Culture of Spirits author Chris McCollum and I have recently been visiting a host of fall-themed beer tastings, which include samplings of a variety of popular pumpkin ales and Octoberfest brews. Several times while visiting one of our favorite local brewery supply stores, Hops and Vines in Asheville, North Carolina, Chris and I had begun to notice the variety of craft breweries that feature paranormal themes on their labels.
Indeed, one of my favorite beers of all time is the seasonal Bigfoot Barleywine brewed by the Sierra Nevada Company in Chico, California (see image at right). However, on closer inspection, a sizable (and surprising) number of other brands carry imagery ranging from UFOs, Ghosts, and cryptozoological mysteries, to famous mystics like Rasputin, Nostradamus, and several other odd themes.
Therefore, just in time for Halloween, Culture of Spirits presents to you a list of some of our very favorite beers featuring strange, occult, or paranormal themes.
Stone Levitation (4.4 %)
Featuring the Stone company’s trademark gargoyle on its cover, the Stone Levitation not only conjures images of a vast underworld of demonic entities, but it also taps into the nineteenth century spiritualist movement’s fascination with mystic processes which might lead to feats such as hovering in midair, or, as the name implies, levitating off the ground. With a pleasant aroma and a malty-meets-caramel character, a stout and even “piney” flavor is achieved, even at a considerably low 4.4 % ABV. Today, hoppier amber ales are quite en vogue; this beer was achieving in flavor what many still strive for, even before it was a fad unto itself. A must try for connoisseurs of delicious, well rounded ales with a bit of a bite.
Great Divide Oak-aged Yeti (9.5 %)
At one time in the history of paranormalia, before “Bigfoot” was the common name for large hairy hominids seen around the world, “abominable snowman” was the widely accepted term (with American varieties famously called “ABSMs” (a loose acronym for Abominable Snowmen of America). The creature behind the name, in native Nepalese, is “Yeti”, the legendary homin-haunt of the Himalayas. Great Divide’s Yeti pours a characteristic dark, deep black with a choclate-colored head and a good bit of lacing. However, this brew isn’t merely chocolate in color; chocolate, coffee, and hops round out the flavor of this dark oaky anomaly. The Yeti also has a good amount of creaminess, yet lacks a noticeable alcoholic taste at such a high ABV. Some would lead you to believe the oak flavor (for which it gets its name) is simply too much, but hey, if I were a Yeti, I’d probably live in a tree. At least it’s authentic.
Brasserie Fantôme Saison (8.0 %)
The cartoony ghost wisping about on the label of this fine brew evokes images of the Ghostbusters logo, and its spooky imagery makes it a perfect choice for Halloween parties. The beer itself pours a cloudy yellow with a good foamy white head, and has been described by some as having a “funky” aroma (not odor) with hints of lighter fruits like orange, pear, banana, or apple. Clove and a few spicy notes are present as well, making the Fantôme a likely choice if you’ve ever been curious as to what drinking a ghost who recently devoured fruits might taste like.
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine (9.6 %)
One of the greatest mysteries of the modern era surrounds the purported existence of a large, hairy cousin to the Himalayan Yeti, alleged to thrive in remote areas of the Northwestern US like the steep Sierra Nevada mountain range. Called Bigfoot for the massive footprints it leaves in its path, the stout, full-bodied (and yes, hairy) character of Sierra Nevada brewing company’s beer of the same name leaves little room for question as to why they chose to name their seasonal barley wine after the legendary Sasquatch.
According to Michael Jackson (not the pop singer, but author of Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion), “Bigfoot captures the imagination, and its character is as big as the name implies, with a huge hoppiness in its earthy aroma, a chewy palate, and a great depth of flavor.” As brewers Sierra Nevada themselves will tell you, the Bigfoot is intense, malty, and bittersweet, and yet in spite of the fact that he’s known for being a bit Neanderthal, Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot makes an excellent guest for desert, providing a original, hoppy barley wine that nonetheless compliments a variety of lighter sweet foods. I will admit to waiting with anticipation all year for the last several seasons just to see this treat appear on the shelves in area supermarkets. However, if you can sneak this one off a tap anywhere nearby, it is guaranteed to be a special treat.
New Belgium Mothership Wit (4.8 %)
With mass sightings of gigantic flying triangles in the skies, many ufologists are already certain that the “mothership” has indeed landed. UFO culture, if anything, is stronger than it has ever been, and proponents of the notion that we are being visited by beings from other worlds are more sure than ever that ultimate disclosure of Earth’s dealings with alien beings and their flying craft looms in the near future.
New Belgium admits that the Mothership is their first venture into organically-produced beer, but the brew nonetheless has made a mark in the short time it has appeared on shelves. As stated at the company’s website, “Our far-flung Beer Rangers affectionately refer to our Fort Collins brewery as the Mothership, a name that conjures images of earth shot from space and the interconnectivity of it all.” Mothership Wit is a pleasant Wit beer brewed with wheat and barley malt, as well as the traditional coriander and orange peel which make the Wit beers so well appreciated.
Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen (5.1 %)
Even before New Belgium’s Mothership was popular, Harpoon’s UFO Pale Ale was cashing in on the notion that space visitors may be dropping by terra firma on occasion, with their own unique twist on the traditional British Pale Ale. Left unfiltered for more natural taste, the UFO Hefeweizen comes in two flavors: the regular wheat, and also a raspberry variety. Both create soft wholesome textures with a distinctive cloudy wheat-beer appearance. Ideal for brisk autumn evenings, be sure and keep your eyes to the skies in case of the occasional low-flying spacecraft from Zeta II Reticuli!
Brasserie Caracole Nostradamus (9.5 %)
One of the most well-known and famous mystics in the history of psychic phenomenon, Nostradamus famously reported his interpretations of the future of mankind, people have looked to the famous seer’s prophecies since 1555 when the first edition of his masterwork, Les Propheties, was published.
The Wallonian brown ale bearing his name is just as complex as the many and varied interpretations of the man, with a complex and rich, warming flavor reminiscent of liquorice, mocha, and light fruits like pear. As preferred by the night-time seer himself, this brown ale is a perfect night cap.
North Coast Brewing Co. Rasputin Imperial Stout (9.0 %)
Rasputin is legendary among the Russian occultists and spiritualists, not only for his strange powers, but also for his incredible constitution. Having survived being stabbed in the stomach by a female who proclaimed he was “the antichrist”, he subsequently was poisoned, shot several times in the back, clubbed into submission, then tossed into an icy river in June of 1914, finally killing him.
As dark as the odd character from which it gets its name, the Rasputin Imperial Stout is as black as crude, nonetheless maintaining a reddish tint when held against a backlight. Flavors invoking the taste of dark fruits like plums and black cherries emerge, as well as the more apparent roasted coffee and cocoa of a typical stout. Drink this and you too may be able to survive multiple murder attempts by angry Russians.
Wychwood Brewing Co. Hobgoblin (5.2 %)
It’s difficult to select just one Wychwood brew to list with this roundup, since a variety of strange wicked imagery graces the colorful labels of their varieties. However, having been the first Wychwood beer I personally ever tried (and still one of my favorites), presented here is the Hobgoblin, which also happens to be the best-known and most popular beer brewed today at the Wychwood Brewery. Jeremy Moss, Wychwood’s head brewer, describes the drink as “full bodied and well balanced with a chocolate toffee malt flavour, moderate bitterness and a distinctive fruity character with a ruby red glow.”
Hobgoblin is full of character, both in flavor and in actual personality, boasting the motto “What’s the matter Lagerboy, afraid you might taste something?”, since pale lagers remain a more popular style of beer in Britain. In the past, variations have appeared around Halloween, including “Afraid of the dark, Lagerboy?” which even led to complaints that the mottos were “too aggressive”.
Do you have another favorite that we might have missed? Why not share it in a comment below, or if you’d like, email us.