This one was inspired by my work friend Kristen. Over our first in-person dinner, we were chatting about our refined tastes in alcoholic beverages – mine for craft beer, hers for wine and cocktails. From this tete a tete arose her challenge: translate an exotic blueberry basil cocktail into a beer. Tart? Herbal? Intriguing. This was clearly a swimlane within which HLH Yeastworks could freestyle.
Just a touch of research revealed this idea wasn’t insane, with a Surly Brewing putting out a Blueberry Basil sour and Blacklist Brewing a Blueberry Basil hard seltzer. (But let us speak no more of seltzers…)
Going the sour route might have been lovely, but I had just soured out on Zen Archer, so this felt a little repetitive. I started thinking about blueberry muffins, and in this direction I found oats. But an oatmeal stout wouldn’t have given the blueberries their chance to shine. So…an oatmeal pale ale? Is that a thing? And does it matter?
(As it turns out: Yes – and, as you may have guessed by now, No.)
With about 25% of the grain bill in oat malt, the recipe was locked in. Mindful of my experiences with rosemary and jasmine and the harshness the raw ingredients gave their respective beers, I went a bit light on the basil in the boil and elected to bottle-prime with basil cocktail syrup of the sort that probably found its way into the cocktail Kristen remembered.
The most exciting part of the brew was moving the beer from primary to secondary and dumping in 5 pounds of frozen blueberries. Slowly but surely, the color of the blueberries seeped into the beer… and what came out the other end was the purple beer I’ve been pursuing. What an incredibly lovely color.
And the taste is amazing. Oaty smoothness, blueberry tartness, a refined herbal overlay balancing the bitterness – this recipe delivered and I’m glad I took up the gauntlet thrown by Kristen.
What does the name have to do with the brew? Not much other than a penchant for looking at the world through new eyes. Daniel Pinkwater’s Lizard Music had been on my mind for some time; this book may very well be HLH Yeastworks’ ur-text. I must have first read it when I was 10 years old or so and it clearly left an enormous dent in my mind.
In the book, our 11-year-old hero Victor is left at home alone when his parents go on a marital retreat and his delinquent sister abandons him to go on a camping trip. Staying up late to watch monster movies on TV (as one does), he finds that right after station signoff, lizards take over the programming: lizard game shows, lizard celebrity panels, lizard combos playing lizard jazz. In trying to unravel the mystery of the broadcasts, Victor meets the Chicken Man and his ward Claudia, travels to the invisible island where the lizards live, and learns about the dangers of living like a pod person.
I reread the book as I was brewing this beer and realized with a thrill how much of a kid-lit The Crying of Lot 49 it is. Victor digs into the mystery of his world with Oedipa Mass’ offbeat cool; there are frequent discursive asides into satires of pop culture; and at the end there’s no resolution to the mystery, just the acknowledgement that the the world’s inscrutable mechanisms are going to continue to grind whether you understand them or not.
And I think that in my musical explorations I’ve always been seeking the lizard music that slowly resolves from the static that follows the end of our broadcast day. If you’ve picked up anything at all from these pages, I hope it’s that. I went back to parismf in Argentina to create the scenario of the lizards rockin’ their 70s variety show stage in vintage colors, and she was only too happy to oblige. Pinkwater describes them as playing perfectly normal instruments, but somehow that just seemed wrong.
When Nonsuch was released in 1992, Andy Partridge toured record stores in America to promote the album—XTC had long before ceased live performance. One afternoon I played hooky from my investment banking job and took the subway up to the HMV at 72nd and Broadway and waited in line to meet him and have him sign my CD. (For the real heads: I also got him to autograph my Dukes of Stratosphear CD as his alter ego Sir John Johns.)
When I got to the front of the line I was starstruck but maintained just enough composure to tell him what a beautiful song I thought “Wrapped in Grey” was. I think he was gratified—today he calls this one of the “perfect songs” of his career.