BEER CLINIC :: Best Picture Nominees, Academy Awards 2015

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on January 28, 2015

indexIt’s that time of year again–time for the 2015 Motion Picture Academy Awards, the Oscars! And it’s time for the second annual YBN beer and Oscar pairing, wherein I match Best Picture nominees with an appropriate craft beer to drink, and provide a link to the trailer, for your viewing enjoyment. Enjoy the beer with the film, or with the Oscar awards.

The Academy’s nominees this year were not as diverse as last years’, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you paired each one with an American Pale Ale–especially the “Best Leading Actor” category. Of the eight nominees, half were true biopics, and the others were fictional biopics. But each was a very good–and occasionally excellent–film in its own right. Each deserved a thoughtful beer. I selected the drink based on its taste characteristics, how the style complemented the film and, let’s face it, sometimes on the names.

And the nominees are, in alphabetical order:

American Sniper

This is a biopic of Chris Kyle, a legendary Navy Seal sharpshooter. The movie is at its best when portraying the war scenes, but it’s about more than shooting people There is a lot of angst and complexity in the hero, as he deals with PTSD, guilt, family pressures, etc.

We could pair this with a real macho lager in a can to drink with the war scenes, but instead I’ll focus on the angst. We want a beer you don’t guzzle but sip, while you ponder the meaning of life. This definitely calls for a higher alcohol beer, dark, with complexity and flavor.

Raison d’Etre, from Dogfish Head (Delaware) is my first choice.   A deep mahogany, Belgian-style brown ale brewed with beet sugar, raisins and Belgian-style yeast. ABV 8%, IBU 25. And the name works, too.

Abita’s Bourbon Street Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, (Louisiana),10% ABV and IBU20, is another good pick. Strong malt flavor, with a delightful oak barrel finish.

Pliny the Elder, a double IPA from Russian River Brewing Co. in California, ABV 8.0%, and IBU listed only as “high.” A favorite West Coast, extremely hoppy drink.

Birdman

Popular action-hero movie actor wants to prove he has acting talent, and bites off almost more than he can chew, directing and acting in a Broadway drama. Tense, stressful. And great acting all around, including Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.

This guy wants to drink himself to death, and what better way to do it than with a shot and a beer? Any beer will do, as will any whiskey, but this is a man of good taste and a bit of money. So rather than a nondescript lager we’ll stick with a craft lager. In NYC that’s likely to be Sam Adams Boston Lager, or Brooklyn Lager (Brooklyn Brewery). But the real question is, “what whiskey?” For Keaton, I’d skip the traditional Jack (Daniels). Let’s go with a good bourbon. Most people would start with Maker’s Mark, a very good, smooth drink, indeed, but a bit too pedestrian. I’d want something unique, and smoother, too. Woodford Reserve double oaked is fabulous and tasty; Eagle Rare (a single barrel select bourbon from Buffalo Trace). But the best choice is Basil Hayden, a sweet, smooth bourbon with a bit lower alcohol so it won’t burn your throat and ruin your speaking voice.

Boyhood

We watch a boy grow up–literally–in this domestic drama about coming of age and the meaning of life, while his parents struggle with the same questions. The film ends when he goes off to college and leaves the nest.

A movie about leaving the nest? We just had to pair it with Hitachino Nest White Ale. A craft beer from Japan, Hitachino Nest is a brewed as a traditional Belgian-style Weissbier (white wheat beer), ABV 5.5% and IBU 13. A Belgian white. Low in alcohol, easy to drink for the novice (teenage) drinker, with no bitter hop taste, and appealingly flavored with coriander, nutmeg, orange juice and orange peel. Similar picks are Blanche de Bruxelles from Brasserie LeBebvre in Brussels, or Bottom Up Wit from Chicago’s Revolution Brewery.

Selma

The (mostly) true story of one of the great American heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although some liberty is taken with the plot–especially in its portrayal of LBJ– it rings true, and is acted splendidly. MLK’s story is not a story about minorities; it is the great American story. And it should be matched with the great American beer, the IPA. A good IPA is strong, assertive, complex but balanced. Loaded with American hops, sometimes almost too bitter to drink, but always satisfying.

Any good American IPA will do, but some are better than others. My three all-time favorites, from coast to coast:

Harpoon Ale , Harpoon Brewery (Massachusetts), ABV 5.9%, well-balanced, moderately hoppy, the definitive New England-style IPA.

Two-Hearted Ale, Bell’s Brewery (Michigan). This IPA is hopped with only Centennial, with a mild but grapefuity taste, and well-balanced with malts. Probably the best Midwestern IPA, at 7.0%.

Bear Republic Racer-5 . (California). A full bodied West-Coast IPA, ABV 7.5%, heavily hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial to a hefty IBU of 75. You have to love hops to love this beer.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Crazy, nutty, unexpected, slapstick, possibly Wes Anderson’s most entertaining movie. It’s the story of the concierge of a hotel, and the trouble he gets into, accompanied by his young sidekick, the Lobby Boy. The concierge is played deftly by Ralph Fiennes, and loaded with stars like Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Bill Murray.

You probably thought I would get off easy by pairing this one with Pilsner Urquel, that quintessential Czechoslovakian beer. But no, that would not work with this film. Too insipid! We need a crazy, surprising, unexpected beer that’s fun to drink. A beer that’s full of flavor and, admittedly, low enough in alcohol to keep drinking as the story gets crazier. The winner?

Well’s Banana Bread Beer. Produced by Wells & Young’s Brewing Company in Bedford, England, this traditional English bitter is a dark golden ale, at only 4.2% ABV — typical of style for a bitter–and made with fair trade bananas! The brewery writes, “Its aroma of banana and wheat may remind you of childhood memories of waking up to the smell of your mother baking this dessert bread. Up front, the banana flavor comes through and is blended with a backdrop of toasted malt for a bread-like taste similar to the baked good it’s named for.”

The runners up:

Magic Hat #9, Magic Hat Brewing Company, Vermont. I recollect that it is with apricots, but the description is: “A beer cloaked in secrecy. An ale whose mysterious and unusual palate will swirl across your tongue and ask more questions than it answers. A sort of dry, crisp, refreshing, not-quite pale ale. #9 is really impossible to describe because there’s never been anything else quite like it.”

Serendipity, New Glarus, Wisconsin. This delightfully cheerful ale is brewed with a mix of Wisconsin fruits (cherries, strawberries, etc.) and aged in oak. At about 4.5% ABV, you can drink lots of it. It’s fun! The trek to Wisconsin is fun, too, because that is the only state where you can buy it. Brewery policy–they don’t distribute out of state.

The Imitation Game

This film is about Alan Turing, considered by many to be the father of the computer. It is set in Cambridge, England, during World War II, as the English desperately race to crack the Enigma code that enabled the Germans to send encrypted radio messages. We watch the team led by Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) achieve success while, at the same time, Turing learns how to become less arrogant and more human, with Kiera Knightly as his teacher. The portrayal of 1940’s England is beautiful and realistic, and we see the group congregating after hours in the English pub, drinking pints of ale.

Of course we pair this one with a pint of English porter, which I like to imagine that Turing and his group were drinking. (Note the dark color of their pints). My recommendation is Fuller’s London porter, very close to the original style. At 5.4% ABV, brewed with brown, crystal and chocolate malts, not hoppy at all. I like this beer a lot, it’s an easy ale to drink without demanding your full attention.

The Theory of Everything

Yet another biopic about a genius Englishman, who has his own set of problems. This one is about Stephen Hawking. As his body declines rapidly due to ALS, his mind continues to reach greater heights. The portrayal of Hawkins by Eddie Redmayne is realistic, and both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Another English ale? Not at all. Stephen Hawking has the greatest mind in the world. And his story should be paired with the greatest beer in the world. It will be a Trappist beer, or course, and my pick is Rochefort Trappist10 ABV 11%, the top product from the Rochefort Trappist brewery (Belgium). Dark color, full and very impressive taste. Strong plum, raisin, and black currant palate, with ascending notes of vinuousness and other complexities.

An alternative is Chimay Red, another fabulous Belgian Trappist beer, that has been brewed to the same recipe since the 1800’s. The yeast contributes an apricot taste, and the overall effect is delightful. A runner up for the best beer in the world. 8% ABV.

Whiplash

This is the story of Andrew (Miles Teller) a young jazz musician who is striving for excellence as a drummer, under the tutelage of Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher is a hard-driving teacher who will stop at nothing to push his students to the edge, and sometimes beyond. It is a story of art, of passion, of cruelty, of heartbreak…and redemption.

There is only one match: Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewery, California. ABV 7.8%. This is a strong ale, very dark, and so full of hops that it goes beyond IPA. Yet it is complex and delightful. Not for the faint of heart.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred Tasker January 31, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Good matches, Carol.
Many beer company PR departments have tried this, and mostly failed.
Yours have logic to them. I’ll have to try that best beer in the world.
Fred Tasker

Reply

carol westbrook January 31, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Thanks, Fred! Hope you enjoy the best beer in the world (IMHO). Please let us know what you think.

Reply

Euell Gophar February 10, 2015 at 9:41 am

Good choices but isn’t Whiplash better paired with a Double Bastard?

Reply

carol westbrook February 20, 2015 at 9:20 am

Definitely a better choice based on the name alone. Thanks for suggesting.
Enjoy the Oscars this weekend!

Reply

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