Italian Beer

DSC_7588.jpgOn page 724 of Against the Day, we find sinister (likely orange-faced tiny-handed) plutocrat Scarsdale Vibe touring northern Italy with his faithful manservant Foley Walker hunting bargains in Renaissance art. The hunt involves regular humiliation for Foley, not a day going by that he doesn’t “find himself carrying out some chore better left to a performing monkey.”

Page 726, though, has Scarsdale doing some of the heavy lifting himself:

At the moment they were out in the lagoon among the Lost Lands, Scarsdale underwater and Foley up in a little steam caorlina fitted for diving. The millionaire, rigged out in rubber hoses and brass helmet, was down inspecting a mural, preserved for centuries beneath the waves by a varnishing technique now lost to history, attributed (dubiously) to Marco Zoppo, and known informally as The Sack of Rome.

This circumstance provides Foley’s subconscious a chance to entertain its urges towards murderous retribution, his hands creeping unbidden towards the nozzles of the air-supply hoses…

DSC_7581Meanwhile, Vibe is having an underwater moment of art-appreciation:

Seen through the brilliant noontide illumination, approached with the dreamy smoothness of a marine predator, the depiction seemed almost three-dimensional, as with Mantegna at his most persuasive. It was of course not just Rome, it was the World, and the World’s end. … Scarsdale was no aesthete, the Cassily Adams rendition of Little Big Horn was fine enough art for him, but he could see right away without the help of hired expertise that this was what you’d call a true masterpiece, and he’d be very surprised indeed if somebody hadn’t already sold reproductions of it to some Italian beer company to use in local saloons over here.

The Little Big Horn painting referred to is the inspiration for a print distributed by Budweiser to bars across America, discussed in fascinating detail here. It seems every people must have their national equivalent to this great saloon mural of mythic foundational violence. Back on page 395, the narrator describes the cantina where Frank kills Sloat thus:

adobe walls, perpetual 4:00 A.M. gloom, abiding fumes of pulque in the room, no Budweiser Little Big Horn panoramas here, instead some crumbling mural of the ancient Aztec foundation story of the eagle and the serpent, here perversely showing the snake coiled around the eagle and just about to dispatch it

So Mexican beer (or pulque) gets snakes eating eagles, Budweiser gets Custer killing Native Americans, and the Italians (Vibe presumes) get the sack of Rome.

DSC_7568.jpgHow is that Italian beer anyway? I have gathered a highly representative and nineteenth century-relevant sample of two mass-produced lagers (Moretti and Menabrea) and two modern craft things (Birra Del Borgo My Antonia and LoverBeer BeerBrugna). None of them feature any sack of rome imagery unfortunately, although the LoverBeer label doesn’t look completely unlike it was copied from an underwater mural.

The Moretti is very pale and very clear, and starts out as a pleasant enough crisp euro lager. But it falls off a muddy cliff on the back palate and as it warms up a bit becomes just a nasty puddle on the floor of a suburban pub. The Menabrea is much nicer, with a pronounced sweet bready nose and a pleasant light biscuity body.

LoverBeer are the only brewery on our lineup from the northern region of Italy that Foley and Vibe are plundering–they’re just outside of Turin, not too far from the French border. Their BeerBrugna is a wild sour ale aged on plums. It’s tart, with a full plummy body, but just isn’t super exciting to me.

Birra del Borgo’s My Antonia blows them all out of the water. It’s a “continually hopped” imperial pilsner, originally made in collaboration with Dogfish Head. Hazy golden with a beautiful fluffy white head. Smells like peaches, and has this incredible soft pillowy mouthfeel. It’s smooth sweet hops throughout — a mix of spicy noble Saaz and fruity American Simcoe, among others. It’s got the inexplicable magic touch that Vibe perceives as genius in his underwater mural.

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