Odes to Ale: Beer Poetry

Victorian poetry is nothing if not distinctive, full of emphasis on the senses, Romanticism, sentimentality…and a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism. The Victorians were a contradictory folk. Alongside poems of nature and religion, medieval imagery and forlorn lovers, there were also poems of beer. Whether or not beer loosened poets’ lips and let lyrical lines spring forth is up for debate.

In any case, we’ve found some ale-related anthems to share with you! Grab a pint of your favourite beer (I’m grabbing a Porter, before Ed focuses more heavily on Pale Ales and Best Bitters over the hot summer months), settle in, and let the words wash over you. 🙂

 

ReallyNiceGrowler

The Empty Bottle – William Aytoun (1813-1865)

William Aytoun was a Scottish poet, lawyer, and popular professor of rhetoric at the University of Edinburgh. With poems like this, we’re not surprised!

Ah, liberty! how like thou art
To this large bottle lying here,
Which yesterday from foreign mart,
Came filled with potent English beer!
A touch of steel — a hand — a gush —
A pop that sounded far and near —
A wild emotion — liquid rush —
And I had drunk that English beer!
And what remains? — An empty shell!
A lifeless form both sad and queer,
A temple where no god doth dwell —
The simple memory of beer!

Lines on Ale – Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Most of us know Edgar Allan Poe from “The Raven,” or “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but his body of work contains a number of lesser-known gems. This short poem is one of them…although we’re a little disquieted by the fact that it was published in 1848, just one year before his untimely and bizarre death (he was delirious and wearing someone else’s clothes – no cause of death was ever definitively established and all records have since been lost). 

Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away.
What care I how time advances;
I am drinking ale today.

growler

Terence, This is Stupid Stuff – from A Shropshire Lad – A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

Alfred Edward Housman was an English poet and renowned Classical scholar. Regarding his poetry, best known for his collection of poems “A Shropshire Lad,” which has been continuously in print since 1896. They’re emotional, vulnerable poems – with the occasional wry smile. Much like the Victorians themselves.

 Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad…

Whole Leaf Hops
Whole Leaf Hops

And now, perhaps some poetry on Porters and Pale Ales…

-Katie

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Sour Ales

Hello, beer-lovers!

As part of my quest to expand my palate, I have been tackling beers beyond my usual English/Irish/Scottish-style ales. For the past little while, I’ve been sampling beers from the continent, enjoying German weisses and witbiers, but most particularly—Belgian sour ales.

Sour ales are very different from what we do at the Black Creek Historic Brewery. Down here, we cool our wort very quickly—it’s quite an endeavour to get it from kettle to cooling ship to cask as soon as possible. See, wild yeasts and bacteria naturally occur everywhere. If you’ve got a piece of fruit nearby, you probably have some wild yeasts, too! Not all yeasts are created equal: some create very odd flavours indeed. Likewise, some bacteria devour the sugar in wort and turn it into acid.

Ed running wort through the cooling ship.
Ed running wort through the cooling ship.

So generally speaking, we try to avoid those microorganisms getting into the beer. However, sour ales specifically seek them. Sour ale brewers deliberately encourage bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus and wild yeast strains like Brettanomyces to set up shop in their wort. These microbes impart a tartness and sourness to the beer that’s very different from our ales here at Black Creek. An article on NPR phrases it very well: “Sour beers are to the adult beverage world what yogurt is to dairy. It’s beer that’s been intentionally spoiled by bacteria—the good bacteria.”

Some of the most common varieties are lambics, gueuzes, and Flanders red ales. Lambics are a variety of spontaneously fermented Belgian ale. When cooling, the wort is exposed to open air overnight. Unlike our “crash cooling,” this allows those sourness-producing bacteria to help ferment the beer. Gueuzes are blends of various older and younger lambics, while Flanders red ales are an ale often inoculated with the Lactobacillus bacteria, and left to mature in oak casks.

My Untappd has been getting some exercise. Rodenbach is one of the oldest sour ale breweries - it was founded in 1821!
My Untappd has been getting some exercise. Rodenbach is one of the oldest sour ale breweries – it was founded in 1821!

So what do these beers taste like? They remind me very much of red wine. It’s a fruit-like tartness—I’ve gotten a lot of cherry and raspberry. The level of hop bitterness is noticeably low: practically absent in some places. Certainly not an unpleasant taste, just a very unusual one, particularly for someone so used to our historic ales!

That being said, it’s worth remembering that early Victorian beers likely would have had some sourness. By the 1870s, breweries were the largest consumers of harvested ice, and the science of fermentation was much better understood thanks to Pasteur’s work in the 1860s, but prior to that it’s quite likely that brewers would not have been entirely able to keep their wort free of wild yeast and bacteria.

My favourite sour ale so far? A Berliner Weisse from our friends over at Beau’s All-Natural Brewing. It’s still very tart, but more like citrus than cherry. Like so many things in beer, it’s down to personal preference. 🙂

Beau's "Ich Bin Ein Bearliner" is in the centre. Love that gorgeous light colour!
Beau’s “Ich Bin Ein Bearliner” is in the centre. Love that gorgeous light colour!

What unusual beers have you tried lately?

Cheers!

Katie