Two of my most frequented hobbies are reading books and drinking beer. My favorite hobby, however, is reading books while drinking beer. Herein lies a primer for those of you who have perhaps dabbled in these pastimes, but have not yet mastered them in combination.
Beer has as rich a history as literature and is equally as steeped in the human experience, so the pair is a natural combination. It helps that getting a good buzz on can make narratives more captivating. I read the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire while drinking beer, and a mind soaked in booze can absorb the pages of a novel like a sponge.
First, an explanation of some lingo associated with the brewing community:
*ABV: Alcohol by volume. A standard beer is 5% ABV
*IBU: International Bittering Units (0-120+). Around 60 is what I’d call fairly bitter.
Now, here are some great brews to get you started on your alcohol filled literary journey:
- “Backwoods Bastard” by Founders Brewing Co., out of Grand Rapids, MI
Scotch Ale/11.6% ABV/50 IBU
At 11.6% ABV, this beer will kick your ass and push you into a mental state like heading deep into the southern woods. It’s a Scotch Ale, which means, of course, it tastes heavily of scotch. I recommend drinking this while reading anything by Faulkner or perhaps even Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. You catch my drift.
- “Heady Topper” by The Alchemist, out of Stowe, VT
DIPA/8% ABV/100 IBU
This beer is sought after world-wide, and until July 2016 it was extremely difficult to get your hands on. Three of my friends and I went on a beer-pilgrimage of sorts in November 2015, driving from Connecticut up to Burlington, VT (about a ten-hour-round-trip journey) and strategically stopped at several package stores where we had heard Heady Topper was being delivered that day. After being laughed out of—more than a few—businesses, we eventually managed to buy forty-eight cans (a big thank you to www.headyspotter.com). Since then, The Alchemist has established a designated distribution and retail center in Stowe, VT, where a customer can reliably obtain their current selection of beers. Drink this with, well, anything. The cans are 16 oz., and at 8% ABV you’ll be feeling it after just one.
- “Profanity Ale” by The Shed Brewery, out of Middlebury, VT
Brown Ale/6.8% ABV/68 IBU
Profanity Ale had me saying “well fuck, I didn’t know a beer could taste like that.” Several brews have made me say the same, but I’m a sucker for puns. This beer tastes to me like a combination of the India Pale Ale and the American Brown Ale, and given their extreme difference in taste profiles, I consider Profanity Ale to be an unprecedented and impressive fusion by The Shed. Drink this while reading any contemporary literature that crosses genres, like a prose-poem—especially if the writer drops obscenities like their casual modifiers.
- “Julius” by Tree House Brewing Company, out of Monson, MA
New England Style IPA/6.8% ABV/72 IBU
New England Style IPAs have recently displaced West Coast Style IPAs as the current king of craft beer. Also known as “juice bombs,” they have a load of tropical fruit flavors and aromas; you could likely have someone take a whiff of Julius and get away with telling them you’re drinking mango juice. Drink while reading some Shakespeare or perhaps a poem by Robert Frost.
- “120 Minute IPA” by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, out of Milton, DE
Imperial IPA/18% ABV/120 IBU
120 Minute is about the limit of what can be achieved in the world of beer. At 18% ABV, it is stronger than some liqueurs, and when you’re drinking you’ll become aware of that fact too. Flavors include booze and bitterness, and after imbibing your palette will be so overwhelmed that tasting anything else will be an impossibility. Pair with something equally potent, perhaps a few haikus or tankas.
- “White” by Allagash Brewing Company, out of Portland, ME
Witbier/5.1% ABV/13 IBU
If nothing I’ve yet listed has appealed to you, or if you don’t consider yourself a beer drinker, then start here. Allagash White is the everyman of craft beer; you can’t not like it. It’s like how when your friend doesn’t read much but wants to get into it, you start them off slowly with some pop-lit. Harry Potter has a wide appeal and is easy to read. Allagash White is like the Harry Potter of craft beer, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Rowling masterfully created a massive world in her renowned series, and Allagash has similarly brewed a reliably drinkable and approachable brew with “White.”
- “Three-Eyed Raven” by Brewery Ommegang, out of Cooperstown, NY
Over the last few years Ommegang has put out a series of beers inspired by the Game of Thrones television phenomenon. Although I can’t claim to have enjoyed any of these while reading the books (I read the novels prior to the beer’s existence), it’s an obvious pairing. Three Eyed Raven is my favorite out of these creations, and puts an interesting spin on the traditionally Belgian saison style; the beer is stronger and more bitter than most saisons.
- “Lil Heaven Session IPA” by Two Roads Brewing Company, out of Stratford, CT
Session IPA/4.8% ABV/IBU N/A (but it’s probably around 40)
I have to pay homage to our magazine’s fair state, and Two Roads is quickly becoming our foremost brewery. Lil Heaven is a great session ale, and it’s easy to crush several of these babies. I recommend getting yourself a six-pack, a warm sunny day, and settling in for the long haul with a piece of literature that will engross you for several hours. Be sure not to have any responsibilities, and take a long snooze afterwards. No summer day better spent.
- “Arrogant Bastard Ale” by Stone Brewing, out of Escondido, CA
American Strong Ale/7.2% ABV/100 IBU
This beer is divisive: people either love it or hate it. I happen to be in the former camp, and Stone recently started selling it for a song: ~$13 for a six-pack of 16 oz. cans. The words on the back of the cans explain it as well as possible: “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” Given it’s abrasive and divisive nature, I recommend pairing with a novel of similar repute: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger—a novel I also love.
- “Blushing Monk” by Founders Brewing Co., out of Grand Rapids, MI
Fruit Beer/9.2 ABV/IBU N/A (but it’s very low)
One of my father’s favorite brews, this will expand your beer-horizons. If you’ve never had a fruit beer, then you’re in for a treat. Sweet and tart, it’s brewed with fresh raspberries and is only available in-season. The color is a vibrant red and you’re ripe to be accused of drinking wine if caught with this in hand. It’s different, kind of wild, and simply delicious; pair with something similarly unique and apt to expand your literary horizons, like the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Long River Review.