This week I’m reposting some old favorites. “Which Poet, Which Beer” first appeared in February 2014.
I’m staring at the flight of beers that John has placed in front of me. On the left I find Real Ale Brewing Company’s Phoenixx Double ESB. Next to it rests Ranger Creek’s Saison Oscura, followed by Revolver Brewing’s High Brass Golden Ale, and finally, Southern Tier Brewing’s Creme Brulee Stout. I sip the Phoenixx ESB, and am delighted to find it just as I remembered: dry, but sweet, without being overly bitter. Rich, deceptive, caramely odor, amber color. Overtones, hidden layers. I immediately think of Cole Swensen and her book Try, my real introduction to her work, how she reflects tone and imagery, perception and language, intricately weaving them into patterns, into narrative bits to be experienced and savored. “There’s a world out there that isn’t there,” the Phoenixx, evidently a fan of Cole Swensen, whispers.
I linger over the last sip of the ESB, and move on to the Saison Oscura, which quite frankly, surprises me. And that’s good. My preferences edge towards the bitter, and most of the saisons I’ve tried have finished a tad fruity and sweet for my palate. Not so with Ranger Creek’s rendition. Its beguiling light body, with notes of pepper and spice, end with just the right note of bitterness. But which poet, which book would I pair with this dark saison? Someone who juggles the lyrical with harsh realism, whose voice blends and releases the bitter, the forsaken, in distilled snippets of striking clarity. Ah, yes. I have just the book, The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and the line:
“The whole world tastes like salt,
crows overhead shout, Gone, gone
gone. She can’t help me any more.
I’ll have to walk.
It’s much more difficult to pair the Revolver Brewing High Brass Golden Ale with a favorite poet, because, sadly, I find it lacking. It’s light in the mouth, and, to take Gertrude’s quote totally out of context, there is no there there. If I’m to choose a blonde ale, I’d much prefer Real Ale Brewing’s Fireman’s #4. But waste not, want not. I down it, and consider which poet would not only transcend this disappointment, but also hand it a one-way ticket to, perhaps, Stein’s lost Oakland? Easy. G.C. Waldrep, whose Goldbeater’s Skin sets its barbed hooks into my flesh each time I open it. And for this particular occasion, I find no poem more appropriately titled than “What Begins Bitterly Becomes Another Love Poem,” in which he writes:
We stood without shadows on asphalt at midday.
What we call patience is only fire again, compressed.
And fire should accompany Southern Tier’s Creme Brulee Stout. A crackling fire fending off the icy, shingle-ripping wind, with Miles Davis echoing in the background, an exquisite meal resting comfortably in the belly, and the pleasure of knowing that the book you’re about to dip into is an endless well.
Quite simply, it’s a liquid dessert. Light coffee, a tad chocolatey, with big vanilla. Medium body, sweet. Smells like creme brulee. Tastes like it. But it’s beer. It tells the truth, but tells it slant! And who better to accompany this frothy delight than Emily Dickinson?
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise…