Literature Adds Another Dimension to The Art of Beer
Each year, SAVOR provides a truly magical experience in the world of beer and food. This charming adventure takes places in the awe-inspiring presence of the National Building Museum in our nation’s capital city. Beer lovers put on suits and dresses (even brewers tuck in their shirts) to celebrate the opportunity to sample wonderful beers and to meet even more amazing people behind the craft. But this year, the event facilitated an unusual inspirational moment that left me curious and excited.
I spent an afternoon with Daniel Bradford, publisher of All About Beer Magazine, and Greg Engert, beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (that includes Churchkey). As expected, the conversation lent itself to beer for most of the time—a natural inclination for three beer geeks in one of the top beer bars in the country during the week of one of the most exquisite beer events of the year.
After only a few minutes, however, the discussion took a turn to another art—modernist literature. We didn’t give up beer, of course. Rather, we talked about the relationship of books and the beverage of our passion.
The conversation had moved to literature after I mentioned that Greg was in the middle of an English fiction graduate program at Georgetown before he turned to a life of beer. The discovery that both Daniel (who has half of a Ph.D. in American social history) and Greg had planned to be academics until they saw the light of the heavenly world of beer ignited the discussion of how the liquid in the glasses affected the words on a page.
I had never previously put the two together in my mind, but without hesitation, Greg exclaimed that despite all of the recent talk about pairing beer and music, he believed that pairing beer and works of literature created the ultimate experience. Like a musical score and its accompanying notes, pieces of literature and their respective words have their own emotions, inspirations and encompassing “vibe.” What better way to accentuate the experience of these feelings than with a beer that may do the same?
No doubt due to Greg’s time studying at Trinity College in Dublin, he praised James Joyce as the godfather of modernist fiction and recommended that we try pairing Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, along with D.H. Lawrence‘s Women in Love and Virginia Woolf‘s To the Lighthouse, with a choice beer. Embarrassingly, I hadn’t read any of these. There wasn’t much time for “feelings” in my engineering and law school curricula.
But I couldn’t have been more excited to try the marriage of beer and books. Upon returning home from DC, I immediately downloaded Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist onto my Kindle, and after a few pages in, I decided that I was ready to pick a beer to heighten the experience. I was wrong.
If you’re unfamiliar with this early twentieth century work, you’ll soon discover that not only does each chapter (and sections within a chapter) vary greatly in writing style, perspective and composition, but Stephen Dedalus, the main character of the novel, changes immensely as he matures both emotionally and physically. How was I supposed to pair a beer with a book that was an emotional roller coaster? It didn’t take me long to discover that food was the answer.
Like separate measures and movements in a symphony, or each course in a dinner, individual chapters in a novel evoke their own feelings and would require unique beers. (Greg mentioned this in our conversation at Churchkey, and I’ll leave it to him to reveal what he may have in store for future beer projects.) But once I realized that it would take beers of different characters, aromas, bodies and warming levels to enjoy as Joyce’s words filled my mind, I settled in for an evening with a young, timid, ever-changing Dedalus and a relatively fresh Green Flash Rayon Vert. The Brett had begun to add a slight funky note to the Belgian pale, but given more time, you knew the beer would be entirely different.
And I now know that my reading experiences will be entirely different when enriched by beer.