I sit drinking this opium beer on my roof, and Australia’s current apocalyptic choke of bushfires has certainly leant the scene an opium den-esque smokiness. But that might be as close as we come to actual opium here. On Googling “opium beer”, one mostly uncovers tales of homebrewers getting arrested and genetically-modified morphine-producing yeasts. The New York Times does describe a man found “lying in the street in an insensible condition” after mixing opium and beer, but the article’s from 1886. Opium beer doesn’t seem to be something you find on tap at the local craft beer bar. Apologies if you came here expecting another adventure from the ‘Stans, sipping from a camel-skin jug by an Afghan poppy field; I’ve opted for a tamer solution here. A few months ago, a Kiwi brewery released a beer called Opium Cake brewed with poppy seeds, and I’m calling that close enough.
While not actually opiate-laced, the beer is pretty decadent. It’s an 11% stout brewed with lactose, raisins, orange peel, and vanilla, as well as the poppy seeds we’re here for. It’s luscious and sweet with lots of milk chocolate flavour, boozy dark fruit complexity, a good whack of vanilla, bright citrus in the background, and a roasty echo of opium burning in a pipe keeping the sweetness in balance. Plus I can convince myself I taste a slight grassy almost nutty vegetal note that we might as well call the poppy seeds. It’s really yum!
Opium beer comes to us from the Liquor Cabinet shelf devoted to (what else) Against the Day. Beloved English dandies Neville and Nigel are luxuriating in the Great Court baths, both “steamed as puddings,” talking jealously about Yashmeen and Cyprian. More or less by way of changing the subject, Neville brings up opium beer:
“Discovered the most frightfully promising recipe for opium beer the other day Nigel. One ferments opium with brewer’s yeast, quite as if it were malt or barley or something. Adding enough sugar of course.”
“I say. Sounds ever so degenerate, Neville.”Against the Day, p. 490
Apologies again for not following Neville’s formula quite to the tee, but look should I at some future moment find myself in an exotic locale where an actual opioid-enhanced beer presents itself, rest assured I’ll redo this post. Until then, be grateful for the opium beer you’ve got.