Friday Froth: Bibliophile

James Gribbon

Peace, as elusive as it can be on a macro scale, is oftentimes attainable with three simple elements: a comfortable chair, a glass of something within easy reach, and a good book. The difficulty of holding the tenuous balance of a yoga pose forces one to focus mind and body on that one action. If the mind wanders, so too does the body, and suddenly there's that worn out spot on your mat, and oh hell - everyone just saw that didn't they? You topple not just out of your pose, but back into reality. For the moments before, though, there was only the confluence of mind and body floating in a meditative innerspace. Withdrawn from the world's nettlesome preoccupations, there was peace. Similarly, good stories allow us to disengage from reality; to take a restful break from life. Actively experiencing food and drink, really thinking about what you taste, also takes focus. 

My Antonia is a bit of American prairie Gothic written by Willa Cather and published in 1918. The novel packs in a lot into its scant 175 pages, being divided into five books which come together in one complete narrative. Finding harmonic balance between disparate ingredients is one of the specialties of Dogfish Head honcho Sam Calagione, and I'm not sure what parallels he drew between this book and his imperial pils, but that's the name he gave it. The name of this beer may have something to do with where he first brewed it, at Birra del Borgo outside of Rome with brewer Leonardo DiVencenzo, one of Calagione's co-collaborators at New York's Eataly. The beer is continually hopped like one of Dogfish Head's better known IPAs, and that nature first comes through in the nose, where the scent of Noble hops rises from the thick head of this malty pils. The Nobles and pilsner malts are both abundant in the taste of this overclocked lager, and the West Coast hops seems to appear a little later. They saunter in fashionably late as the beer warms, adding a richer hop flavor instead of just more bitterness. I'd suggest serving this cool instead of cold - the flavor opens up at cellar temps, and the aroma really fills the nose. The prickly natural carbonation in this beer bursts with each draught, helping to bounce the giant dose of malts around on the tongue, and keep them light and sweet. This beer is recommended for those who aren't fans of darker beers or hop-bomb IPAs, but who may still be feeling the call of the wild.

It's been said that the most popular book in human history is the Bible, and my favorite of its books was always Revelation. The severe, detailed imagery, the ominous warnings and arcane symbology, it all my my imagination reel. As a teenager I spent months attempting to draw the dragon with all the heads and horns. The guys at New England Brewing have a more lighthearted take on that symbolism, and they're once again brewing 668, the one they call The Neighbor Of The Beast*. This semi-unfiltered Belgian strong ale pours cloudy and golden with a head that clings like tradition. There is the super floral nose of Belgian yeasts, and the first sip presents a honeyed smoothness with peach notes so subtle they're just glancing at you from across the room. This is some slick super-spy stuff from the boys just up the 'pike in New Haven County, and I'd suggest serving it in a snifter or wine glass to hold in a portion of that olfactory fog. It's available in cans, but the only place I've seen it on tap so far was at the Ginger Man in SoNo.

Brian Strumke, the man behind Stillwater Artisanal Ales, is probably one of the more literary-inclined hop heads in our country. This brew-gypsy contract brews his beers at different locations and gives them names like A Saison Darkly (a possible nod to Philip K. Dick), and Existent, which features Friedrich Nietzsche on the label. He's also the only brewer I've seen use the word "eschatological" in a beer's tag line (speaking of Revelation). Strumke says he thought summer beers were often lacking the complexity of the "bigger" winter brews, and saught to change that by crafting something beautiful and cleansing, the words he free-associated with the greenest of seasons. "Cellar Door" is a beautiful phrase to him, so that's what he named his summer saison. This unfiltered beer is the color of wheat in a field. Belgium has a wonderful history of farmer-brewers (whence comes "farmhouse ale" or farmhouse saison"), and Belgian yeasts are some of the most amazing creatures on the planet. These tiny beings create a sweet, grapefruity aroma to this beer, with a floral taste which lingers on the center of the tongue with a herbal presence from the addition of white sage. Sweetish, but with notes of lemon zest and slight bitterness from Citra and Sterling hops, this would be a nearly perfect drink during or after a hot day. It's an uplifting beer, which makes it a fine example of a style created for exactly that purpose. Those of us not toiling in the fields may find room for this one in our golf bags, where it will be no less refreshing.

Beer and books: unquestionably two of my favorite over-indulgences, and both meant to be shared with the world.

*"Six... six eight! The Neighbor Of The Beast!" I know it's from Revelation, but all I can hear in my head is Bruce Dickinson. The font on that label tells me they do, too.