Beer has inspired many great literary works. Dating back some 3,900 years to a Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, to the Greek writings of Xenophon, Sophocles and Pliny the Younger, to modern day writers like Michael Jackson (“The Beer Hunter” not the pop star), Tom Robbins and Hunter S. Thompson, beer has been an inspiration to writers and drinkers alike. Today, those writers have inspired brewers to create beers to honor their prose.
The beers in the craft beer realm one might associate with writing are the Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. A big double IPA and triple IPA respectively, these beers namesakes helped scientifically identify and codify Humulus lupulus, the common hop plant. Without hops, beer would still be in the dark ages as a gruit (beer without hops) and rely on items such as spruce tips, mugwort, heather and herbs to spice and flavor the beer. It’s difficult to believe that beer would hold nearly as special a place in the world today without hops.
Rogue Ales of Newport, Oregon brews a beer that is not specific to a singular work, but honors the most famous bard himself with the Shakespeare Stout. In “Henry V,” Act 3, King Henry states, “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.” Surely, this is an author of this distinction is deserving such an honor as this rich stout. Dark and brooding, this beer tends to work best during the seasons of your discontent.
One regionally important literary inspired beer is hidden in plain sight. Bell’s Brewing flagship IPA name is inspired by the Ernest Hemingway two-part short story, “Big Two-Hearted River.” Publiished in 1925, the story speaks of the destructive nature of war and the restorative power of nature. The natural setting is based on Hemingway’s own post-WWI spent fishing in Seney, Michigan in Schoolcraft County of the Upper Peninsula. The beer label is a painting of a couple of trout, that Hemingway describes in the story “as broad as a salmon.”
A more surreal inspiration for beer in book comes from Surly Brewing Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Conjured from the Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice, is the 9 percent alcohol by volume Inherent Weiss. This beer is over the top in flavors, hops and definitively alcohol. It is truly a beer on the fringes, difficult to understand and makes you question the end from the beginning; pairs well with pizza.
How to finish this one, “Gee, I don’t know.”
Matt Thomas is a craft beer specialist at Gay’s Hops-N-Schnapps.