I picked up the Ithaca Box of Belgians: 12 bottles of four different Belgian-style beers. The first Music Box series went well, so I decided let’s do it again! 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 Fleur de Belgique (Belgian India Pale Ale)
The music: Beyoncé, I Am… Sasha Fierce (2008)
I didn’t know what to expect from the album. I knew a few Beyoncé songs, but not many.
I had a little more confidence in the beer. I know what a tripel generally tastes like, after all. My initial sniff yielded all yeasty citrus, a welcome aroma I hadn’t experienced in a while. It tasted similarly light and clean, likely following the Music Box tradition of hiding its alcohol distressingly well.
My initial impressions of the beer done, I could focus on the music. As I understand it, Sasha Fierce‘s two discs have different sides, one more ballad-y and one more pop focused. I had a bit of trepidation for the former, because I’ve found I don’t generally like vocal-focused music as much. Adele, most R&B, the first Decemberists album, none of them quite do it for me.
“If I Were A Boy,” though, started the album off well. I liked it far more than I thought I would. During the second series of Music Box I wanted to push my limits more, get out of my comfort zone. Admittedly, I knew I’d love the first two entries, so maybe I hadn’t done a particularly good job of that.
I had realized over the past year that I’ve spent a lot of time self-policing what I allow myself to like. Oh, pop music? No thanks. I only like pan flute covers of Radiohead. Once I removed my mental barriers I realized I like more than I thought I did, musically and otherwise. I suddenly found myself dancing like a fool to Janelle Monáe in between post rock writing sessions1.
My tongue became sufficiently acclimated to the beer’s sweetness, allowing the alcohol to come through more, a spicy warmth that carries with it more depth than the light first impression lead me to expect. With a minimal amount of work I could probably turn that into a metaphor for Beyoncé.
“Disappear” and “Broken Hearted Girl” sounded more like what I expected from the album, technically competent but not my cup of tea, although overall I found myself still quite enjoying Sasha Fierce2. It has a strong theme of breakups and painful love, which I can appreciate academically but don’t identify with (unlike, oddly, dystopian Mega Man rock operas).
Lassez-Faire tastes remarkably clean, smelling of pilsner malt and bright hops but with a layer of spices and phenols and esters on top. To steal from the Wheel of Time series, it seems like water with a layer of oil on top you have to reach through. It doesn’t taste muddied or blended, but almost sullied, except I look for those flavors and characteristics in a tripel.
I look up the stats: 10% abv?? Ithaca, you cruel bastards, your ability to hide alcohol borders on the Faustian.
On “Satellites” Beyonce’s range impressed me while simultaneously reminding me that I’ve been on a hiatus from the whole indie singer/songwriter thing because my Daytrotter subscription really burnt me out on delicate vocals and acoustic guitar. I’ve found gems in the first disc: “Smash Into You,” sounding like a mod-90s song, did some interesting things with vocals, and “That’s Why You’re Beautiful” sounds nothing like “You Are Beautiful” or whatever they named that war crime of a song, and has a building quality to it that tickle the right spots.
Put a ring on it
Here we go! I’ve heard this song many times before, and even would have said I liked it if you asked, but I had never really listened to it. It’s much more sparse than I remembered it. Maybe I’ve only heard club mixes of it.
By now I feel as though I’ve gotten everything out of the beer that I can. I know it, I like it, let’s listen to the music. This is partly influenced by how hot my laptop is, making me sweat far more than I’d like. I do recognize the contradiction between getting to the higher energy section of Sasha Fierce as I’m ready to sit perfectly still on the couch and zone out.
“Diva” is a really good song, though. Have I become a Beyonce fan? An agent of the Beygency? I find myself excited at the prospect.
A bit of the citrus returns as I sniff the last dregs of the glass. A sense memory appears, of Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. No beer in particular, just a sudden flash of tents and beer and a ferris wheel.
At the end of this entry, I’ve concluded that the beer and album pair very well. Both were created by masters of their craft, and I look forward to more from both.