Drinking Tunes: Winter Beer + Music

(Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden, August 2010)

Here we are, at the fourth (!!) installment of seasonal music and beer pairings! It’s kinda fitting that we’re posting this a little later in the season than usual considering it’s just now starting to feel like winter here in New York and it still hasn’t snowed! Except for that one time in October. WTF? (Let’s be honest, I’m not complaining.)

As usual, I wrote a few words about five songs perfect for winter, and my friend Bret Stetka, who writes about food and drinks for Time Out New York, Metromix and MSN.com (he also has a doughnut blog — yes, a doughnut blog), paired them each with a beer that complements the music, and explained why they work together.

THE SONG: Nathaniel Rateliff, “You Should’ve Seen the Other Guy”

In “You Should’ve Seen The Other Guy,” Nathaniel Rateliff sings, “It’s 15 degrees, I’m gonna sleep outside/ ‘Cause I got no way to feel, and no way to write/ I’m busted, laid-up and dry.” The song tells the story of his grandfather, a moonshine bootlegger during the prohibition, and it doesn’t end well: He drunkenly decided to sleep outside and froze to death. Please, don’t let this happen to you!

THE BEER: Hellhound on my Ale (Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, Milton, DE)
Rateliff’s recount reminds me of all the sinister tales surrounding early bluesmen, especially Robert Johnson’s ill-fated encounter with poisoned whiskey (or so the legend goes). Hence, I’m going with Dogfish Head’s 2011 tribute to what would have been Johnson’s 100th birthday. This is a ridiculously mighty beer: There’s a bold nectary sweetness, intense hop flavor, and a kick of citrus thanks to dried lemon peel added during the brewing process. The rind is a shout out to Johnson’s mentor, Blind Lemon Jefferson.

THE SONG: Superchunk, “Winter Games”

I usually associate Superchunk’s excellent 2010 album Majesty Shredding with summer, thanks to it being made up mostly of upbeat pop hooks — but in “Winter Games” Mac McCaughan sings, “Now it never snows no more/ Only freezing, dirty rain/ Oh no, it never snows/ But it gets that smell like it might, just the same.” It makes me think of how even by the start of this month, it’d only snowed once, and that was back in October, and in the last couple weeks we’ve had some pretty gross rain, too.

THE BEER: Sixpoint Diesel Stout (Sixpoint Craft Ales, Brooklyn, NY)
Despite craft brewing’s recent thing for aluminum, most canned beer is still light, refreshing and best for summer. But not anymore. Sixpoint recently started canning their hearty, winter-perfect stout — it has the rich and toasty hallmarks of the style, plus an intense hoppy bite. My only gripe is with the name, which reminds me of guys in the ’90s lifting weights.

THE SONG: Arcade Fire, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”

In the start of Arcade Fire’s debut album, Win Butler sings about a neighborhood being buried in snow and skin getting thicker from sleeping outside in it (at least they didn’t meet the same fate as Nathaniel Rateliff’s grandpa). And while their music is usually happy and upbeat, it’s also warm and comforting.

THE BEER: Schneider Aventinus (Weisses Bräuhaus G. Schneider & Sohn, Germany)
The Arcade Fire’s general epic-ness calls for an epic beer — and something wrought with anticipation like the band’s grand, gradual builds. Hence I’m going with Aventinus, a concoction which really might be the height of German beer craft. Or all beer craft for that matter. It’s bold and malty up front, while perfectly balanced hints of clove and banana are slowly unveiled. And I swear I’m not grasping for esoteric flavor comparisons: The beer really tastes like bananas! In a good way.

THE SONG: The Aislers Set, “Hit the Snow”

Late-’90s/early 2000s indiepop group The Aislers Set make music that makes winter a bit more tolerable. In “Hit the Snow,” frontwoman Amy Linden sings, “I walked in a straight line/ went up to the New York border/ Been followin’ thin lines, honey/ and I hit the snow,” over peppy organs and bells that make me think of the holiday season. (Also, holy shit, in April they are playing their first show since 2003 and I am going!)

THE BEER: 4 Calling Birds (The Bruery, Placentia, CA)
All the upbeat instrumentation and snow mentions call for a fun holiday-appropriate beer: I’m going with the latest in The Bruery’s 12 Days of Christmas series. Every winter, and starting with “Partridge in a Pear Tree” in 2008, these creative Californians work their way through the Christmas carol with another seasonal release. They’re now up to “4 Calling Birds,” a super-hearty Belgian dark ale with gingerbread spice and a rich molasses quality. It’s pretty much a meal by itself.

THE SONG: Laura Marling, “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)”

In this song from Laura Marling’s 2010 album I Speak Because I Can, the British singer/songwriter reflects on a time in her childhood when her father took her to a snowy place in England and told her he wanted her to bring him back there before he dies. She sings, “I will come back here/ bring me back when I’m old/ I want to lay here forever in the cold/ I might be cold but I’m just skin and bones/ and I never love England more than when covered in snow.”

THE BEER: Founders Porter (Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI)
Marling’s wintery folk song is tasteful and comforting, just like a well-made porter. And Michigan’s Founders Brewing has mastered the classic English style: Their interpretation is rich and toasty with hints of coffee and chocolate, yet incredibly smooth. It’s like the beer version of your favorite sweater.


One thought on “Drinking Tunes: Winter Beer + Music

  1. […] Laura Marling: British singer/songwriter Laura Marling has been a favorite of mine for a few years now — since her first record Alas, I Cannot Swim, written when she was 16, she’s continuously developing her voice, both in terms of her maturing songwriting and the way she sings. The ’70s-leaning songs from last year’s A Creature I Don’t Know, will be refreshing. [Featured in beer + music pairings: Winter 2012] […]

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