“Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink for fellows whom it hurts to think.” A. E. Houseman
I love beer. Good beer, in particular. Malty or hoppy, sour or citrusy, beer occupies a good deal of my thoughts. Craft beer made by real Maine brewmasters is a delightful benefit of living in this part of the country. But did you really expect anything else from a writer who delves into the motifs of death and deceit? A writer who needs to empty his brain of all that is evil by settling back with a cold one?
My love of beer goes back to my childhood, when my father gave me a taste of his Ballantine Ale. To this day, I remember the cold hoppy taste of that wonderful brew poured out of that iconic green can. It’s one of those memories that’ve stayed with me. Then it was Budweiser, Miller GD, and PBR (“PABST BLUE RIBBON!” as villain Frank Booth announces in Blue Velvet). A revelation happened when Sam Adams came out with their delicious Boston Lager in the early 80s. I remember sitting with my buddy on the deck of his mother’s triple decker—two Irishmen—and marveling at this amazing new craft beer we just purchased. Move over Guinness. It was the first of its kind. And it was being made in my hometown of Boston.
I traveled to London and Germany in the eighties. The cask conditioned ales served in those posh pubs was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. Fish & Chips, and beer never tasted so good. Suffice to say, it led to an epic night at an insane soccer hooligan bar that led to us being thrown out.
God Save The Queen and Real Ales!
But it was the German beers that blew me away. The clove-banana scent of the heavenly hefeweizens. The brats and pretzels in the Hofbrauhaus. The crisp lagers and dark dunkels, all brewed in accordance with the German Purity Law. It convinced me that beer could be flavorful and diverse, not merely a means to catching a buzz.
Which is why Ben Franklin is attributed to saying, “Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy?”
Is it no wonder then that one of the main characters in my upcoming novel, THE NEIGHBOR, is the owner of a burgeoning Maine brewery? The Maine craft beer scene is so vital to our economy, and to our state’s identity, that it behooved me not to use beer in my fiction. Research is such a bitch!
Did you know that Portland, Maine is considered one of the top beer cities in the country? If you’re from this neck of the woods you’re well aware of this fact. It’s hard to miss all the breweries popping up in town. According to Forbes Magazine, Portland has 25.5 breweries per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the country. We celebrate beer with glorious sun-soaked festivals, outdoor patios, and winding brew tours. We’ve even traded beer filled cargo ships with the aptly named Iceland. One of my favorite breweries offers yoga and beer, but I’ll skip the yoga and go straight for the suds.
As a side note, we probably have more crime writers per capital than anywhere else in the country. Beer? Crime? Are you getting the picture? Devious thoughts seem to be fermenting in our dryly hopped heads. Maybe it’s the cold winters that draws us to those comfy milk stouts and earthy brown ales. Or maybe it’s all the beer we drink that gives rise to such evil contemplations.
Us writers have a complicated relationship with alcohol. Think of Hemingway, Faulkner, James Joyce and Cheever (who shares the same hometown with yours truly), just to name a few. Booze probably shortened the brilliant careers of many a successful author. Creativity engenders sensitivity, and alcohol, in the short term, can sometimes mask the pain of putting one’s art out there. Cheever’s descent into alcoholic abyss also hid the intense shame he felt at being gay in a society not ready to embrace homosexuality.
But I come here not bury beer but to praise it. It’s as diverse as our population: black lagers, Allagash White, brown ales and robust reds. Revel in its creative powers and healthful benefits. Can beer be a muse? Bottled, poured on draft, or canned, it’s worth considering.
I praise it for its restorative qualities after a hard day of writing. My author friends and I usually caucus at Fore River Brewery in South Portland to talk writing over some freshly poured ales. My friend, Tim Queeney, author of numerous novels, gave a wonderful talk on celestial navigation at Shipyard Brewery (with required beer breaks every fifteen minutes). Crime writing pal Bruce Coffin held his publication party for AMONG THE SHADOWS at Mast Head Brewery in Westbrook (and another one is scheduled in September). I studied my local brewery for the layout and design, and used it as a setting in my own novel. It was tough work, but someone’s got to do it.
I always loved when Spenser cracked a beer. I think that Spenser would be quite happy about the current brew scene, as he combined low brow tastes with high. If you’re interested in a book by book analysis of Spencer’s diverse taste in beer, check out this site. http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/spenser_beers.html. Ace Atkins, who took over Parker’s enterprise, has Spencer quaffing such fine suds as Sam Adams Oatmeal Stout and Oktoberfest, Blue Moon, and Harpoon Ale, which is quite a delicious beverage on draft.
Spencer, you’re hired as my barkeep!
So crack open a Bissell Brother’s Baby Genius, Portland Pale Ale, or Fore River Milk Stout on nitrogen. Grab a novel by one of your favorite Maine Crime Writers. Then kick back with that craft Maine beer while you read about murder, kidnapping and other hard boiled crimes. Or, should I say, wort boiled crimes.
Great ode to beer, Portland’s beer scene and the cross-breeding of creative writing and alcohol. With that teaser, I’m looking forward to reading THE NEIGHBOR.
Please excuse my having a “literalist” bent honed by years of legal writing that often impedes my efforts at creative writing and reading of literary works, but when you say, “…it behooved me not to use beer…”, did you mean to say “it DIDN’T BEHOOVE me not to use beer” OR “it behooved me OMIT “NOT” to use beer” Any clarification for my benefit would be appreciated.
Well said, Joe! It’s not just Maine crime writers with a connection to beer. In the age of sail beer saved many sailors’ lives by keeping them hydrated — so to speak. Water aboard wooden ships would soon go foul after a week or so at sea. But beer stayed wonderfully free of green scum. So in the Royal Navy every sailor was entitled to a daily ration of beer with his hardtack. Until the beer ran out and the sailors muttered mutiny!
Ha! I may have to develop a taste for beer. No. Wait. I already have a criminal mind.