The plus side of having a beer nerd on staff (the only plus side that I can discern) is that if you want to celebrate Oktoberfest with a blog post, you have someone who will go way over the top in preparation. Let’s just set aside the fact that Oktoberfest is traditionally celebrated in Germany in late September and ends the first weekend in October.
The leaves are turning, there is apple picking, pumpkin carving, reading by the fire. And there is beer. In my quest to successfully pair books with beer, I wanted to stay local. If you live near the Nevins Memorial Library, all of these breweries can be reached within 30 minutes of driving.
Beer: Smuttlabs Biere De’Shire
Book: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
In 2007 Smuttlabs was created as a small batch/experimental/fun-things-that-can’t-be done-large-scale deal by Smuttynose (Hampton, NH). Their stuff is harder to find if you’re not from the area, but if you can make it to Smutty or their neighboring restaurant, Hayseed, it’s easily accessible right now.
Saisons are my jam. Historically brewed in Belgian farmhouses during the off-season and then primarily consumed by farm workers as a form of payment, they actually taste like you’re on a farm. Biere De’Shire was brewed with Brettanomyces which means even more of that funkiness. Medium orange/honey color with fruity flavors and a bit of spice. The Brett doesn’t come through super strong and it’s actually a little sweet for a saison, so if you’re not a fan of the typical funkiness associated with Brett I’d still give it a try.
Starting with a bonfire of one Guy Fawkes Day and ending one year later, Return of the Native is mostly people running around outside. Okay, it’s definitely so much more than that, but Hardy was absolutely obsessed with creating pastoral literature that yearned for a time before the Industrial Revolution. If you’re a fan of crazy love triangles before a time in which they were acceptable, descriptions of the outdoors which are beyond compare, and most characters that you love dying (definitely a precursor to George R.R. Martin) then sip on some farmhouse funk and imagine you’re there. It’s more beautiful than it sounds, I promise.
Beer: Earth Eagle Brewings Rhubie
Book: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth, NH will take you by surprise. Approaching it, you might think that it’s a colorfully painted garage behind a homebrew store. Don’t let appearances deceive; it happens to be home to some incredible food and many gruits, including this amazing sour. “What is a gruit?” you may ask, for they are far and few between. Before hops were extensively used in the brewing process, one could make an herbal medley (depending on what was available and the desired flavor of the resulting beverage) to preserve the drink. If you’re interested in why gruits were phased out, you can read a whole lot about the emancipation of German princes during the Protestant Reformation. All you need right now: Gruits are good. They are still a thing. They are in Portsmouth. Go find them.
Like Biere D’Shire is good if you’re not used to saisons, Rhubie is great for sour newcomers. This gruit uses wormwood for preservation and is dry-hopped with rhubarb and sumac. The rhubarb comes through for a fruity, juicy taste. Mildly funky and moderately sour, the sourness doesn’t stick around like many of the palatte-wreckers out there.
I paired this with a compilation of short stories by one of America’s leading humor writers, David Sedaris. The tales relate Sedaris’ life growing up in Raleigh, living in New York, and then moving to Normandy with his partner and knowing no French. The journey is both sweet and sour. While you may know Sedaris from public radio, his prose is juicy, mildly funky, and sometimes sour, just like Rhubie.
Beer: The Tap Brewing Company Joshua Norton
Book: Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
Located in downtown Haverhill, The Tap produces a wide range of beers on their limited system, similar to Earth Eagle. They distribute more widely though, so Joshua Norton will be easier to find in bottles than the other beers listed here. The brewpub is located in an old leather factory, Haverhill previously being known as the “Queen Slipper City” for its shoe production. Now the building houses a 10 barrel system that pumps out some pretty great stuff.
Joshua Norton was the English-born, self-proclaimed king of the United States in the mid-1800s. He was pretty crazy and the story is really interesting, but I’m not exactly sure why a Russian Imperial Stout was named after him. Drink this and you won’t care. Dark brown in color, this seasonal winter beer has notes of chocolate and coffee with a bit of smoky flavor. The body is lighter than most stouts. It ages well, so if you find it whaling on the shelves of some store that doesn’t rotate their stock, go for it.
In M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead there’s the added bonus of a local author. Anderson often appears at book signing events in the area to promote his work and is hilarious in his speeches. Despite his humor, he manages to hit some pretty intense topics in his writing, such as this latest non-fiction (yes, it’s Young Adult – read it anyway). When Leningrad had been trapped for almost three years by Hitler’s Wehrmacht and the Soviet government, the culmination of terror hit in the winter of 1943-44. Dmitri Shostakovich memorialized the terror that the citizens faced in his Leningrad Symphony. Obviously I had to pair this with a solid Russian Imperial Stout.
Go books and beer!