delirium Nocturnum and Leffe Brun, the Bavarian Aventinus (a wheat doppelbock), Arrogant Bastard, and several others. (For more beers-with-books, click here.)
The next step in this literary experiment, of course, is to acquire all of the aforementioned beers and books, and report back on just how appropriate these pairings are. Whether this will result in another Amazon blog entry or a rather ridiculously befuddled weekend remains to be seen...