Around page 82 of Against the Day, we learn a little backstory on Viekko, Webb Traverse’s potato-spirit bootlegging buddy. He and some comrades at one point had been rounded up for miners union activities and dumped in the southern San Juans deep in the middle of the night. They half expect to be executed, but are just left to walk bootless, warned to stay out of Colorado. Page 83:
It turned out they were near an Apache reservation, and the Indians were kind enough to take Veikko and a few others in for a while, not to mention share a bottomless supply of cactus beer. They thought it was funny that white men should act quite so disagreeably toward other whites, treating them indeed almost as if they were Indians, some of them already believing that Colorado, because of its shape, had actually been created as a reservation for whites.
The narrator goes on to mention that Webb has never seen patriotic Veikko raise a glass “that wasn’t dedicated to the fall of the Russian Tsar and his evil viceroy General Bobrikoff.” I’m much enjoying the image of him raising such a toast over a mug of cactus beer on the reservation, tumbleweeds passing.
My cactus beer is Otra Vez, a new addition to Sierra Nevada’s core range. It’s a gose with grapefruit and prickly pear cactus fruits. They seem to intend it as a hot-weather smasher, except with character. Gose’s have a bit of salt in the brew, so it’s practically exercise electrolite drink.
It’s a nice pale straw colour. Smells intriguing–sweet and grapefruity with some chewy vegetal thing that I’m telling myself is the cactus. The taste is slightly tart, lots of fruit juice, zero bitterness. Complex though. It tastes like some strange fruit you’re trying for the first time on holidays in a tropical country, proffered by a laughing stranger. I guess perhaps like a prickly pear fruit.
Gose is a traditional German style, so this very likely bears no resemblance to the brew Veikko shares with the Apache tribe. Actually, I think they’re drinking pulque, a beer fermented from the sap of the agave cactus. Pulque comes up several more times in AtD, and you can still get it in Mexico today. In a book with the tremendously AtD-relevant title of Alcohol and Opium in the Old West, the author describes how the Apache and Zuni tribes created the stuff and also introduced it to the Aztecs. So that’s almost certainly the cactus beer they’re getting stuck into. But I shall return to pulque in a future post! For now, this makes a very appropriate fusion of German tradition and the American frontier.