Regular readers of Omnivoracious may remember that last year we asked writers from Arianna Huffington to Michael Chabon what beer would go best with their current book. The two-part feature was a huge hit, linked to throughout the blogosphere. Now, we’ve gone a step further, spurred on by Stone Brewing Co. sending us a bottle of their special “13th Anniversary Ale—Our Hoppiest Beer Ever.” Stone produces some of the best beer in the world, their Arrogant Bastard Ale being among my favorites.
My wife Ann and I could’ve just drunk the beer and reported back, but we thought it’d be much more interesting to combine our love of books and beer, by sampling the beer while reading selections from some new and forthcoming releases. The idea was somewhat sparked by Muriel Barbery’s amazing The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which contains this passage:
"I place the fruit and the book on the Formica table, and as I pick up the former to taste it, I also start on the latter. If each resists the powerful onslaught of the other, if the cherry plum fails to make me doubt the text and if the text is unable to spoil the fruit, then I know I am in the presence of a worthwhile and, why not say it, exceptional undertaking, for there are very few works that have not dissolved--proven both ridiculous and complacent--into the extraordinary succulence of the little golden plums."
A great beer has a similar effect--the physical world can provide a stern rebuke to the world of the mind. Still, it should be noted that there’s also the matter of the correct match: a great beer will fail a great book it wasn’t intended for, and with 4.5 pounds of hops per barrel we knew going in that the Stone 13th Anniversary Ale wouldn’t complement every reading. There’s also the patent unfairness of sampling a book versus a beer. You cannot learn all there is to know about a book from a sampling, but a few mouthfuls of beer give you as much intel as you’ll ever need about its pedigree and its intent. (All of the books looked really interesting.)
There’re also the changes to the reader’s mind that occur as a result of imbibing beer that no number of plums can replicate; thus, the experiment changed asour evening progressed, as may be evident from certain elements in the progression of photographs.