This was a recipe that sat around for a long time because I couldn’t figure out what the label should look like. I understand that this is vaguely ridiculous. The label is the most unnecessary element of the beer, especially once it’s poured into the glass. But let me defend myself.
Duke of Prunes is of course a track on the second Mothers of Invention album Absolutely Free. The melody actually dates back to the soundtrack Frank Zappa wrote to 1963’s Run Home Slow, a z-level Western. The lyrics are Zappa in his high-dada mode, spoofing classic love songs and making very little sense.
On early internet chatboards—specifically but not limited to alt.fan.frank-zappa—I adopted The Duke of Prunes as my nom de poste because it was punchy, insidery enough for the cognoscenti, and claimed a bit of royal status. Whenever my real name isn’t that important, I’ll call myself the Duke.
So this one’s about me (as an adult, if you will—Cosmic Murphy was me as a teenager). With “Prune” in the name, this had to be a Belgian dark ale pulling out all the stops. Even the base malt had to be dark: Red X instead of Pale 2-Row or Maris Otter. Special B Malt and Dark Candi Sugar give a dark dried fruit profile and I wanted to punch this up a bit. Fermenting over prunes would be a little on-the-nose, so I decided to use figs instead.
But I didn’t have a strong central image in mind for what the Duke of Prunes would look like, and since this beer would be personal, it held some importance. One potential art direction would be something like a California Raisin dressed up as Henry VIII. But I wasn’t loving this, and as a result I wasn’t enthusiastic about pushing forward with the brew.
Something got me to thinking about Tarot cards one day and it occurred to me that the Duke of Prunes would make a great Tarot card, marrying the confusing with the quasi-medieval. Would Prunes be a suit? Nah—the minor arcana royal cards don’t include a Duke anyway. So it would be a major arcana in a drastically expanded Tarot deck. Perhaps bearing some relationship to the Magician, who bears alchemical powers similar to that of the brewer?
I won’t go through the rest but every detail on that card is there for a reason. That’s also a functional 3-card Tarot reading on the label.
This is a sipper of a beer—it came in at 9.7% ABV and leaves a dent. A lovely aperitif. Duke of Prunes put a pin on the end of my first year as a serious homebrewer and is pointing me into the future.
Consider, if you will, the violin as a vehicle for rock music. One defining feature of the electric guitar is arguably its ability to generate long sustained notes—without this feature, it’s nothing more than an amplified acoustic. And then there’s the E-bow, a device designed to “bow” the strings of a guitar magnetically.
So we’ve spent the last 75 years turning the guitar into a fancy violin. Violins can do all of that bitchin’ guitar stuff natively—they can sing, they can soar, they can get distorted and down and dirty. Listen to the Harry Smith strain of American folk music—one of the forebears to the Rock tradition— and just tell me that I’m wrong. But sadly, the main stream of rock music treats the violin like an embarassing granduncle who has to be seated at the outside table at the family reunion.
Let us cast aside these outdated notions and celebrate the violin in rock. Sugarcane Harris. John Cale. Scarlet Rivera. And, providing the catharsis in Camper van Beethoven’s oracular vision below, Jonathan Segel.
Now THIS was a fun beer to drink. I’d never had a beer that so heavily featured prunes – and it works so dang well. It was tart, sweet, and almost tasted like licorice to me at points. I loved how it subverted my understanding of what a dark ale could be. Dark ales can be deliciously fruity as well! I felt like I was in a beer fueled version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If someone can make a river of Duke of Prunes Dark Ale and place it in a beer factory that’d be great. Just putting it out there.