Monday, September 8, 2008


There are seven beers mentioned by name in The Last Protector (my editors found this amusing). And while these beers are fictional, they were no doubt inspired by beers I've actually discovered in the real world. So what might these real-world beers be?

It's not always easy to say. The beers in the book often combine attributes of multiple real-world brews. And as I visit more pubs and breweries, sometimes I find a beer that's a better fit than the one I thought was the beer mentioned in the book. So this is, at best, a temporary list. So be it. Here, in the order they appear in the book, are the beers of Taupeaquaah...

Heavy Duty Night Time Porter (page 1 in the print edition): A strong, dark porter with a bit of an attitude. Wait, make that a whole lot of attitude; we encounter this stuff in Syb's Tavern, which is described as a major-league dive of a bar. A place where "the lights were dim, not to create a romantic mood, but because the gas lamps had never been cleaned," and where "the ceiling creaked ominously every time somebody in the upstairs brothel shifted position" is also a place where the beer had better assault your tastebuds with extreme prejudice. So we're not looking for a subtle, sophisticated porter here, especially late on Saturday night; we're looking for a black beer with all the subtlety of a bar brawl.

My first and still favorite "real world equivalent" for this beer is the Pillaging Troll Porter from the Grumpy Troll pub in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin (a town that's also known for its Mustard Museum). Stan and I stumbled upon the Grumpy Troll four or five years ago, at the end of a rollicking ride along the twisty county roads of Wisconsin's Driftless Area. For sporting motorcycle rides, Mt. Horeb pretty much marks the end of the interesting stuff, and so it's a good place to stop and unwind over a big ol' burger and a pint. It's also a good turn-around point for a more relaxed all-day ride on the Harley, as it's about 140 miles from home. And my Grumpy Troll growler, wrapped in a layer of half-inch closed-cell insulation, fits just perfectly in the left saddlebag...

Not only does Pillaging Troll Porter have a great name (especially considering the circumstances surrounding Heavy Duty Night Time Porter in the book); it's got the intensity of flavor to back up the name. It thoroughly intimidates a Wisconsin bratwurst slathered in the mustards that are Mt. Horeb's other claim to fame. Good stuff. But... there's a problem with nominating Pillaging Troll Porter: it's not currently on the menu at the Grumpy Troll!

So alternatives must be considered. I'd love to nominate Kettle House Brewing Company's Olde Bongwater Hemp Porter just on the strength of its name. I ran into this stuff in '06, in Missoula, Montana, when I visited the Rhinoceros Bar (a place with fifty beers on tap) and asked for the darkest thing they had. It wasn't bad, and I wouldn't mind having a glass right now... but in all fairness, compared to Pillaging Troll, Olde Bongwater tasted a bit on the wimpy side. Almost like a light porter, if such a thing exists. And I'm quite certain Scrornuck wouldn't be impressed by a light version of porter. So, despite the wonderful name, Olde Bongwater must pass from consideration...

Well, perhaps one of the beers I sampled at the Porter House in Bray, Ireland will fill the bill. Strange thing, though: while the place is called the Porter House, the beer menu includes lagers, and ales, and stouts, but nothing called "porter." Well, I guess a stout can be considered a porter... and the stouts (they have three) were all pretty good, at least when I last stopped by on a business trip back in 2001 (that's me in the middle, holding a pint). The "Oyster Stout" ("not for vegetarians") was just plain a strange idea...

Okay. When I last updated this page, I said, "Further investigation may be in order this summer..." Well, I did investigate further, the day we had the big rainstorm and flood. I needed something to whet my whistle while filling sandbags, and so I made a treacherous beer run, dodging closed streets and overflowing storm sewers, and came back with a six-pack of Bell's Porter, from Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Good stuff, especially for a bottled beer. Maybe a trifle too smooth for Syb's Tavern, but definitely in the running. Clearly, I have to make a run up to someplace where it's available on tap and do further research.

Middleweight Pale Ale (page 3) and Saturday Night Lightweight Ale (page 5): Okay, in the context of the book, these are "girl's beer." But keep in mind that Nalia, the girl in question, has just kicked some serious ass in a bar fight, so we're still talking beers that are pretty tough. Only "girly" in the way that an all-black Harley with a little rose on the gas tank is "girly." You sure you want to mess with this lady?

I found a good match for the Middleweight Pale Ale that Nalia downs after kicking butts and losing her job at Syb's Tavern at the Potosi Brewery in Potosi, Wisconsin. Now, the Potosi Brewery is one of those back-from-the-dead stories: after making various beers for over a hundred years, at one point being Wisconsin's fifth-largest brewery, it then declined and shut down in 1972. For years it just stood empty, a minor landmark on my motorcycle trips up twisty Wisconsin Route 133 to the ferryboat at Cassville. Then, after some $7 million in renovation, the place re-opened as both a micro-brewery and National Brewery Museum. I haven't toured the museum yet (it's two full floors, and they remind you to please not drink the memorabilia), but I have visited the micro-brewery and partaken of its beers.

And kibitzed with the brewmaster--in the photo, it's me (on the left), Steve (the brewmaster) in the middle, and Stan on the right. At the time we were enjoying Snake Hollow IPA and Cave Ale, and making plans to come back the next day, when the Holiday Bock would be tapped (we did, and it was worth the visit).

Potosi's Snake Hollow India Pale Ale is a tasty, hoppy India pale-style brew, and I think it might have a touch more alcohol than regular beer (though still less than an Imperial IPA, like the "Maggie IPA" from Grumpy Troll). It's got a slightly red color and a lot of flavor, but it's still the kind of thing you could drink all night (as long as somebody's going to toss you in a wheelbarrow and take you home). At least I could. And while its name may not be quite as perfect a match for a girl who's tossed half a dozen big guys out in the street as Emmett's Victory Pale Ale, it ain't bad. Generally, places with names like "Snake Hollow" aren't for wimps.

As for Saturday Night Lightweight Ale, I found its this-world equivalent at Emmett's Ale House in Dundee, IL. Emmett's is only about a half-hour from my home, so I often ride up there to refill the ol' growler. A practical lesson: a tightly capped growler can travel about 40 miles on its side in a motorcycle trunk; after that point it begins to leak, no matter how tight the cap is. So for longer beer runs (like to Grumpy Troll) I make a point of taking the Harley, because the growler can be stood upright in its saddlebags.

1 A.M. Ale is a traditional English brown ale, a bit like Newcastle, and seems close to what I had in mind when I put a bottle of Saturday Night Lightweight Ale in Nalia's hand. Of course, in this context (remember what we said about Nalia), "lightweight" is a relative term. As its name implies, 1 A.M. Ale is well suited for being consumed well after midnight--it's a bit more subtle, a bit easier-going than an IPA. Brown is, after all, a cooler color than red. A good choice for the second drink after beating the crap out of some bad guys...

Strong Morning Ale (page 10): That's right, it's not just for breakfast anymore! Okay, that sounds like something a drunken frat-boy might say, but in truth beer was a popular breakfast beverage up through the sixteenth century (according to Life magazine). And none other than C.S. Lewis mentions beer as a breakfast beverage, in the Narnia book The Silver Chair. He observes that since centaurs have both a human stomach and a horse stomach, they must have both a human breakfast and a horse breakfast... and the human breakfast (which he says is just like you or I might have) includes... beer! Now, it's probably not a good idea to start the day by knocking back a couple if you've got to drive to a job that involves operating heavy machinery, but since Jape, Scrornuck and Nalia are heading out on foot, why not?

So. On page 10, our hero orders a Strong Morning Ale, along with a little glass of red wine for his Sunday-morning ritual. The Ale is there to wash down a pretty substantial meal, and perhaps supply a little courage--while the meeting with Nalia is pure business in Jape's eyes, Scrornuck's twenty-three and single, she's a bit younger and also single... So the Strong Morning Ale ought to have a good flavor, one that goes well with a pile of food, and an extra shot of courage.

All of which are provided by Caber Tossing Scottish Ale from Fratello's/Fox River Brewery in Appleton, Wisconsin. The brewery itself is stuck into a shopping mall, which is both good and bad--malls are not my favorite places, but on the other hand, a brewery in the mall is sort of a "Dad Zone"--a place to hang out while wife and daughter go shopping... They also have a location down on the Fox River (not the same Fox River that runs in front of my yard), close to the Lawrence University campus. The on-the-river location doesn't sell beer-to-go like the mall location does (darn!), but they do have a much more spectacular view through the windows behind the bar--especially when the river's way, way high and the floodgates of the old Vulcan Mill dam are wide open:

Caber Tossing is a good, sturdy Scottish ale with plenty of body. Fratello's website doesn't list alcohol content for this stuff, but based on my experience it's pretty strong-- even if you're just walking, you don't want to start the day with more than one of them!

Heavy Red Lager (page 12): Not to be confused with the "red beer" found in some bars in Kansas, which is a mixture of macro-brewed light beer and tomato juice. Must be an acquired taste, and I cheerfully confess I was never able to acquire it.

We meet this beer after breakfast, after Nalia's ridiculed Jape's business proposal and stomped away. Scrornuck's trying to convince her to come back, and is about to remind her of a very important rule of business: it doesn't matter whether you'd buy the product; all that matters is whether the customer wants to buy it. So he's sat her down and offered to buy her a drink, just because he wants to. No strings attached. She orders a Pale Sunrise White wine, while he goes for a pint of the Heavy Red Lager, which I see as a solid, flavorful brew with a fair taste of hops and a deep red color, something that holds its own when consumed after a big meal.

There seem to be unlimited candidates for this beer. We can quickly dismiss most of the mass market ones like Killian's--in my book it's not enough for a "red lager" to be red in color; it's got to taste red... whatever that means. I know it when I taste it.

Emmett's makes a darn good red in their McCarthy Red--good color, good taste, and when they have it "cask conditioned" (served up through a hand pump from a wooden barrel in the basement, in the style of an English pub) the carbonation seems to get finer. Really nice stuff. But maybe a bit too subtle to be chosen by Scrornuck, who is, after all, about as subtle as a punch in the nose. So I think, at least in the context of this chapter, McCarthy Red is edged out by the Irish Red from the Carlyle Brewery in Rockford, IL. Irish Red is a bit cloudy, has a good red color, and plenty of flavor.

Batatat's Extra Black Taupeaquaahn Stout: This is sort of the flagship beer of Grand Taupeaquaah Themeworld development: a really good, creamy, "Black As Tar And Twice As Thick" brew. The kind of stuff that seems to fall into molecular-level resonance with Irish DNA; a beer that tastes and feels like it embodies the Four Major Food Groups in every swallow. And while we first meet it on tap (page 21), we quickly find that it's also the only beer worthy of being served in the World's Most Perfect Beer Container (page 34). As a result, we have two separate real-world equivalents.

The draft version of Batatat's is most like Shakespeare Stout from the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Oregon. No question about it. Newport is one of those too-pretty-for-words Oregon coast towns, home also of the Sylvia Beach Hotel, which is named not for a nearby place where land meets water (though it is in fact on the water), but for a writer. The rooms are all decorated in themes based on writers, and I did a certain amount of work on The Last Protector in the "Oscar Wilde" room. It was a great room, with a door that led onto the roof and a well-stocked library, but, alas, no spigot dispensing stout. Sigh. Rogue makes a variety of beers and ales, including the famous Dead Guy Ale. Their brewery is on the water, underneath Conde McCullough's gorgeous multiple-arch bridge. Makes for a nice picture--the bridge, the inlet off the ocean, and of course all those kegs waiting to be filled...

Anyway, Shakespeare Stout seems the perfect beer for a writer. On my last trip to Newport, a 5500-mile round trip on the Harley, I brought back two bottles of Shakespeare. One was consumed with David Schmaltz in Walla Walla; the other was carefully padded and kept till I'd finished the revisions to The Last Protector and sent them off to the publisher; then I ceremonially opened the bottle and toasted to the completion of the book. Little did I know that I still had two rounds of copy-edits and one more full revision ahead before the book actually went to press!

But, of course, Shakespeare Stout on tap is dispensed with nitrogen, which gives it that creamy head and those tiny, tiny bubbles that just feel different when you drink them. But Shakespeare Stout in bottles is carbonated, which isn't bad... just different. And the World's Most Perfect Beer Container is rather obviously two or three more steps of evolution from the "widget" cans used by Guinness (the technology of these things is fascinating; if you've never checked into how they work, click here to read about it on Wikipedia). So, as conventional as it sounds, I appoint Guinness in a widget can as the everyday equivalent of Batatat's in a bottle. Of course, there are a few improvements to be made before the widget cans reach Batatat's level of sophistication (chilling the beer and automatically disposing of the empties, just to name a couple). Race you to the patent office...

Black Sunday Lager (page 292): This is a seriously dark German-style beer, to be consumed near the rubble of a demolished building. As the dust is settling (if you've read the book already, you know what I'm talking about; if not, I'm not going to spoil the surprise). Which makes me think of a business trip to Nuremburg I took in the spring of 2001... we stayed at one end of the subway, out in the 'burbs, and rode it into the old part of town, saw the cathedral that had been painstakingly rebuilt after the war and pictures showing how little of it had been left when they started rebuilding. Then we wandered around looking for places that made their own beer, and found this one that sold a really black dark beer with lots of flavor... but the place was just a little hole in the wall, one of many places in Nuremburg that made their own beer. So, barring a return visit someday, the source of this beer shall have to remain a mystery...

But until I return to Germany (at somebody else's expense, please), I must find some other beer that can fill the shoes of Black Sunday Lager. To my surprise, I found a semi-mass-market beer that comes pretty close. Sam Adams makes, as part of their "Brewmaster Series," something called Black Lager, and it pretty much lives up to the name. Black as coal, strong of taste, and somehow appropriate for the afterglow of demolition...

Jape's Light Lager (page 1, and all over the book): Just what might this stuff be? Well, that's a bit of a puzzle. Jape has taste in beer, so it's not some industrial macro-brew, but it's not a heavy dark like Scrornuck prefers. Jape's too subtle for a beer that assaults the taste buds. So what might it be? I think there are two leading candidates, but neither is perfect, as technically, both are pilsners (though it can be argued that a pilsner is just a specific kind of lager). Those candidates are Goose Island Pils, which I used to buy at the local supermarket--a delightful summer beer, great for sitting on the deck watching the river go by--and Antarctica, a Brazilian beer I came to love while doing business in Sao Paulo.

But neither of these beers has a picture of a dog on its label, and on page 136 we learn that Jape's beer of choice does. Now that I think of it, I've never run into a beer that did. Oops. My two candidate beers both feature birds: Goose Island Pils, of course, had a goose, while Antarctica has penguins. Anyway, I've discovered that Goose Island has discontinued their Pils, so I suppose that makes Antarctica Jape's beer of choice by default. Unless I stumble across something better. The research again continues...

Fun fact: the Portuguese language includes two different words for beer: cerveja, meaning beer in a can or a bottle, and chopp, meaning beer on tap. Chopp Antarctica Claro, served in an unending stream of little glasses in an airy, open beer hall in Campinas, with rain drumming on the tin roof and soccer fans cheering the games going on a dozen TV monitors, is one of my fondest memories of my visit to Brazil. I don't speak Portuguese (beyond knowing the words for beer), but I suppose beer and sports are a sort of universal language.

And if any of you reading this want to suggest a beer that's a particularly good match for one of the beers mentioned in the book (particularly if you know of a decent light lager with a picture of a dog on the label!), drop an email to danielcstarr (at) and let me know!

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