Have you heard about the Beatles? They’re really big right now.
For one, the group’s seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is 50 years old this summer. Also there’s a SiriusXM channel now devoted to the Fab Four, and only recently the world began to hear the complete Beatles experience over all major streaming services.
So if you don’t know the Beatles, this is probably a decent time to start exploring.
One underrated aspect of the band is that they evolved quickly and in the most appropriate progression. Their early stuff was raw, sometimes crude, but very accessible, their middle period was filled with breakthroughs, and their late work was all over the place – a bunch of adults finally turning independent. In fact, you may find that your beer-drinking evolution runs parallel to this.
So let’s pair the Beatles to a some beer. We’ll do one beer for each album in the Beatles’ studio discography (the 13 albums generally accepted as the Beatles’ primary catalog). A Spotify playlist is included, in case you want to rip through 13 beers in less than three hours.
I’d advise not to do that. Enjoy one album at a time.
Mama’s Little Yella Pils seems like the right fit for A Hard Day’s Night.”
Please Please Me (1963) - Red Stripe Jamaican Lager
Don’t overthink Please Please Me, a straight-ahead effort to prove that the Fab Four could play rock and/or roll music. It’s a fun album at times (“I Saw Her Standing There,” “Boys,” “Please Please Me,” “Twist and Shout”) and it can be a slog (“Ask Me Why,” “A Taste of Honey”), but it goes down easy with a touch of sweetness (or, yeah, taste of honey). One of the first beers I actually drank was Red Stripe (thanks to those “Hooray beer!” commercials), and it fits the bill here.
With the Beatles (1963) - Blue Moon Belgian White
This album is intensely layered for such a quick, early effort. Step away from the sweeter, poppier stuff like “All My Loving” and “Hold Me Tight” and you’ll find Harrison’s brooding “Don’t Bother Me” and Lennon’s simmering “Not a Second Time.” Still, there’s a lot of sorting out in With the Beatles, reminding me of one of the beers that got me hooked: good ol’ Blue Moon. Oddly complex for a relatively thin effort (citrus is high but it gives way to cloves and some nice yeast), it’s fun to enjoy with this sweet little album.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) - Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils
A Hard Day’s Night is the Beatles’ early triumph, a smooth, crisp pop album at the height of Beatlemania. It breezes so effortlessly, though it does stagger toward the back end (“When I Get Home” and “You Can’t Do That” are forgettable). I love the miniature boogie of “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” a song tossed to Harrison to fulfill his vocal obligations. A clean Czech pilsner like Mama’s Little Yella Pils seems like the right fit for A Hard Day’s Night. You can even get through two of them during the 30 minutes of album time (Yella comes in at 5.3% alcohol by volume).
Beatles For Sale (1964) - Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre
Arguably the least-recalled Beatles album, Beatles For Sale finds the group running out of steam. There are a few stumbles (“Mr. Moonlight” is the most painful Beatles track [non “Revolution 9” Division]), but the strength here is the aura: a sound like a warm blanket on a crisp, autumn day. I’d pair it with an early offbeat discovery of mine that can be called a stumble from the kings of either getting it really right or throwing a lot of raisins in the batch. Still, it keeps a distinct aura – warming, sweet and yeasty – that might comfort you on a brisk autumn day.
Help! (1965) - Samuel Adams Scotch Ale
Scotch Ale is weird, isn’t it? It hasn’t attracted much attention for a Boston Beer Co. offering, was discontinued for a while and has peat-smoked malts, so it’s aiming for something far more serious than expected. Help! reminds me of that, as the Beatles were pretty tired at this point – and Lennon was in bad emotional and physical shape – but tried to show us a serious, layered side. A song like “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” tries to balance the usual Beatles bounce with some snide commentary. I’m not sure if Help! works all the time, but like Scotch Ale, it’s certainly an interesting one for sitting back and contemplating.
Rubber Soul (1965) - Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
I was 24 when I first sipped Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, the same age as Lennon when he laid down the vocal for “Norwegian Wood,” a mature, introspective story of a one-night stand that never happened (forget he drinks wine in the song) backed by thoughtful early sitar plucking by Harrison. Rubber Soul is the Beatles’ turning point, the moment they became serious recording artists who sought to merge music and art. Mirroring that, Celebration Ale is in the line of beers that turned American IPA into an artform – a spiced hop profile and warm finish. Sip while sitting by the fire. Isn’t it good?
Revolver (1966) - Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
I still remember the first pack of Wookey Jack I picked up, and the sublime evening that followed. As I tasted roasted malts, caramel, and fresh hoppiness with subtle alcohol flourish, I couldn’t remember a beer so balanced, deep and sure of itself. Revolver is when the Beatles punch every box. There’s lyrical maturity (“Eleanor Rigby,” “For No One”), chunky rock (“Doctor Robert,” “She Said She Said”), refreshing pop (“Good Day Sunshine,” “Got to Get You Into My Life”) and heady brilliance (“Love You To,” “Tomorrow Never Knows”). My favorite is “And Your Bird Can Sing,” a dizzying slice of Lennon arrogance and the best of all worlds. Just like Wookey Jack.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) - Rogue XS Old Crustacean
The popular opinion is Sgt. Pepper’s changed the face of pop music, which I think is mostly true, though the album may not be the pound-for-pound perfection of Revolver or the meticulous beauty of Abbey Road. As for beer, the barleywine changed my drinking game completely. Packed with fruit, spice, and tea, Old Crustacean is like a miniature symphony in a bottle, something like the organically brilliant “She’s Leaving Home.” And while Old Crustacean is obviously outstanding, I still feel there are better beers out there (or more appropriately named ones … ahem, Sour in the Rye With Kumquats). But there’s certainly time and place to lay back and enjoy.
Magical Mystery Tour (1967) - Perennial Savant Blanc
Magical Mystery Tour is a trip for a brief moment (really the “Flying” and “Blue Jay Way” twosome); otherwise, it’s clearly exceptional studio experimentation. Plus, few albums can match the side-two knockout stretching from “I Am the Walrus” to “All You Need is Love.” Perennial does great work, and its Brett-heavy Savant Blanc is also a trip for a brief moment but rounds out wonderfully with earthy notes. A full experience at 8% ABV, it’s perfect for thinking really hard about “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
I couldn’t think of a better pairing for this Beatles album, a stunning, polished set of pop-rock that has yet to be rivaled.”
The Beatles (1968) - Dieu du Ciel! Peche Mortel
Of course we need a Russian imperial Stout – we’re starting this baby off with “Back to the U.S.S.R.,” one of the Beatles’ most deliciously fun tracks. Plus, hell, we need to savor since the album clocks in at more than 90 minutes. Dieu du Ciel! In Montreal makes great beer (just don’t visit the same day you have reservations at Joe Beef), and Peche Mortel is an elite imperial stout: complex with coffee notes, caramel and a smooth finish. The Beatles is complex, too – often rough and fed up, other times trying to be everything to everyone. But it’s impeccably ordered and fun to explore. So explore for a while.
Yellow Submarine (1969) - Founders Mango Magnifico
This one goes out to all the wacky experimental beers that you have to try once and probably never again, because Yellow Submarine is the album you listen to once … well you get it. “Hey Bulldog” is the best proper song here, but you can just download the thing. Otherwise you get some nice George Martin orchestral compositions and some of the Beatles’ wackiest pieces (like Harrison’s head trips “Only a Northern Song” and “It’s All Too Much”). Drink something weird (and probably high in ABV) with this. I’m going with Mango Magnifico, a funky combination of syrupy sweetness and biting hot pepper. Makes sense in Pepperland.
Abbey Road (1969) - St. Bernardus ABT 12
Let’s get back homeward, and let’s choose the perfect beer. For me that’s the distinctly imaginative, darling abbey (har har, I know) that I’ve been cradling since I first discovered it on some beer emporium shelf. Honestly, though, this beer is timeless – strong yeast notes, some pungent fruit and an earthy, spicy finish. I couldn’t think of a better pairing for this Beatles album, a stunning, polished set of pop-rock that has yet to be rivaled. You can’t tell me life gets better than an ABT 12 in the hand and “Here Comes the Sun” filling the room.
Let It Be (1970) - AleSmith Nut Brown Ale
Let It Be finds the boys entering their 30s, fed up with experiments and ready to settle down with their respective wives. That kind of “I’m done with this” mood calls for a no-frills British throwback, so naturally, we head to San Diego. AleSmith Nut Brown is one of the best of its style, long on malts and great for shooting the bull at the pub. Enjoy it while kicking back with the best ice-cold rock of the Lennon/McCartney era, songs like the snarky “Dig a Pony” and revelatory “I’ve Got a Feeling.”