A good beer can help the mind wander and bring on creativity. All About Beer is honored to have partnered with Cutleaf, a leading journal of short stories, nonfiction, and poetry on the current edition that focuses on beer.
You can read the individual pieces, by author, via the links. All About Beer editor John Holl reached out to all of the authors and poets to ask them about the inspiration behind their work, how they approached writing about beer, and if there was a particular pour that served as an inspiration.
Their responses are below.
Short stories, nonfiction, and poetry
I tended bar for five years on Lincoln Avenue, a popular nightclub strip in Chicago during the mid to late 1970s. The story recalls my first night on the job, and is an excerpt from a memoir I’ve been working on about those days and the birth of the Spoken Word Movement, which I also began. It was a warm tumultuous full moon Friday night, the place was packed, the boss took off and never came back, and I couldn’t pour fast enough.
The inspiration for my poem, “Intersection,” was a photograph I took back in 2017 of a warehouse undergoing renovation and repurposed for retail businesses, apartments, etc. As the epigraph in the poem implies, I was at a microbrew in Knoxville. Microbreweries were a fairly new concept there. In a few short years, many excellent microbreweries opened and set a high standard for excellent beer. That late summer sun glinted of my glass of beer and the glass windows of that former warehouse. In a strange way, I saw them both in the same light. I don’t have to think too hard as a poet before some metaphor pops on the pages of my mind. That is what surfaces when I used that photograph five years later for a weekly Ekphrastic workshop I facilitate for the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild (at the time of this writing, we’re completing 150 consecutive weeks). This poem came directly out of that critique group. I’ve attached that photograph.
Because I am a physicist and a poet, I’m a trained observer, so nothing escapes my (natural) scrutiny whether I’m testing a hypothesis or writing a poem, including a glass of beer. Beer, wine, and whiskey all have inspired many poems (some of appear in The Rye Whiskey Review).
In this case there wasn’t a particular pour of beer that inspired this poem, but I can see that happening for other works. I usually drink a West Coast style IPA or a crisp pale ale with body, but those wonderfully spicy beers (whether the backbone is a lighter beer or a heavier Mexican lager). That habanero heat in my beer can take me to places (and women) I’ve known. Poetry is bound to flow.
My life and a memory that came to mind when I read the obituary for Frank Mockler, the founder of Patricks. I have several great memories involving beer and wished I could have sent the others (alas, they have already been put out there).
I’ve been surrounded by beer drinkers since I grew up in the land of Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue, and orange LCBO Beer Store signs. When I moved to the States, beer was available in corner stores and grocery stores.
I now live in Beer City USA (Grand Rapids, Michigan) surrounded by beer lovers, and I’ve tried to like beer, but I don’t. I love the pubs, though, and will go for the food, friends, and trivia and the craft brewers who kindly pour me samples thinking they’ve got the one I’ll love.
There was a summer in my late twenties when I moved in with a couple friends and worked on their foodtruck. Prior to that I’d been working full time as an office manager while also enrolled in college. I was living alone in a nice place I couldn’t really afford, working all the time and barely scraping by. That summer was a breath of fresh air. We parked at breweries, festivals, and fairs, catered weddings and grad parties. We often traded food with brewers for beer at the end of the night and would spend the evenings, after dishes were washed, sharing bottles and spinning records. The three of us had a lot of fun with that truck. It was also a lot of work, a lot of sweat, some blood. It was also something we were passionate about and proud of. Though Psychedelicious differs quite a bit from my experience, I wanted to write about that kind of work, work that is incredibly important and underrepresented in literature.
Writing about beer is difficult! This country has a complex history with alcohol and I found myself struggling to find good stories about alcohol in which drinking didn’t serve as the character’s downfall or flaw. So much media treats alcohol only as alcoholism, which differs greatly from my own experience. I wanted to write my story about a place and time where I felt incredible comradery and joy: A craft beer festival. I wanted to write about beer, but also about the culture that surrounds it. As a beer buyer for a small beer and wine store, I interact with breweries and beer reps frequently, and I honestly haven’t met one person who wasn’t friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. I decided to bring that culture of kindness and acceptance to light in my story while also dropping in a bit of my product knowledge. Beer is fun! Breweries are zany! Life is good!
The brewery that inspired the setting for Psychedelicious was Hoof Hearted in Marengo, Ohio. We parked the food truck there many times over that summer. Over the year or so I worked on this story, I visited Hoof Hearted a few times, but the beer that stands out is Konkey Dong, an imperial New England IPA. This was the first beer I ever tried from Hoof Hearted and I sipped it in the cab of the food truck during a lull in business on our first visit to the brewery.
Beer was always a big part of my friendship with Lionel, from Andalusian bars to craft breweries to späti beers on Berlin doorsteps. We are very good friends without many things in common, but beer is one of them. We walk and talk and drink. In the poem, I wanted to capture one of our many restless, drunken nights while featuring my favourite bar in Berlin – Eschenbräu.
I wanted to focus on the experience and effect of beer – that loosening of the tongue, silly talks and memories inspired by taste and the visuals of a beer label. Bar-hopping allowed us to explore this alive, weird city at night with the navigation of finding good beers. Including specific types mattered too in showing the differences and similarities between me and Lionel.
Lionel always took me to bars in Berlin because it’s his hometown. When I moved to the city, Eschenbräu – a hidden cellar-bar in a local apartment courtyard – was the first bar I took him to that he’d never heard of. I was so smug about it. I remember my smugness clearly while sipping a Panke Gold, my favourite beer.
Shift moments and transformations were the inspiration for this story—and they relate to beer as well—that moment when you taste that one ingredient or hint of citrus or whatever it may be, and it’s such a delight. In a story, that shift moment is the transformation—that moment when everything comes together, and you start to see that change in character or plot that takes a new and unexpected turn. It’s also about crossroads in a career. The narrator who makes a living in this story by her craft suddenly has to leave it, but she takes it in a new direction and makes it completely her own—and is still happy.
When my husband and I were first dating and married—and even when our son was in kindergarten—we brewed beer at home. Mostly, it was my husband (Nate) who brewed the beer, but I learned different names of beers and the smells that would fill the house—and some of the intricate processes as well. So, when I wrote this story, I wanted to include some of those memories—and the kinds of beers we made, such as lagers, pilsners, stouts, and ales. I wanted to make sure that I included colors, tastes, and other sensations to make the story come to life.
The first line in my story is the first pour from a pilsner, and I really do enjoy a good pilsner on a summer day—but I also have such fond memories of a cherry wheat beer in Michigan on one of the first vacations Nate and I ever took together. We came home with growlers of that beer. Recently, we tried to remember the name of the company, but just couldn’t, and I’m not sure they would even be in business anymore—it was so long ago. Once, Nate made a pine-flavored/scented beer for the holidays that started off too strong, but it aged nicely. So, I was also trying to capture some of the unique flavors that intentionally or unintentionally go into some of the more memorable beers I’ve sampled.
Every so often I give myself little story challenges that I may or may not follow through on. In this case, I wondered “can I write a story about a never-ending case of beer without it being too silly?” How I came up with this prompt, I’m not sure. I may have been inspired by a short story published in Puerto del Sol (47.1) when I worked for the magazine during grad school. It was “Infinity Juice” by Ken Weaver, a very wry and fun story about the mythology around a lost, unlabeled beer created by a master brewer. One image in the story, of coming across an unlabeled beer at the store, stuck with me, and I may have extrapolated that out to an unlabeled 12-pack. Either that or I just had an epiphany while a few beers in.
On the conceptual level, my favorite things about beer are 1) there’s a mystery in the bottle, and 2) I can immediately satiate my curiosity (and my thirst) by opening said bottle and drinking what’s inside. Even a beer with a full description, like a red saison with smoked plum, still holds things back. Is it going to be tart or straight up sour? How heavy will the smoked plum flavor be? You can ask the bartender for clarification, but “too plumy” is subjective. No matter their answer, you will have to try it yourself to find out (and I did try it, at Mockery Brewing in Denver. It was great). This is a long way around to say that I approach writing about beer by considering the possibility that each beer presents, as well as the opportunity for immediate gratification. It’s a rare thing to encounter tantalizing mystery and also be able to uncover that mystery as soon as it crosses your path.
For me, it wasn’t a particular pour that served as inspiration for the story so much as it was changes in my beer preferences. After indulging in all the big IPAs and barrel aged stouts, it’s been a pleasure to rediscover the belgians, saisons, and pilsners that drew younger me to beer in the first place. So when the characters in the story drink the never-ending beer, I didn’t want them to say “Wow, this is like Pliny the Younger!” I wanted my characters to encounter something subtle, effervescent. A perfect beer, like perfect love, should be something you can indulge in if you want, but is so much more satisfying when taken slow, with appreciation for the little moments and surprises found along the way.
Cutleaf publishes a new issue online every other week, as well as The Cutleaf Reader, our annual print anthology. A project of EastOver Press, Cutleaf seek work that responds to our common experience and reflects our differences. We are interested in work by all writers, especially those historically underrepresented in literary publishing. We welcome unsolicited original prose (both creative nonfiction and fiction) and poetry from established and emerging writers during our open submission windows.