While corresponding with a friend about our mutual affection for beers of the IPA variety, I realized that my emails, wherein I usually try to leave trace evidence of my English degree, read like they'd been written by a failed clone of Homer Simpson. Just thinking about beer, it seems, encourages me to write nonsensical phrases like "mmmmCREAMYIPA!" and, no, I wasn't drinking when I wrote that.
The phenomenon got me researching how beer has inspired other writers, and I don't mean that in a depressing, alcoholic sense. What good things have poets had to say about this malty topic?
My research quickly got sidetracked when I discovered that there are literary beers! The New Holland Brewing Company crafts a beer called The Poet, and Rogue Ales brews a Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout. I also discovered that Sixpoint Brewery, my local favorite, uses poetry to sell its beers (and it works!). And Sixpoint doesn't just grab a few lines from the Golden Treasury; the web page for their hoppy offering, Resin, features two terrific lines from the relatively obscure W.B. Yeats poem "Two Songs from a Play":
Whatever flames upon the night
Man's own resinous heart has fed.
Yeats! Beer! Sold! Sixpoint, it turns out, pairs each of its beers with great poetry, using lines by H.D., Shakespeare, William Blake and Elizabeth Bishop, among others. It's all really quite well done. Highly educated poet working for a craft brewery, whoever you are, I salute you. And I am coming for your job (but will settle for your beer).
Of course, while Sixpoint's poetic selections speak to their beers, they aren't actually about beer. For that, we turn first to the great American poet Edgar Allan Poe, who probably knew an awful lot about beer, and I do mean that in the depressing, alcoholic sense. Sigh. Anyway, Poe's "Lines on Ale" meditates on beer's happier side:
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.
Looking for something more contemporary and less reading-intensive? The site BeerHaikuDaily exists. And while the haikus aren't exactly daily, the site does boast poems like this one, which made me chuckle:
Rememb'ring grandpa's cousin
In a pleasant way
I've never tried Tongerlo, but cheers to grandpa's cousin (even though sticking an apostrophe in a word to make your syllable count is cheating).
But I couldn't find a beer poem to match Robert Burns' "John Barleycorn." The poem tells the story of Mr. Barleycorn, a heroic and ill-fated personification of beer itself. The delightful verse ends:
John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
'Twill make your courage rise.
'Twill make a man forget his woe;
'Twill heighten all his joy;
'Twill make the widow's heart to sing,
Tho' the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne'er fail in old Scotland!
Here's to him, to you, and to your grandpa's pleasant cousin! I'm off to buy some Resin.