This is one of those beers that started out as one thing but became something pretty different along the way.
I continue to be fixated on making a purple beer through purely natural methods. Yeah, I think I could get there by taking the passionfruit out my Lilac Tiger recipe, but I’m still looking forward, not back. I was intrigued when I learned about Skagit Valley’s obsidian malt. This is a heritage strain that traces its roots back to Egypt—it’s naturally a purplish black color without any roasting. This is the same color family as forbidden rice, which yields that rich purple when cooked. Maybe this would work?
The other thing I wanted to play with was doing a single-malt brew. Not quite a SMaSH—that is, “Single Malt and Single Hop”—but just foreground the single malt flavor and then use up some hops I had in the freezer. I settled on a blend that finished with a Zappa dry hop, since I had a whole lot of that left.
While my purple beer remains tantalizingly out of reach, the obsidian malt mashed out at a lovely dark brown color. This shade is usually characteristic of using a crystal malt—that is, one that has been kilned in a way that caramelizes the sugar in the grain. Outer Spaceways in fact looks almost identical to my Murder Hornet Honey IPA, which is about 8% crystal malt in the grain bill. But obsidian malt is unmodified. It’s very cool to get this shade with a standard malt.
I didn’t hit my gravity target, so technically this is probably closer to a hazy IPA than a DIPA. From a flavor perspective, this is a pretty wild beer. The malt side is a bit rustic and chewy. Zappa hops are practically fluorescent, with a bit of grapefruit and a bit of taffy. It’s not bad, but in a future version I will probably try hops with a bit more restraint to let the obsidian really express itself.
It was decided early on—when I thought this beer might be purple—that this would be a tribute to the composer, keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra. For those unfamiliar: born Herman Blount in 1914, Sun Ra spanned several eras of jazz, from pre-bop big band music to deep freeform avant-garde noise. These musics can sit uncomfortably next to each other on the same record, and even in his more conventional big-band mode Sun Ra heard and orchestrated the low end of his charts to play with space and dissonance in unusual ways.
Sun Ra may have also been the first Afrofuturist. In college he had an experience where he was transported to Saturn. The aliens he met there instructed him to drop out and become a musician. This mythology evolved into the hybrid ancient-Egypt/science fiction presentation he and his big band-cum-benevolent cult, The Sun Ra Arkestra, played with for the rest of his life. See We Travel The Spaceways, Rocket Number 9, Love in Outer Space and so on.
On one level this is a great marketing gimmick and classic American hucksterism. On another level there’s a deep metaphor in Afrofuturism. One thread of the Black experience in America is the story of having been abducted and taken into another world by forces you cannot control. Afrofuturism takes control of this by claiming its own alien status, rejecting the earthly status quo, and decamping the planet entirely for someplace where one can be free and express one’s own individuality.
There’s a straight line that runs from Sun Ra through Parliament-Funkadelic to Janelle Monae, with a pitstop along the way in Wakanda. Label artist Difaandrean, from Indonesia, portrays what the lounge might look like outside the gate to your one-way trip to Venus.
As in the case of Bowie, there’s not a lot I can add to the conversation about Prince. Ever the contrarian, I shunned Purple Rain when it came out—for which I deserve a million demerits—and climbed onboard the train for Around the World in a Day. I lost the thread around Graffiti Bridge and didn’t follow the albums after that. In my defense, that would have been doubling my workload as I was busy keeping up with all the Zappa reissues.
In 2017 when we dropped Rebecca off for their freshman year at Carleton we made the pilgrimage to Paisley Park in Chanhassen and took the tour. From the outside it looks like a mall or small corporate building—very nondescript. On the inside it’s very 80s in feel, kind of a rococo live-in office. I managed to get into a fight with the docent over whether the Black Album had ever enjoyed an official release. While she was much closer to the throne—having been Mayte’s erstwhile manicurist—she was no record nerd. (For the record, Warner Bros. gave the album a limited release in 1994.)
Welcome 2 America is another one of Prince’s shelved projects, completed in 2010 but released only posthumously in 2021. It’s a nicely stripped-down affair, built around a R&B power trio paired with a female vocal trio, powered by a righteous rage that smolders beneath the surface.
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