Beers Inspired by Legendary Words & Wordsmiths

October 09, 2017

By Andrew Craig, October 09, 2017

Here's a little-known fact: Kurt Vonnegut, in addition to being a famed writer, knew his way around a brew kettle. As he notes in Timequake, his semi-autobiographical novel:

“On September 6th, 1996, Joe and I opened a show of twenty-six of our prints in the 1/1 Gallery in Denver, Colorado. A local microbrewery, Wynkoop, bottled a special beer for the occasion. The label was one of my self-portraits. The name of the beer was Kurt’s Mile-High Malt.

You think that wasn’t fun? Try this: The beer, at my suggestion, was lightly flavored with coffee. What was so great about that? It tasted really good, for one thing, but it was also an homage to my maternal grandfather Albert Lieber, who was a brewer until he was put out of business by prohibition in 1920. The secret ingredient in the beer that won a Gold Medal for the Indianapolis Brewery at the Paris Exposition of 1889 was coffee!”

That beer, Kurt's Mile-High Malt, was a one-time offering for the gallery event way back in 1996, but Wynkoop has brought it back a few times since: once in 2007, in memoriam of Vonnegut's passing, again in 2013 for the brewery's 25th anniversary, and once again in 2014 to carry on the legacy as an occasional small-batch offering. The label artwork is the same as it was in 1996, featuring a self-portrait in Vonnegut's scribble style.

That wasn't the first time Wynkoop made a literary-inspired beer, either. In 1995 they created a commemorative brew called Denver Public Libation – specially-labeled 22oz bombers of their Rail Yard Ale – to celebrate the reopening of a renovated Denver Public Library, and invited Colorado-connected writers to write especially brief works for the labels.

Beyond Good and Evil is named for, as Shaun Hill describes, 'one of Nietzsche’s most powerful works.'”

12 labels were created in total, spread across the small batch, with the writing featured on the label's front and continued onto the back. Alan Ginsberg contributed a short poem, Vonnegut wrote a very brief short story, and other writers followed suit. Clive Cussler, an adventure novelist, wrote a pithy poem titled The Saloon Keeper's Verse (based on his saloon-owning grandfather's wisdom):

"The Frenchman loves his native wine. The German drinks his beer. The Irishman takes his whiskey straight because it gives him cheer. The Englishman sips his gin and ale because they bring him dizziness. But the American has no choice at all. He just drinks the whole damned business."

Bottles of Denver Public Libation are long gone, and even if you live within striking distance of Wynkoop, Kurt's Mile-High Malt isn't regularly available. But there are plenty of other brewers across the country who make their own library-inspired beers, with names or labels that reference some major works of literature.

Hill Farmstead Beyond Good and Evil

This is just one entry in Hill Farmstead's Philosophical Series, all stunningly beautiful beers named after hugely impactful works of philosophy. Beyond Good and Evil is named for, as Shaun Hill describes, "one of Nietzsche’s most powerful works, challenging conventional wisdom and urging us transcend good and evil while confronting the very nature of knowledge."

The beer itself is a bourbon-aged imperial stout brewed with Vermont maple syrup, then rested in barrels for over a year and a half. It's powerfully sweet and rich with vanilla and maple notes, a mellow oak character, and a pithy, impossibly silky smooth body.

Andrew CraigStand it up among the other literary heroes.

Three Floyds Moloko Milk Stout

"The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom,"  Alex says in A Clockwork Orange, "which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultraviolence." And in the novel, Moloko plus was a similar kind of cocktail, made from milk and some kind of drugs.

That's the inspiration for both the name and the label of this milk stout from Three Floyds, which is brewed with golden naked oats and lactose milk sugar. The result: an especially creamy, full-bodied pour with a light sweetness and roasty malt character. Unlike the Moloko in the book, though, a pint of this will not (we hope, at least) send you on a spree of ultraviolence.

Bell's Oberon

This beer is a widely-loved classic of summer drinking. The warm-weather seasonal from Bell's is a zingy wheat ale that doesn't use any spice or fruit, but still manages to give off a softly spicy character – amplified by a higher-than-usual hop presence for a wheat ale – that's also got a touch of sweetness.

Thanks to the wide distribution network that Bell's has, plenty of drinkers are familiar with it, but perhaps less well-known is the beer's namesake. Oberon is a character in medieval and Renaissance literature, known as the king of the fairies. He's featured most notably in A Midsummer Night's Dream – fitting, given the beer's seasonality.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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