Contemplating Beer in a Galaxy Far, Far Away
As a lifelong Star Wars fanatic—yes, I even like the controversial recent trilogy—who was only in middle school when Episode III was released, I find myself looking at the movies through a new lens now that I’m older, and a drinker. When the smugglers and space scum are swilling blond drink in the cantina scene from A New Hope, I wonder: What are they drinking? Is that a brew house behind the bar? And do Jedi eschew alcohol or emulate the similarly cowled monks of brewing? The hypotheticals abound.
Pushed by the coming Dec. 18 opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my nerdy interest has lasered in on two questions: How do Star Wars and beer intersect, and what will I drink to celebrate the new release?
In a recent issue of All About Beer Magazine, with a comic book-themed cover exclaiming “Beer Saves the Day!” two reporters—Jeff Cioletti and Mark Peters—drew out and explained the confluent geekiness of beer and comic books. Star Wars, while also sporting that connection, has even deeper links to beer in both its construction and its audience, ties that go beyond new star Daisy Ridley’s familiarity with the grapefruit and hoppy notes of beer from her job as a former pub hand.
Similar to how beer has reinvigorated, popularized and even updated traditional styles in the last few decades (see goses and gruits), Star Wars took old cinematic devices from the samurai movies of Akira Kurosawa, as well as classic Shakespearean tropes of father-son tales of redemption, ghosts demanding society’s salvation and confused protagonist twins, then brought them into a futuristic setting.
For further clarification, turn to the seemingly oxymoronic opening credits of every Star Wars movie. The space age setting exists “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” because past influences are what brought the future and present trappings of intergalactic travel and reinvented beer to light.
Secondly, there’s audience. In 2014 the Brewers Association said that more and more millennials are drinking craft beer. Many of them, like me, were children or teens for Episodes I, II and III. In that same announcement, the association kept the description of the median craft beer drinker as being 39-54 years old (the 39 number came from 2001). Those folks would have been children or teens when the original Star Wars trilogy came out, the exact demographic that New Yorker writer Ian Crouch—despite my vehement disagreement—believes Star Wars most captivated and continues to carry (he believes Star Wars is only for kids and nostalgic adults).
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In terms of my second question, what to drink for The Force Awakens and my likely pre-release Star Wars marathon, some brewers that fall within that latter demographic have the answer.
Dan Carrico, a co-owner and operator of Thorn St. Brewing in San Diego, doesn’t consider himself a Star Wars fanatic, but the original trilogy were some of his favorite movies while growing up. His co-workers, for the most part, he says, are of the same age and interest in the movies.
Thorn St. has multiple Star Wars-themed beers, from the year-round Far Far Away IPA (named aptly for its Galaxy hops), to the seasonal Chewbacca Doppelbacca and the limited Menace Imperial IPA.
“Far Far Away is a very, very popular one; the hops that go into it are not ones that are super easy to get,” says Carrico. “The Menace, we run out of it in about a week; it’s one of our best beers.”
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Two other breweries with Star Wars-themed beers that I talked to also had a deep love for the movies that a cease-and-desist letter and a lawsuit from Lucas Films couldn’t even throw off.
“Basically the letter suggested that our label resembled some character from the movies,” says Matt Westfall, head brewer of New England Brewing in Woodbridge, Connecticut, which makes the Imperial Stout Trooper Russian imperial stout.
To respond, the brewery put Groucho Marx glasses on the label.
“In addition to being nerds, we’re also smartasses. And we thought the best way to handle that situation was to be funny about it and disguise it with classic humor,” Westfall says. “We never heard another word.”
Empire Brewing Co. in Syracuse, New York, had a few more legal hoops to jump through than New England. After Lucas Films sued the company over its Empire Strikes Bock maibock, Empire had to change the beer’s name to Strikes Bock by Empire Brewing Co. in a legal agreement.
“I understand where they’re coming from. It’s a huge brand that they have, and there’s a reason there’s copyright laws and trademarks,” said Tim Butler, Empire’s brewmaster. “Everyone walked away happy.”
While Strikes Bock won’t be available for The Force Awakens—though it will be ready for May the 4th (Star Wars day)—Thorn St.’s brews will all likely be on draft when the new movie comes out. Imperial Stout Trooper, says Westfall, usually comes out a week before Christmas: Dec. 18, the coincidental release date of The Force Awakens.
Whether or not the theater I’ll be heading to for the new movie has one of the aforementioned apropos brews, I have one thing to say:
“Never tell me the odds.”
Bo McMillan is a writer and self-professed nerd based out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, whose interests include food history, coffee, contemporary literature and, of course, Star Wars and beer.