Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Fourth Annual Beer + Oscar Pairings, in which I present my picks for Best Beer to accompany each of the films nominated for “Best Picture” by the American Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
In contrast to previous years, the 2017 Oscar nominations celebrate diversity. Among this year’s selections, we find people of many colors, religions and sexual preferences, including African Americans, an American Indian, an Asian Indian, illegal aliens (of the space variety), a conscientious objector, a gay black man, and even a few intelligent women! And let’s not forget that rarest of the rare, a classical Hollywood musical with large production song-and-dance numbers of the sort we haven’t seen since the 1930’s. Truly, there is something for everyone in the 2017 Oscars.
The 89th Academy Awards Ceremony will be aired on February 26, 2017, and you’ll want to make sure you have a lot of beer on hand to get through the evening of glitz and tedium. So without further ado, let’s open the envelope and see what beers have been selected to pair with these nine nominees, while we watch their trailers.
Twelve alien spacecraft appear around the world. What do they want? Linguistics professor Louise Banks is enlisted to ask them. To do this, she must learn their language and how to communicate with them. Amy Adams plays Dr. Banks, the professor who is charged with this challenge. Watching the process unfold is spellbinding, as are the scenes near and inside the alien ship.
What beer do you offer an alien? Do aliens drink beer? Do aliens drink alcohol? Do they even drink at all? Initially I considered recommending a sip of Earth’s best spring water, but reconsidered. We must offer them the best beer in the world! That is, the best craft IPA in the world. And that beer would be Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, brewed by Russian River Brewing Company in California. It is a strong and delightfully hoppy double IPA, redolent with West Coast hops, with an ABV of 8%.
Fences is about a working-class African-American man and his relationship with his son, based on an award winning play by August Wilson. Masterfully directed by Denzel Washington, who plays the lead character, this family drama is set in 1950s Pittsburgh.
I’ve chosen a period beer for this one that was likely to have been enjoyed by working-class Pittsburgh, which you can still get today. That beer is Iron City. I’m not saying it’s a great beer–beer rarely was in the 50’s–but it was available, and it was brewed in Pittsburgh. It’s still around today, though it is brewed elsewhere. It’s a typical, American adjunct lager, with an ABV of 4.5%. You can find it in its signature “iron” bottles (actually aluminum), but in the 1950s, Iron City would have been in a longneck glass bottle.
Desmond T. Doss was the first conscientious objector to receive the US Medal of Honor, for rescuing over 75 men in one of the most grueling battles of World War II, without ever firing a shot. The battle of Hacksaw Ridge took place in Okinawa, Japan, a semi-tropical island in the Sea of Japan.
Chances are that Desmond T. Doss didn’t drink; for that matter, American troops in the Pacific probably did not have any cold beer available. But today’s Japan is a different story. The Japanese craft beer industry is booming, with small breweries appearing in most prefectures throughout the country. But very little Japanese craft beer is exported to American, and Okinawa has only one brewery anyway. One brand you can find is Hitachino Nest beer, produced by Kiuchi Brewery, a long-standing producer of sake in the northeast of Tokyo
One of the best Hitachino brews, and probably the easiest to find in the US, is Hitachino Nest White Ale. It is a mild beer, in the style of a Belgian ale, with added sweetness and spice–coriander, nutmeg, orange peel and orange juice. With an ABV of only 5.5%, and almost no hoppy bitterness (IBU 13), even a teetotaler can enjoy a sip of this one. It’s a good, sweet counterpoint to the heart-rending battle scenes.
Hell or High Water
This is the closest thing to a comedy among the year’s nominees. Two bumbling, inept guys in Oklahoma, a newly-released ex-con and his brother, rob banks in order to pay off a mortgage, all for a good cause. It is reminiscent of a Western Blues Brothers, as the two are pursued by a determined cop, an entire police force, and the town citizens. There are car chases, crashes, gunfights, and all the action you might expect.
The action is graced by the stellar performance of Jeff Bridges playing a stereotyped version of himself, accompanied by a long-suffering Native American sidekick whom he treats like Tonto. It’s a great action movie with a twist.
Shiner Bock is an amber lager brewed by the oldest craft brewery in Texas, and widely distributed throughout the West. This movie must be watched while drinking Shiner Bock, preferably a whole six-pack.
This is the true story of a team of very bright, African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. Although they had critical functions at NASA, as women they had to remain in second place to the male engineers, but the black women were hidden even further away. Here we see them finding their voice.
My beer pick is the Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue). This is A Belgian Strong Dark Ale, among one of the best Belgian the world. It is certainly one of the most complex and intelligent beers you will ever taste. And one of the stronger, at 9.0% ABV. It’s a good match with the intelligent and complex characters in this film.
La La Land
Two aspiring performers trying to hit the big time LA…One, a jazz pianist; the other, an aspiring actress…They fall in love, and much singing and dancing ensues. You will fall in love along with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, as they dance their way through some unlikely scenarios–including a freeway on-ramp. It’s great fun, with music and choreography that captures the spirit and the energy of youth. And what would these optimistic, enthusiastic, driven but penniless Millennials be drinking? Why PBR, of course! Pabst Blue Ribbon has become the hallmark beer of the hipster generation, though in reality it’s a mass-produced lager which tastes like any other Budweiser clone.
But if you’re like me, and you really can’t wrap your craft beer head around a mass market lager, select an excellent American Pale Ale from one of the many craft breweries of Southern California. We’re going to stick to pale ales rather than IPAs because the lower alcohol level won’t mess up your concentration for auditions and performances. There are so many Southern California breweries to choose from! My pick? Stone Pale Ale, from Stone Brewery in Escondido CA. Though the ABV is only 5.4% there are plenty of hops to make drinking this as enjoyable as dancing on the freeway.
This is a story about finding your way home. A 5-year-old boy is lost on the streets of Calcutta, and is eventually adopted by a family in Australia. His struggle to find his home at age 25, both emotionally and via Google Earth, is at least as compelling as his original journey away from home as a street waif in India.
The obvious choice for a beer is a true India Pale Ale, of the sort brewed in England to ship to India. Of course, this style has disappeared from England. Even the Indian brewery established in 1820 by the English to produce a local product–aptly named Lion beer–converted to lager in 1960. Although there are a few recent revivals of the style, I recommend instead going with the nearest relative, a good strong English Ale. When it comes to English beers, “strong” is a relative term, compared to the usual 3.5% bitter.
You can usually find bottles of Fuller’s London Pride, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale (5% ABV), or Samuel Smith’s Best Ale, 5% ABV at any good bottle store. Pour into a glass and let it warm up a bit before you drink it. You will find the taste a bit sweeter than most American beers, with the hops more subtle, less fruity and citrusy than American hops.
Manchester by the Sea
An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew when the boy’s father dies. As the film progresses, the uncle’s reluctance to take on the task become apparent as the dark secrets of the past are slowly revealed.
A good, cold beer will help stop you from plunging into a deep melancholy during the film, which takes place in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a coastal town northeast of Boston. Harpoon IPA, brewed in Boston, seems to be the beer of choice in this New England town, and is one of my favorites, too. Another great option is Ipswich Ale, brewed in Ipswich, almost next-door to Manchester-by-the-Sea. Take your pick, both great representatives of the region’s terrific IPAs.
Moonlight is the story of a young black man as he goes from childhood to adulthood, while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. He struggles to find his identify as a gay man, and as a black man, and find his place in the world. The man is seamlessly portrayed across three stages of his life by three different actors, which is a testimony to the directorial skills of Barry Jenkins.
I would pair Moonlight with a Russian Imperial Stout. The beer style, like the film, is dark and bitter. An imperial stout has an ABV in the 10 – 14% range, so remember to sip it slowly, from a small glass. You will taste dark, roasted malt, with chocolate and coffee flavors, with a low hop profile (especially it if is barrel aged.) Look for Imperial Russian Stouts from Stone, Founders‘, Bells, and 3 Floyds.
Thanks for watching! I hope you get a chance to see all of these wonderful films, and taste all of the beers with which they are paired. Enjoy the show!
In addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of topics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: