It’s Oscar time again. On February 28, 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present Oscars for cinematic achievement at the eagerly-anticipated 88th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony. That means it’s also time for the eagerly-anticipated 3rd Annual Beer and Oscar Pairing, in which I recommend a beer to drink with each of the nominees for Best Picture. This year I have added a ninth (unofficial) nominee for one of my favorite films of the year, which was somehow overlooked by the Academy but deserves a beer pairing.
This year, the nominees showcased strong actors–or ensembles– portraying strong characters. Overall the best films were more about the characters than about the plot. I’ve chosen beers which complement these characters’ strong spirits. I’ve carefully avoided spoilers except when relevant to the beer selection — if so, I’ll warn you in advance.
So pop some popcorn, pour yourself a beer, sit back and enjoy the show! The nominees for Best Picture of 2015 are:
- Bridge of Spies
The movie opens in Brooklyn, in 1957 at the height of the Cold War. James R. Donovan, an insurance lawyer played by Tom Hanks, is recruited to do his patriotic duty and defend a KGB spy. After the spy is convicted, the FBI approaches him for a secret mission: to arrange for an exchange of this spy for Gary Powers, the American pilot who was shot down and imprisoned in Russia for spying. Donovan must cross the Iron Curtain and travel to East Berlin, just as the Wall is going up. The atmosphere is tense, the drinking is heavy. Russian vodka is ubiquitous, and the beer of choice is Pilsner Urquell.
Almost certainly Pilsner Urquell would have been served to Mr. Donovan in East Berlin. I have this on good authority from my husband Rick, who visited East Berlin on an education mission in the 1960’s. Beers produced in Western countries were simply not available in the Eastern Bloc, while Pilsner Urquell, brewed in Czechoslovakia since 1842, was everywhere. Pilsner Urquell has changed little over the years. It is a light lager, moderately hopped but low in alcohol (ABV 4.5%, IBU 40).
If you don’t want to be accused of being a communist sympathizer, and prefer to stick with an American craft beer, an alternative beer pairing would be Rev Pils, a pilsner made by Chicago’s own Revolution Brewery. Brewed with all German malts and hops, it is true in style to a classic pilsner, and true in spirit to the Revolution.
Though it takes place in Brooklyn in the 1950s, the atmosphere is very different from the 1957 Brooklyn of the Bridge of Spies. Brooklyn is the heart-warming story of Ellis Lacey, a young woman, fresh from Ireland, who immigrates to America under the sponsorship of a kindly priest. We watch as Ellis, flawlessly portrayed by the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, survives her homesickness, falls in love, and gradually begins to love her new country.
Brooklyn is heart-warming, smooth and sweet. There is very little bitterness, though it has its dark moments. And this is a perfect description of Guinness Stout the quintessential Irish beer.
Guinness Stout is brewed in Ireland, but is available throughout the world. It is the beer of choice for the Irish, their descendants, and the “honorary” Irish who enjoy its mellow flavor and easy drinkability. It is relatively light, at 4.5% ABV, so you can drink it all evening–as did the out-of-work immigrant Irish laborers at the parish Christmas dinner in the film. Guinness pairs well with food, including popcorn and movies. Slaínte!
- Mad Max, Fury Road
It is the not-too-distant future. The earth has been ruined by pollution and climate change. Civilization has collapsed and many people have died. The remaining populations have been enslaved by warlords fighting for limited resources. Travel is not safe, fuel is in short supply, and water is even scarcer. Enter the warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who forges an uneasy alliance with Mad Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy). Together they drive a massive armored truck, alternatingly outrunning and outshooting the pursuing warlord and his henchmen, as they lead the tyrant’s five wives in a daring escape to find a better place to live. In Mad Max, Fury Road the action is always on the move as they speed through the beautifully desolate but unforgiving Wasteland. The action is incessant, with Furiosa leading against all odds with her strength, determination and wits. She is clearly the star of this film.
“You killed our world” is the recurring cry of the beautiful young wives. And what better to drink with a ruined world than Stone’s Ruination Double IPA?
Ruination Double IPA is a marvelous high-hop beer. It is assertive, strong, and bitter, like our heroine. As a double IPA it has a high alcoholic content, at 8.5%, and is extraordinarily hopped with an IBU over 100, more than three times that of a standard IPA. It is not a beer for the faint of heart, making it perfect for the warriors of Fury Road.
A young woman (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son (Jacob Trembly) have been held captive in a small space since before the boy’s birth. Finally able to escape, the boy enjoys his first experience of the outside world. Room can be a difficult and uncomfortable film; what glues you to the screen is the compelling performance of Brie Larson, who was nominated for an Oscar for this role.
How does one choose a beer for a woman who has probably not had any alcohol to drink in 7 years, and a 5-year-old boy? Why root beer, of course! I’m not referring to that latest fad of hard (alcoholic) root beers, but to the good old-fashioned, non-alcoholic soft drink, which traditionally was made in a brewery. Root beer is brewed with yeast and sugar, and flavored by the roots of the sassafras tree, with added spices and flavorings such as vanilla, licorice, honey and molasses. It is best served it in a frosty mug, with or without a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
A number of craft breweries produce this kid-friendly beer, though you might have trouble finding it, since supermarkets often don’t carry gourmet sodas, while beer distributors don’t usually bring them around to the beer store. (You might try asking for some). Two notable craft root beers you might enjoy are: Abita Root Beer and Saranac Root Beer.
Spotlight is a riveting story of investigative journalism. It is based on the work of a team of Boston Globe reporters who, in 2001, uncovered the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread pedophilia among priests in Boston. They published their findings in the paper’s “Spotlight” column. This team is portrayed by an ensemble of actors that includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. We get caught up in their passion to pursue this story, fighting resistance both to uncovering the facts and to publishing a story that Bostonians did not want to hear. Though we know how it turns out, it’s fascinating to watch the process unfold and the reporters interact as the pieces fall into place.
From time immemorial, reporters did much of their work in a bar, over a drink. This movie is true to the stereotype, and the drink of choice shown in most of these scenes is Harpoon IPA. And it’s the perfect choice — Harpoon IPA is the only beer that I drink when I am in Boston, too. Brewed in Boston by Harpoon Brewery, Harpoon IPA is a well-balanced beer, IBU 42, ABV 5.9%, medium bodied, and perfectly hopped. It pairs well with seafood, Irish stew, and the Boston Globe.
- The Big Short
In 2008, a few astute Wall Street investors, market researchers, and hedge-fund specialists come to the recognition that the majority of subprime home loans were in danger of defaulting. Their colleagues believe they are crazy. As they begin to realize the extent of these loan defaults, this small group — portrayed by a talented ensemble of actors including Ryan Goslin and Steve Carrel–devises the “credit default swap” in which they bet large sums of money that this default will happen. The Big Short is based on the true story of these investors, who made their fortune by betting against the market while the economy collapsed.
Early in the film, the investor Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling) says, “You smell that? What’s that smell? I smell money.” If you savor the taste and smell of money, you would probably want to drink the most expensive beer in the world. There are a number of contenders for this distinction, most of which are pricey because their production requires a large volume of expensive ingredients, which are then concentrated into a small volume, followed by years of aging. The result is a small batch of, highly alcoholic, flavor-packed barleywine. These specialty beers are excessively priced not only because of their production costs, but because they are impressive status symbols and people are willing to pay dearly for them.
Dave, The Beer, from Hair of the Dog Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon, is our choice. Dave is a barleywine, at 29% ABV, which sells for over $2000 per bottle–if you can find one. It was originally produced in 1994 by multiply concentrating one of the brewery’s flagship beers, reducing 300 gallons to less than 100 gallons. A small number of these 375-ml bottles is be released at a time, usually at auction, and the competition is fierce. Apparently this is a flavorful beer, having won first place in a 1998 beer festival. You cannot find it for sale at the brewery, but if you search you may find a bottle or two from a private collector. Have your agent keep an eye out for it. Dave, The Beer is best sipped out of a brandy snifter, preferably a cut crystal Waterford glass, while you watch the movie or, preferably, the stock reports.
- The Martian
The Martian is the story of a lonely astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who is stranded on Mars, and must find a way to survive for years with only a few months of supplies. He must use his wits and his scientific expertise while he waits for rescue.
The Martian, almost 3 hours in length, requires at least 3 beers. I’ve paired each with individual segments of the movie. Warning: beers two and three contain spoiler alerts, so if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, then stick with the first beer, or read on at your own peril.
First beer: If the astronauts had packed beer in their provisions, they would have chosen a local Texas favorite, brewed in Houston. That’s because astronauts are trained in Houston, and spend a lot of time there. And in their spare time at bars they would probably drink Shiner Bock.
Shiner Bock is a Texas icon. It is the signature beer of Saint Arnold Brewing Company. It is dark and full-bodied, brewed with German malts that give it a classic bock flavor, and a “smooth Texas aftertaste.”
Second beer: This beer is poured when Matt Damon’s character succeeds in getting potatoes to grow, and has his first successful harvest. His harvest ensures him an unlimited, renewable food source. Time to celebrate with a beer! Make that beer a harvest ale.
Harvest Ales are usually produced in limited supply after the fall hop harvest, frequently using hops that are freshly picked, before they have a chance to dry. My selection is, Founders Harvest Ale, from Grand Rapids, Michigan. This beer reaches an IBU of 70 with a remarkably hoppy taste and a well-balanced alcohol content of 7.6%. Like an IPA, it is a hazy golden color with a clear white head.
Third beer. Finally the end is in sight. Rescue is on the way, and Damon will soon say goodbye to the Red Planet. Let’s toast Mars with a red beer, an Irish Red Ale. Since we are all-American in this film, we will forego the Irish breweries and choose an Irish Ale that is brewed in America.
Boulevard Brewing Company’s Irish Ale is a beautiful red-brown, bottle-conditioned beer, with pleasing carbonation and a fully mature flavor. It is true to style, with a medium body of high malt flavor, low alcohol content (5.8%), and only a slight hoppiness, IBU 30. Cheers! And good-bye to the red planet!
- The Revenant
The Revenant is loosely based on a true tale of 1823 Montana and South Dakota. It is about a mountain man, Hugh Glass, left for dead after being mauled by a beer, as he crawls back to civilization (such as it is). The struggle to survive takes place amidst a backdrop of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery in the world, filmed in the Canadian Rockies and Argentina. We agonizingly watch as Glass faces unimaginable hardships, experiencing the brutality and hatred of both white settlers and Native Americans toward each other in the Old West.
We need a beer to match our hero. Let’s drink a beer that it strong, dark, heavy and challenging to drink. That beer is Sinebrichoff Porter . Brewed in Finland at Sinnebrichoff Brewery since 1817, Sinebrichoff Porter is an intense Baltic style porter, unfiltered, and so dark it is almost black. It is brewed to an alcohol level of 7.2% using strong malts and a lot of hops; in fact, it has quite a high bitterness level for a porter, with an IBU of 45. The resultant dark beer has a strong taste but a wonderfully flavorful finish.
- Straight Outta Compton
The ninth (unofficial) spot goes to Straight Outta Compton. Although slighted by the Academy this year, it is one of the best biopics of the decade, and certainly one of the best musicals in the last few years. It is a story about the rap group N.W.A. and the early years of hip-hop. The story is engrossing, and the music will grab you. O’Shea Jackson Jr. does a masterful job playing his father, Ice Cube, the rapper who is now a screen actor in his own right.
Sit back, enjoy the film, and pour out a 40–that is, a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor. If you watch the movie carefully, you will see that whenever a beer was drunk in this film, it was always St. Ides Malt Liquor poured out of a large bottle and shared among friends. A 40-ounce bottle of high-alcohol malt liquor may be the cheapest and fastest way to get drunk, but it also reflects camaraderie among friends who don’t have a lot to share. Sometimes a small amount is poured out in remembrance of a fallen gang member, too, a custom immortalized by the rapper 2Pac, in his song “Pour Out a Little Liquor.”
St. Ides is a high alcohol beer (ABV 8.2%) with a very light body and minimal hops (IBU 11). St. Ides is to the rapper what PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) is to the hipster. Highly unpopular with craft beer aficionados, this beer nonetheless has a strong following, and was awarded a Bronze Medal at the 2004 Great American Beer Festival. If St. Ides is not to your taste, then substitute a PBR–but whatever your choice, make sure that you don’t drink it alone. Get yourself a 40-ounce bottle and share it with your homeys while you watch this excellent film.
In addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of topics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: