Nell’s was a special release and HLH Yeastworks’ very first collab.
I’ve been a fan and supporter of the Independent Shakespeare Co. of Los Angeles for years—as of this writing, I chair the company’s Board of Directors. ISCLA’s primary programmatic activity is presenting free Shakespeare in Griffith Park each summer, but this is really an expression of a more expansive mission:
- To bring Los Angeles together through exuberant, surprising productions of classical plays as well as new works
- To address the inequity of access to the performing arts through free and low-cost programming
- To create theater that is dynamic, inclusive and accessible; enriching our community and reaching new theater audiences
ISC and its principals, Melissa Chalsma and David Melville, are deeply committed to making Shakespeare relevant to us in the 21st century, including ensuring the faces on its stage reflect the great diversity of Los Angeles and making connections between the way human nature manifests itself today and the way Shakespeare described and diagnosed it 500 years ago. There’s a vital, beating heart to everything they do and I love them.
We decided to do a collaborative brew for ISC’s Spring 2021 gala, both as a lark and a fundraising premium that we could distribute. David Melville has more than a bit of the brewer in him and was very excited to ideate. After kicking around a few ideas, we decided we’d do a classic English Best Bitter—a mild session beer you’d get at a neighborhood pub. Thematically David suggested we celebrate Nell Gwyn, a celebrated comic actress of the Restoration period who was incidentally a mistress of King Charles II.
Nell got her start as an “orange-girl” in what eventually became the Theater Royal—selling oranges (and sometimes a bit more, it is said) to the patrons. We reflected this by adding oranges and orange zest to the brew. I added Earl Grey tea to the recipe to add overtones of bergamot and light tannins to the taste profile. It turned out to be quite a lovely brew, with a restrained orange character underneath sweet malt. Sad to give it all away, but it was for a good cause. And I have the recipe.
The label includes a reproduction of a portrait of Nell that Charles II reportedly hid behind a landscape painting and shared with his “favored guests”. Safe to say that human nature hasn’t changed that much in the past 500 years.
I can think of no better pairing for Nell’s Best Bitter than a summer night at the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival—packing a picnic dinner including a generous selection of cheeses; laying out a blanket on the ground in front of the stage at the Old Zoo; and getting transported by the poetry of Shakespeare’s words as the sun goes down and the night air starts to get a little crisp. The coyotes of Griffith Park sometimes howl and occasionally there’s a break in the action when a helicopter flies overhead. The crowd is diverse, welcoming, and all wrapped up in the same thrall of live theater.
I encourage to to go to the Independent Shakespeare Company’s website to learn more about the company, plan a trip to the Festival or to one of our (ticketed) off-season productions in our Atwater Village space, and to donate if you are moved to do your part to make Shakespeare free for everyone!
Nell’s Best Bitter was the first of many beers in what I can recall as one of the better afternoons of the summer of ’22. I couldn’t have picked a better beer to start with either. This bitter drank surprisingly light and smooth for what I was expecting to be a harsher mouthful. The notes of orange were immediately recognizable which reminded me of drinking a light iced tea – truly beyond refreshing on the hot afternoon that I picked to drink it. More than anything this bitter felt properly English. It reminded me of some of the bitters I was lucky enough to drink in London while studying at the British American Drama Academy. The fact that this bitter was dedicated to the Independent Shakespeare Company made that memory taste all the better.
As my buddies and I polished off the last drops of Nell’s Best Bitter I was reminded of a quote from Henry VIII, “Good company, good wine, good welcome can make good people”. If the Bard were around now, I’m sure he’d agree that Nell’s also does the trick.