Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

October 28, 2008

Beer Diary:

Beat The Devil

It’s a little-known but proven fact that the best defense against ghosts and goblins is Midwest craft beer.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Halloween is yet another holiday that has officially joined the likes of St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve in the ranks of “amateur night.” Going out for a spooky brew on All Hallow’s Eve means dealing with idiots drinking whatever gets them drunk fastest and inexplicably wearing beads.

But at least I get a bit of an ironic chuckle when I see costumed carousers mindlessly celebrating Halloween, since most of these shit beer-swilling, bead-wearing philistines don’t realize that, like most modern holidays, Halloween’s origins go all the way back to pagan times. It got its start as the Celtic festival Samhain (pronounced sow-win), which was, to them, New Year’s Eve. It observed the end of the harvest season and the advent of the winter—a period of darkness that, in a way, represented death. They believed the barrier separating the living and the dead faded during this transformative day, allowing their shamans, the Druids, to communicate with their deceased ancestors in order to predict the future. It also meant the dead could come across to the world of the living, as well, which is never a good thing.

To protect themselves on Samhain, the Celts built huge bonfires to drive away the ghosts, and they dressed in costumes to disguise themselves from vengeful spirits. Unlike today, it was less a holiday than a somber observance. Families left offerings of food and drink (here’s a hint as to what kind of drink it probably was: folks didn’t drink water back then, the Celts did not cultivate grapes to make wine, and whiskey had not been invented yet) out on the table for their ancestors. When they returned from the bonfires, they found their offerings were gone, taken by the dead.

Looking at the customs we follow on October 31st—and despite the Christian church’s efforts to wrap it in holy days—you could say no other modern holiday is more of a taproot to pagan rituals than Halloween. In fact, the tradition of children roaming from house to house begging for or demanding tribute has incredibly ancient roots, wherein the children directly represented cohorts of the dead.

While we can all agree that this is pretty damn creepy, you’re probably wondering what exactly all this has to do with beer. First off, Samhain is, at its core, a harvest festival, and nothing is more important to the making of beer than a good harvest. With a bountiful reaping of good barley, more and better tasting beer could be made. And a bumper crop of herbs and vegetables meant more options were available to spice and preserve that beer—remember, hops weren’t widely used in beer until at least midway through the first millennium A.D.

But herbs and veggies weren’t used just to make beer go down better. Ancient pagans used pungent greens as wards against the dead. Garlic, wolfsbane, and fennel were among a host of organic substances utilized as defenses against the beasties from the other side. So it only stands to reason that the best herb of them all—hops—should be a pretty damn solid choice to hold the dead at bay on Devil’s Night.

I know I got my stash ready so I can throw down when Dracula comes knocking. I’ve got a four pack of Great Lakes’ appropriately named Nosferatu in the fridge right now for me to drink while watching some Vincent Price movies. (I know I gave Nosferatu four mugs in my review, but I’m beginning to reconsider. Every time I have it I like it more and more.) Just in case, I’ve got some Founders Devil Dancer in the cellar (well, technically, everything is in the cellar, since I live in a basement). Sure, it’s from last year, but there’s plenty of hops in there to keep my spiritual ass covered. And just in case there aren’t enough hops, I’ve still got my trusty bomber of Three Floyds’ Dreadnaught up on the shelf, waiting to save the day.

If you’re more in the mood for a dark beer on a dark, ghastly night, there’s always Devil Over a Barrel from Tyranena, or maybe you could pick up a sixer of Bell’sHell Hath No Fury …, a great doppelbock that’s out right now. You could stick with the whole Samhain bonfire theme with Capital’s Autumnal Fire—if you’ve had the willpower to not drink up your supply. And then you could always get Surly and celebrate darkness with Darkness.

No matter what beer you choose, make sure you have a quiet, somber—but safe—evening this Samhain—otherwise known to our bead-wearing brethren as Halloween.

Happy anniversary, Lakefront Brewery!

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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