Friday Froth: At The Mouthfeel of Madness, Halloween Edition

James Gribbon

"Herbert West needed fresh bodies because his life-work was the reanimation of the dead."

In the early 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft's fingers worked to create dread, revulsion, and hysteria. The son of a psychotic father, he was an early prodigy of letters, but more consumed with the hidden secrets being brought into society's focus through chemistry and astronomy. Now regarded as the father of modern horror writing, he was born in Providence, RI in 1890 - the same year and location as Narragansett Brewing Company.

When Lovecraft was a child of ten and fascinated with the cosmos, the solar system stopped at Neptune. That was the end of all known worlds, and the beginning of the black emptiness of space. He soon learned that what we thought we knew was wrong, and new discoveries only served to highlight mankind's total lack of understanding. Physics and astronomy were soon to open "terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein."

Before H.P. was 18 years old, the fabric of his reality began to unravel. Quantum mechanics made scientists question the makeup of the universe, and Einstein proved energy and mass weren't just the same thing, they were directly tied with time itself. The year he became old enough to vote, a titanic object no one even knew existed fell from space and obliterated Tunguska, Siberia. Before he was 25, Europe was in the biggest war the world had ever seen, and scientific progress contributed chemical weapons to the effort. In Lovecraft's 40th year, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh introduced humanity to an entirely new planet, which had been circling us unawares all the while, and named it Pluto, after the Roman ruler of the underworld. The monsters had always been there, and we didn't even know it. Sometimes they were us.

In short: Lovecraft never needed dusty, prosaic concepts like Hell to make the world scary. The morbid prospects of unnatural revelation, whether discovered by mankind or forced on us from unknown reaches, took up the lonely regions of his imagination as he put pen to paper. This is the man who gave us Cthulhu, Arkham Asylum, and Reanimator. I love his writing, and I absolutely lunged at the six pack of tallboys when I saw his famous portrait on them. 

Narragansett Brewing turned 125 this year, and decided to mark the occasion with a celebration of creative Rhode Islanders like Lovecraft. Prologue to the series of special brews is Lovecraft Honey Ale, a collaboration with their fellow R.I. brewers at Revival, and featuring wickedly unnerving label art by R.I. artist A.J. Paglia. Visions of J.W. Dundees filled my fevered mind with stark dread as I cracked the can, but giddy relief soothed as I realized this is a fairly standard, if better than average, 'gansett brew. Perfectly clear and mahogany colored under a thin head, there was a tinge of honey just at the tip of the tongue, but it quickly disappeared, morphing into a basic, malty ale, and finishing with a small bitterness. 

Chapter 1 in the series is Innsmouth Olde Ale, with art by Jason C. Eckhardt:

"They had talked about dying and half deserted Innsmouth for nearly a century, and nothing new could be wilder or more hideous than what they had whispered years before."

"Used to be almost a city - quite a port before the War of 1812," a man tells the narrator in The Shadow Over Innsmouth. "But all gone to pieces in the last hundred years or so. I don't know how to explain it - but it sort of makes your skin crawl."

Olde Ale, by comparison, is less inspiring of fear than your average standardized test. A ruddy ale, and not too shy at 7%, I thought it was a decent table beer. It played well when paired with everything from Colombian lomo saltado, to mole enchiladas, and pizza. If anything, it suffers from a slavish dedication to clarity, and could use to some yeastiness to add body and flavor. 

[Side note: I'm obviously no 'gansett fanboy, but bless them for sticking to good, honest pint cans. Of the Lovecraft beer series, Innsmouth Olde Ale's unassuming character is very well suited to be taken down by the mug, and I'll always have praise for the per-ounce value sold by our smallest state's largest brewer.]

Herbert West - Reanimator, is probably H.P. Lovecraft's second greatest contribution to pop culture. The story of the sociopathic, but successful, Dr. West reached cult status with 1985's Reanimator, and the screaming, popcorn-camp of the follow up Bride ofReanimator, partially due to the flawless casting of Jeffrey Combs in the title role. The movies are terrifically enjoyable 80s-horror dreck, and are almost certainly available on cable right now, but the story - deeply amoral, and reeking of the progress-through-eugenics mindset of the jazz age in which it was written - is legitimately chilling.

Reanimator Helles Lager is not the strongest of the Lovecraft series at 6.5%, but label art by Aaron Bosworth features the glove of the deceased boxer from the story punching up from the embrace of the grave. This is a tweaked version of the old Narragansett Bock, given new life with slightly altered ingredients, so you'll see the connection.

Awakened with a crack, and poured in violent, gurgling chugs from the can, a huge head piles up and settles into rocky islets above a body of perfect amber. The aroma is unremarkable, but the flavor is smooth and a little bread-crusty. Each drink starts bitter with old world hops, and finishes with slightly sweet, caramelized grain. (Possibly decocted?) At any rate, like the lives of the subjects of Herbert West's merciless research, one was not enough. 

Bonus!

H.P. Lovecraft never wrote a full novel, but his short stories have made an impact still affecting writers almost a century later. I'd like to suggest four of my favorite, eldritch tales:

At The Mountains Of Madness - Guillermo del Toro optioned it for Hollywood production, and John Carpenter took a lot of inspiration from this one when he wrote The Thing.  

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward - Lovecraft's longest story, this one's full of supernatural and psychological grotesquerie. 

The Color Out Of Space - A meteorite brings death to a rural Massachusetts town.

The Call Of Cthulhu - Lovecraft's all time classic. The  very flesh of Cthulhu and the mythos of the Old Ones. 

In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming. Fhtagn!



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