Posted on February 13th, 2012
What’s dark about Massachusetts? Well, other than the months between December and March, the first thing that comes to mind is pizza. But this issue’s theme — I love you, but I’ve chosen dark meat — implies a conscious decision, and no one really chooses Massachusetts pizza. Like snow shoveling and long underwear, it’s an unfortunate aspect of New England life that one must solemnly accept, but under no circumstances, embrace.
What I really needed, I decided, was an honest-to-goodness adventure on the dark side. Why not start with beer? It’s practically the official drink of Massachusetts and you can’t get any darker than drinking alone.
Step 1: Open fridge and discover leftovers of dubious age and one empty bottle of wine.
Step 2: Stop by liquor store and wander into mysterious craft beer aisle. Citing a lack of imagination, settle on an assortment of “dark” (get it?) beer.
Step 3: Decide that gambling is a key component to a dark adventure. Purchase scratch ticket.
Step 4: Win one dollar on a one dollar scratch ticket. Debate with Mr. Max over the wisdom of cashing out versus using the winning ticket to purchase a second ticket. Settle on inaction.
Step 5: Return home to continue “adventure.”
Beer — particularly dark, European-style stuff — is something that has always made me a tad uncomfortable. It’s one of those subcultures that’s particularly dismissive of neophytes, and, unlike wine, I don’t have enough basic knowledge to fake it in a crowd. To avoid embarrassment, I usually stick with safe, inoffensive IPAs. But, I thought to myself, not today.
At home, I cracked open each of the bottles and vowed to confront my ignorance and fear head-on.
Fumata Nera, High & Mighty
Like any good consumer, I based my decision to purchase this beer entirely on the label design. Dark and modern, it seemed like just the thing to break me out of my Pale Ale rut.
My Latin’s a little rusty (or, uh, nonexistent) so I had to use the Internet to find out the meaning of the name. Fumata Nera, I learned, refers to the black smoke that signals an indecisive papal election. The product itself, produced by High & Mighty Brewery, is based on the pre-malt method of “smoking” beer, now mostly forgotten outside of Bamberg, Germany.
Fumata Nera is made in the States, but High & Mighty’s website makes their beliefs about American hops pretty clear. “Like many other American brewers, we love our hops, and use lots of them, but we think it’s worth the trouble and expense to get the best ones, which have been grown in Europe for centuries.” Sick burn, America.
Hoping to raise the brow of an evening spent, well, drinking alone, I dug out a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation that a friend had recently lent me. I turned the page and tipped my glass, surprised to find that the “smoky” flavor was pleasantly noticeable, and vaguely reminiscent of the burnt exterior of a toasted marshmallow. After a few more sips I noticed that the Nera also left a smoky haze around reality in general, effectively transporting me to the planet Terminus to begin my study of the science of “psychohistory.”
Overall verdict: Rich and dark. Pairs well with novels set in the galactic empire.
Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager
This lager was actually on the light side (despite the dark tinted bottle), but Samuel Smith’s legacy as the oldest brewery in Yorkshire gives it more than enough street cred. A beer like this begs to be imbibed in an English pub by someone with a carefully refined palate, I thought to myself. Not by a newbie alone in her living room.
At the very least I could create the appropriate mood. Barrett-era Pink Floyd seemed like too obvious a choice, so I fired up the iPod with Talk Talk’s spacious post-rock album Spirit of Eden. I poured a generous serving of the lager into what was definitely the wrong kind of glass and took a sip.
The finish was shockingly smooth, even sweet. Like Spirit of Eden, a tough intellectual exterior belied an inner gentility. I allowed myself a full four seconds of uninfluenced opinion before prying open the laptop to see what the Internet had to say. I thought it was good, and according to some of the wordier reviewers on RateBeer.com, its flavor is “gorgeous.” Pleased that my assessment agreed with the experts, I moved on to the next bottle.
Overall verdict: Lush. No pun intended.
Abbey Ale, Ommegang Brewery
Ommegang Brewery is well known for its Abbey Ale, a Belgian style beer with ecclesiastical notes of dried fruit, plums, honey, clove, and toffee. The deep, fruity aroma reminded me immediately that I was far out of neophyte territory. What, I asked, should this decadent ale be enjoyed with?
At this point it became clear that I was way past the point of appreciating anything requiring more than basic cognitive function, much less science fiction or moody experimental British rock albums.
Spying the remote out of the corner of my (bleary) eye, i turned to what would end up being the darkest chapter of my adventure: Lifetime Movie Network.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I watch more than my fair share of Lifetime Movies, but never before had I thought to pair them with 3 large bottles of heavy craft beer. Under these conditions, the low-budget, Canadian-produced teledramas I had made a hobby of mocking suddenly seemed, well, not so bad. Tales of psychotic husbands and murderous babysitters began to seem like misunderstood Greek tragedies. The Canadian-based sets began to actually look like New York or Atlanta. I wondered aloud if Meredith Baxter-Birney’s acting was “maybe even underrated.”
Overall verdict: Decadent, out of my league, and possibly dangerous. Not to be combined with Television for Women.