Beer/Album Pairing: Prospect Hill by Dom Flemons
Beer has been around for several thousand years, which means that it would be difficult to make an argument that beer is distinctly American. But, you know what? I’m going to make that claim anyway. Beer is distinctly American! It’s a democratic, individualistic beverage that lends itself to multiple collaborations. In fact, the preeminent beer expert of pretty much forever, Michael Jackson, “was fond of shocking audiences in Europe by saying that the United States was the best place on the planet to drink beer” – not that Jackson’s opinion proves that beer is as American as apple pie and baseball, but it does speak to the reality that the American experience has crafted beer in its own image.
Any Germans, Belgians, and Brits reading this may take umbrage at the above paragraph, but even Old World beer snobs have to acknowledge that the musical tropes performed so well by Dom Flemons are distinctly American. In fact, distinctly American experiences, both good and bad, have so intimately shaped the styles represented on Prospect Hill that it is, by no means, an exaggeration to claim that very few albums released in 2014 are as distinctly American as Dom Flemons’ Americana masterpiece.
And, it’s with that non-hyperbolic statement that I proudly transition to the claim that my album/beer pairing series was made for albums like Prospect Hill. If you can’t imagine yourself drinking excellent beer while enjoying Prospect Hill, your malaise is beyond this writer’s ability to heal. For those whose mouths begin to water and whose ears began to tickle upon the mere reading of this article’s title, buy these six beers (feel free to improvise on the beer front, of course), invite some good friends over, and cue up one of my favorite albums of 2014, Prospect Hill.
“Til the Seas Run Dry”
Prospect Hill kicks off with a swinging throwback to the great New Orleans jazz tradition. The full band backing the storytelling voice of Flemons provides a fullness to the song that anchors the album. The highlight of “Til the Seas Run Dry” is the scorching clarinet that whisks you to Fritzel’s, and you don’t even have to close your eyes.
When people think of New Orleans and liquid delights, beer isn’t usually the first drink that comes to mind. Rum laden Hurricanes, Absinthe, and the Sazerac are the drinks that bring people to The French Quarter. In fact, I considered cheating and pairing “Til the Seas Run Dry” with one of New Orleans’ famous cocktails. But I don’t think that I want to go down that road of deviation just yet. So, Abita Mardi Gras Bock it is. With a higher abv and more hops than the usual Bock, the Mardi Gras Bock has nice spicy hops resting on the foundation of full malts. The name helps, too.
Undulating out of the African-American musical tradition known as Fife and Drum, “Georgia Drumbeat” has a sultry stickiness that is unmistakable within the pulsing beat of the Deep South. This is a deep, dark, and delicious song in which the listener finds herself or himself lost.
Dark Intrigue from Victory Brewing Company is a Russian Imperial Stout that has been aged in bourbon barrels. The secrets of those barrels seep into a beer that already contains its own chicory and roasted malts inspired secrets.
“I Can’t Do It Anymore”
An ode to the early Rock and Rollers, like Fats Domino and Carl Perkins, Dom Flemons lets the rock singer in him loose on “I Can’t Do It Anymore.” And, as a bonus, the rock singer version of Dom Flemons reminds us of how deeply rooted Rock & Roll is in the musical language of Americana.
Americans didn’t invent music; Americans didn’t invent beer. But, that doesn’t mean that Americans haven’t put a decidedly cultural spin that reflects specific times and places on those two things. American wild ales, while taking definite cues from the monks in Belgium, have a decidedly American spin due to the use of wild yeast and bacteria shaped by American terroir. American wild ales, thanks in large part to the introduction of wild yeasts and bacteria, are funky and spirited. The Sour in the Rye, from California based The Bruery, makes for a deliciously funky pairing with Flemons’ lively and fun throwback to Rockabilly and boogie.
“Too Long (I’ve Been Gone)”
“Too Long (I’ve Been Gone)” is a traveling song about the loneliness that Flemons faces from time to time as a traveling troubadour. But, a looking ahead timbre in his voice balances out the wistfulness found in Flemons’ poignant lyrics. The nylon string guitar of Keith Ganz is melancholy and yet restful, almost resigned. Just because troubadours love what they do, that doesn’t mean that the road isn’t incredibly long at times.
A song like “Too Long (I’ve Been Gone)” will prompt nostalgia in the listener; maybe not the longing for home that is felt by a troubadour, but, regardless of the object, the listener’s nostalgia will be more sweet than sour. American pale wheat ales will remind most of lazy summer evenings that were full of communion with family and friends. Pour a Bell’s Oberon Ale as you listen to “Too Long (I’ve Been Gone)” and enter into Flemons’ beautiful longing.
Americana’s party anthem! Or, more specifically, drum and fife’s party anthem!
When pairing beers with things (food, mainly), there is one main question to ask when getting started, “Do I want to compliment or contrast the food?” For example, if serving a spicy dish, do I want to accentuate the spice, or subdue the spice? The same principle applies to pairing beer with music. Specifically to “Grotto Beat,” should a beer be chosen that helps kick the party up a notch or three? Or, should a beer be paired with the song that balances out the spicy beat by providing a calming contrast? The answer is – what a stupid set of questions! Of course a beer that keeps the party hot and spicy is the only option! While dancing to “Grotto Beat” be careful not to spill your pint of the hoppy and spicy Founders Red’s Rye IPA.
I had originally planned on pairing a beer with “San Francisco Bay,” but I couldn’t escape the obvious that a song about food begs to have a beer paired with it. Quick side note, though – “San Francisco Bay” is a beautiful and fun loving song that’s a throw-back to a beautiful and fun loving era and style. But, “San Francisco Bay” isn’t about food, so “Hot Chicken” gets the beer pairing. The problem is, I just realized, that the beer/song pairing above was centered on spicy; “Hot Chicken” is Flemons’ lively love letter to the spicy chicken he ate at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville. Thankfully, and I just realize this too, I set myself up in the previous pairing by writing about complimenting and contrasting when pairing beer with food. I now get to demonstrate how to pick a beer that compliments the food/song.
Beers that emphasize the malts make a great compliment to spicy dishes. Big, malty Stouts that feature oatmeal or nuts make for a complimentary pairing with spicy food that’s hard to beat. And, in a first, I think, for the album/beer pairing articles, a brewery has two beers included. It’s hard, if not impossible, to think of a better Stout that features oatmeal than Founders Breakfast Stout. In the liner notes, Dom Flemons wrote about enjoying the hot chicken from Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack with tears, induced by the delicious yet spicy cayenne, streaming from his eyes. Now, I’m not saying that Flemons’ tear ducts would have gone full on stoic, but Founders Breakfast Stout would have definitely help cut through some of the spice. What any of that has to do with the actual song instead of the food the song is about, I’ll let you decide as you enjoy “Hot Chicken” paired with Founders Breakfast Stout.
Six beers to pair with six tracks. Six American beers, I might add, to pair with one of 2014’s Americana music highlights. Granted, Prospect Hill has a total of fourteen tracks; I highly encourage readers to complete the pairing, and find beers that they believe go well with the eight tracks that I didn’t include.
 Not that Michael Jackson.
 Randy Mosher, Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink (Boston: Storey Publishing, 2009), 3.
 That’s not a pejorative; I don’t think. I’m fine being called a New World beer snob; I think.
 I kinda fleshed out, a little, my thoughts about this in the intro paragraph … I think. Maybe?
 Besides, of course, “do I like the beer?”
 I was close to choosing Young’s Oatmeal Stout to pair with “Hot Chicken,” but I remembered my intro paragraph(s) just in time.