I picked up the Ithaca Box of Hops: 12 bottles of four different hoppy beers. I considered writing about them on the blog, and realized I’m most happy with my beer writing when I consider the situation in which I’m drinking the beer. Beer tasting is subjective and influenced by everything from your mood to who you’re with. So, why not lean in to that and listen to a full album while drinking the beer and see what happens?
The beer: Ithaca Double Zilla (Red Double India Pale Ale)
The music: Terry Riley, A Rainbow In Curved Air (1969)
A Rainbow In Curved Air
Ah, Terry Riley. Not my usual, but nice, as Captain Hammer would say. Frenetic keys, back and forth, layers upon layers of oscillations. The beer tastes of boozy caramel, but well balanced. For being in the box of hops it’s certainly not a hop bomb, but there’s no lingering sweetness to be found either.
This beer is damn good. Really, really good. Two sips in and I’m in love. The cascades linger, subtley, a thin layer of resin on my tongue that’s hidden until examined directly.
What is that flavor? There’s a bit of roast perhaps, but that’s not quite it. Plum and wine mixed together, pairing perfectly with the hops.
Five and a half minutes in to the titular song the music flits up and up, higher and higher, like effervescent carbonation. I’m a little worried I’m arting it up too much, becoming a parody of myself (an expression reflected, suddenly, by somber organs). I am ridiculous, self important, too far up my own ass. I’m turning a half case of beer that I bought into a four part blog series exploring music!
Elegy for Robert
I’m really enjoying the music. I was introduced to Terry Riley by a friend named Robert. We met online when I was in high school and became good friends. He was much order than I was, and we became a sort of surrogate father and son. I never actually met him. Honestly, I never even saw a picture of him despite talking regularly for over a decade. I could have asked: we had mutual friends and shared pictured back and forth, but eventually I came to appreciate the not knowing. Robert was Robert, as much an idea in my head as a real man.
He died about two and a half years ago. I chose this music purposefully: he shaped who I am in nearly as large a way as my actual father. He introduced me to Terry Riley and Lemon Jelly and Prefuse 73 and Alien and Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears?, a strange little book where Richard Nixon played professional football instead of becoming president. I’ve read it twice and still don’t understand it.
Then CBW formed and Rudy suggested we name our pale ale In C after the Terry Riley composition, and I knew I was in good company.
Poppy Nogood & the Phantom Band
The first track abruptly ends, snapping me out of my melancholy reflection. Discordant strings rise in, calling to mind Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The beer remains fantastic: I am surprising myself at how much I love it. Ithaca is a good brewery, and the Box of Hops had enough mystique behind it from the beer geeks that I picked it up despite drinking maybe one beer a night, but this is exactly what I need right now.
Wasn’t it Cascazilla that brought about my mindful epiphany? There’s something special about its makeup, I think, that speaks to me. (My concept of mindfulness came from a book by Thich Nhat Hahn, suggested by Robert. But I digress.)
The droning is interrupted, first harshly and then more evenly. It fades out, replaced by a low hum. I’m going to close my eyes now, let myself focus on the music and the beer and the moment. How strong is this beer? 11% Oh. My. No wonder I’m finding my mind wander back to thoughts of “communing.”
The flitting up and down from the first track has returned. I swirl a mouthful around, keeping it in my mouth and swishing it back and forth until it’s a mixture of foam and saliva. The hops are more present now, having built up during the first two thirds of the bottle. They perfectly swat down the sweetness of the double red, letting it come out to play before shutting it in a box and smiling politely. The show is over, they say, next performance in 15 minutes.
An organ plays, one final note. As it’s held on to I breathe deeply, calmly. I don’t want to take the last sip, because then the Double Zilla will be gone. This was a wonderful, perfect 40 minutes accompanied by a wonderful beer. I am incredibly pleased with the first installment of my idea, helped doubtlessly by an 11% beer and memories of an old friend. I look forward to the next beer.