Friday, November 2, 2012

Politics, Beer, Goblins And Witches

Bear with me.  I’ll make the connection between politics, beer, goblins and witches in a bit.  First some background.  I couldn’t help but think of this essay when touring the breweries of St. Louis, Missouri, on October 4th, the day after the first United States Presidential Debate in Denver, Colorado.  Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney argued a plethora of differences in their political positions, but there was one major contrast between them not debated: beer.  Obama is the first President to make a homebrew at the White House, whereas Romney does not drink due to religious reasons. 

The editors of Beeradvocate magazine state in issue #69, October 2012, “...America’s polarized political landscape has spilled into our beer...when news hit this summer that the White House chef’s homebrew, and that President Obama brings and shares the brews on the campaign trail, we witnessed partisan political criticisms and all kinds of hate - including racial slurs.” 

Beer, it seems, has an unshakeable political legacy.  The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned alcoholic drinks in 1920, then the 21st Amendment repealed this ban in 1933.  That unlucky thirteen year period is known as Prohibition.  I can’t help but think - as an unrepentant beer drinker whose brother also makes a good homebrew - that the politics of beer began with Beowulf.  After all, didn’t Grendel hate that noisy mead hall?  He attacks the great hall Heorot, dispatches a bunch of sleeping warriors and devours them, silencing the songs and stopping the drinking of mead.  A time of Prohibition ensues.  The hero then slays the monster with his bare hands.  The Scandinavians can drink and sing in freedom once more, but then that prohibitionist mother had to silence the mead hall once more.  Beowulf comes to the rescue again.  And on it goes.

Politics aside, I’ve always associated beer/wine/liquor with what I read.  From Beowulf’s mead hall to the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a good brew is a part of my fantasy and science fiction experience.  Way back in 2001 I had the chance to see Star Trek: The Experience at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  In the gift shop I purchased a Romulan Ale - the first blue colored beer I’d ever seen.  And, in all honesty, I’ve had much better ales.  Given the hangovers in Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country between the humans and Klingons after imbibing this dinner cocktail, I expected the Romulan concoction to be much stronger.  I still wonder about that Amgrosia in Battlestar Galactica.  How would it taste?

What fascinates me now is that beer itself has become a vehicle for fantasy rather than a knockoff of some movie or book.  Recently, I’ve discovered Hobgoblin, a Dark English Ale brewed by Wychwood Brewery.  It’s magical on the tongue, and I’m intrigued that the brewery is located at the edge of Wych Wood Forest at the Old Eagle Maltings, in Oxfordshire, England.  The location evokes images of myth in Old England.  There are small glass iconographies of witches riding their brooms around the neck of the bottles, and the picture of the Hobgoblin is a hybrid of pointed elf ears and pointed goblin nose, with elf bow & arrows along with goblin ax.  Even the ale’s description is fantastical:

“Traditionally craft-brewed to produce a wonderfully well balanced blend of smooth, rich and satisfying flavours from chocolate and crystal malts, combined with a crisp, refreshing bitterness from English Fuggles hops and a dash of citrus aroma from Styrian Goldings.  A unique and original beer with a character not unlike the Hobgoblin himself - rogueishly likeable and engaging...once you get to know him.”

Another fantasy beer is The Lost Abbey’s Witch’s Wit.  It’s smooth malt beverage brewed with honey and spices.  There’s a picture of a woman being burned at the stake with an abbey in the background behind an onlooking crowd.  On the back of the pint sized bottle there is an eerie story to complement the label:

“Whether you’re a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you.  And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground.  From that lonely stake, you’ll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.

Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence.  An intolerable pain is the cross you’ll bare that day as you are removed from this righteous world.  No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life.  It sucks.  But such is the life of a witch.  In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch’s Wit.  A light and refreshing wheat beer, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being pased around the center of the town on witch burning day.  Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us.”

Yikes.  I think I’ll end my beer inspired musings by paraphrasing the guy who wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream - one of the great fantasies of all time:  To drink, or not to drink, that is the question.

By Mark Schelske