10 Beers Inspired By Books

Crack open a cold one with Thomas Pynchon, Margaret Atwood, and Shakespeare

Beer has more connections to the literary world than you might imagine. There’s the obvious thing, where being a writer makes you want to drink. There’s the obsessive nerd factor. And there are also similarities between creative writing and making beer: some people revisit traditional forms, others want to experiment, and in recent decades, there’s been an increase in the number of upstarts — both indie presses and craft breweries — creating something for a small but dedicated audience.

So it’s probably not a shock that more than a few breweries have sought inspiration from literary sources. Some seek to distill the essence of a writer into an ale or lager; others take a particular literary work as their starting point. Here’s a look at nine of them, from breweries all across North America. We’ve also provided suggested food pairings. Suggested book pairings go without saying.

Photo: Surly Brewing Co.

Surly Inherent Weiss

How, exactly, would you convey the essence of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelic mystery novel Inherent Vice within the confines of a bottle of beer? Surly’s Inherent Weiss, an imperial hefeweizen, gives it a shot, and comes up with something that embodies that novel’s contradictions. It’s hazy and peppery — and, like the novel that inspired it, it’s got plenty of blissful notes, but also an unexpected complexity. And it’s just strong enough to leave you a little dazed, if you’re not careful.

Food pairing: Pizza, a Pynchon favorite. For the appropriate level of surreality, we suggest none pizza with left beef.

Photo: Ninkasi Brewing Company

Ninkasi First Rule

Oregon is home to a thriving craft beer scene, as as well as a host of innovative writers. Put the two together and you have Ninkasi’s First Rule, an IPA that takes its cue from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. This one’s made with a whole lot of different kinds hops — perhaps a nod to the growing underground movement in the novel that inspired the beer. (“The first rule of Hop Fight Club is…”)

Food pairing: Steak, cooked rare.

Photo: Beau’s

Beau’s MaddAddamites NooBroo

Between writing fiction, writing comics, and having her existing work adapted for television, you’d think Margaret Atwood would be pretty busy. But you can also add “collaborated with a brewery” to her list of accomplishments. Atwood worked with fellow Canadian novelist Graeme Gibson and the Ontario-based brewery Beau’s to create the impressively-named MaddAddamites NooBroo. It’s a gruit ale, an older style of beer that makes use of an abundance of herbs and botanicals, including several that hearken back to Atwood’s post-apocalyptic series starting with Oryx and Crake.

Food pairing: ChickieNobs.

Photo: Narragansett Brewing Company

Narragansett The Temple

Given that Rhode Island’s Narragansett Brewing Company is based out of Providence, can anyone guess which influential-yet-problematic author has inspired several of their beers, including The Temple, a sticke altbier? Yes indeed: it’s the master of cosmic horror, H.P. Lovecraft. Throw in some nightmare-inducing can art and you have just the thing to fuel a late-night horror writing session, the beer slowly causing you to become more and more aware of an impossible presence, just outside of your field of vision, promising vistas of impossible geography and ancient cities. Or maybe just more beer.

Food pairing: Cthurkey, with a toast to the Elder God of your choice.

Photo: Mystery Brewing

Mystery Brewing Beatrix

North Carolina’s Mystery Brewing has more than a few beers with something literary at their center: besides the Beatrix spring saison, they also brew beers inspired by the works of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens. As befits a beer inspired by the creator of Peter Rabbit, the brewery describes this saison as “hoppy.” Could it have been anything else?

Food pairing: Slow-roasted carrots.

Photo: Magic Hat Brewing Company

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness

Some brewers apply their literary inspiration to technique, finding a style or ingredients that line up neatly with a book’s plot or themes. Others take a more literal approach — which seems to be the case for Magic Hat’s Heart of Darkness. The stout is inspired by Conrad’s book insofar as it’s dark.

Food pairing: A river-dwelling fish, cooked to perfection; alternately, the horror, the horror.

Photo: Notch Brewery

Notch Brewery Infinite Jest

Salem’s Notch Brewery is pretty open about its influences. It has beers named after songs by both Sonic Youth and The Replacements — Our Brewery Could Be Your Life? — and it also brews Infinite Jest, a pale wheat beer that takes its cue from David Foster Wallace’s much-admired doorstopper. Is the wheat, perhaps, a nod to Wallace’s midwestern roots? Does the list of ingredients offer valuable advice in your next game of Eschaton? Only Notch Brewery knows for sure.

Food pairing: Poutine, or a microwaved head.

Photo: Fiction Beer Company

Fiction Beer Company Old Bums and Beat Cowboys

As one might surmise from its name, Denver’s Fiction Beer Company has embraced the whole “beers inspired by books” concept. Its literary tipples represent a pretty broad scope of work: among the inspirations for beers the brewery currently has on tap are works by Shirley Jackson, J.K. Rowling, and Aldous Huxley. And then there’s their Old Bums and Beat Cowboys IPA, which takes its cue from a certain well-known novel by Jack Kerouac.

Food pairing: Fast food, the better to eat while you’re on the road.

Photo: Rogue Ales

Rogue Shakespeare Stout

Sometimes, when it comes to literary inspiration, you have to go with the classics. Such is the case with Shakespeare Stout, from Oregon’s ubiquitous Rogue Ales. Given that Rogue’s beers have included nods to everything from savory doughnuts to sriracha in their flavors, this Bard-inspired beer finds the brewery in a more restrained mode, creating a hearty and filling beer perfect for drinking in iambic pentameter.

Food pairing: A savory meat pie would seem fitting for both old-timey England and present-day Portland.

Photo: Threes Brewery

Threes Unreliable Narrator

This beer, from Brooklyn’s up-and-coming Threes Brewery, doesn’t take inspiration from one book or writer so much as it riffs on an entire literary trope. Unreliable Narrator is an IPA made with a host of complex hops and can art that looks like it was taken from a vintage New Directions paperback. Though, given its name, there theoretically could be any style of beer inside that can, couldn’t there?

Food pairing: A hamburger, but disguised as a salad.

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