This one’s for Shep. When she learned that I was making Thunderbolt City on a word from Kristen, she demanded that I make a beer named for one of her favorite words—Nothingburger.
When I did my internet research, I was shocked that the word hadn’t been attached to a beer yet. I mean, just about every common expression or word you can come up with has been attached to a beer somehow. “Hops on Pop”, after Dr. Seuss? Taken. “Ascension”, after John Coltrane? Taken. (I’ll probably use that at some point anyway.) “Bunny With a Chainsaw”? Taken. (Technically I didn’t think of that one, but it is a cool name.)
So Nothingburger had to be made—and of course it had to be something dark and mysterious. The name attached itself to the memory of a lovely Baltic Porter I had enjoyed at All Season Brewing, a brewery that opened up a few blocks away from home during the late pandemic.
A brief sidebar: the Baltic Porter style is a good example of how beer has history, technology, and commerce written into its DNA in fascinating ways. Porter beer—a dark ale—became the rage in England after the invention of the revolving-drum roasting machine in the early 1800s. An export market to Russia developed, with the demand for a higher ABV product (10%+) in that market leading to the development of Russian Imperial Stout. The Imperial Stout trade route went through the Baltics, and at some point somebody had the bright idea of undercutting the English with a local product—but since the brewing tradition in those countries was grounded in cold-fermented Lager yeasts, this is what they used. And so the Baltic Porter was born—a very high ABV, lager-fermented beer. End sidebar.
This style gave me a lot of room to play, and I’d been saving up a bag of tricks for just such an occasion. A healthy percentage of cherrywood smoked malt to give it a bit of bacony backbone. Faux-barrel aging by throwing in oak cubes that had been soaked in bourbon. Molasses as an adjunct to yank up that ABV a bit more.
After a nice long fermentation at low temperatures and a good lagering period, I’ve cracked a few of these. There is a slight unctuousness to the brew—it coats your mouth in a way that makes it ideal for sipping and rumination. The smoke is nicely understated—there, but not at all overpowering in a Rauchbier way. Same goes for the notes of vanilla and bourbon derived from the oak. This is going to age well and be a nice complement to nights by the fireside when January comes.
I’d say a Nothingburger is just a stone’s throw away from a MacGuffin, so a label image capturing some of that film noir feel in an indeterminately Eastern Europe setting felt right. Vazzhy from Georgia was well-located to get the feel right and didn’t ask any questions about what was in the package.
Chekhov’s gun is the dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. (Yes, I stole that from Wikipedia.) So if the author introduces a gun into the story, then we’re going to expect it to be fired at some point.
But what of the gun that is incapable of being fired? It’s a tool of nothing more than anticipation—leading to climax after climax that goes unfulfilled. That’s sort of what’s going on here.