Gene Wolfe, Jack O'Connell, and 09.09.09 Stone Vertical Epic Ale: The Perfect Pairing?
As you'll have noticed we here at Omnivoracious (okay, well, moi) are a little beer-book crazy at times. It all started when we asked a metric ton of writers what beer would go best with their book, devolved into a tasting night during which my wife and I pondered the merits of certain books with beer, and, most recently, culminated in asking Omnivoracious readers what books would go best with Stone Brewing Company's 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale.
We took those suggestions into consideration, but after tasting the beer, two books in particular came to mind: The Resurrectionist by Jack O'Connell (now out in trade paperback; see my prior interview with O'Connell) and The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction.
What's the beer like? Prior to our tasting, head brewer Mitch Steele described it thusly: "During the brewing process we added dark candi sugar, vanilla bean, and tangerine peel to complement the flavors of the porter. The vanilla bean addition is fascinating, as it actually enhances the chocolate character from the roasted malts, and the candi sugar adds a nice hint of molasses flavor to the finish. The tangerine actually turned out to be quite subtle on the finish, and combines nicely with the chocolate malt character. We aged this beer on French oak chips, which contributes a smooth and subtle woody undertone and even more vanilla flavors."
While that gives you an idea of the ingredients, it doesn't begin to hint at the complexity of the taste. This is a beer that gives you three, four, even five different taste perspectives. At base, I was reminded of Guinness, in that the foundation has that kind of firm, comforting flatness. But over top of that, there's a slow-motion carnival going on. There's a definite disappearing horizon of spice in there--it's just a hint but emphatic--and then as your taste buds encounter the beer fully there's an energy and a uniqueness that's difficult to describe. The taste tends to gather and grow, until you go from something that has a friendly broad flavor to something that would make a Pinback song or Frank Zappa solo look simple--without descending into chaos. There's a definite analogy to tasting a good wine, in that there's such a confluence of different grace notes and things to experience. Again, difficult to describe, but if I had to sum it up, it's like a great orchestra piece, with many different instruments coming into play, that starts out slowly and simply, and then builds to a crescendo that's never overwrought or melodramatic. You know it's a classic because the form of it seems so perfect and so complete. The 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale is now one of my favorites--and one of the terrible, horrible things about my week is I just found out that the Fermentation Lounge here in town now has this ale on tap. This could be very, very dangerous.
As for the book pairings--both The Resurrectionist and the definitive collection of Gene Wolfe's short fiction share many properties of the beer. Both are rich and deep in both style and substance. Both have a complexity that's integral to the experience of reading them, but the complexity isn't there for the sake of being clever--it's hardwired into the substance of the fiction. Like the beer, both books also have a darkness to them that adds to their allure. And, when you finish them, as when you finish the ale, you feel like you've just experienced something classic. Major kudos to Stone for an amazing beer.