Dennis O'Brien: Beers paired with movie theme

·9 min read

Oct. 11—What's in a name?

If we're talking beer and the can says Karate and Friendship ... everything.

With the COVID pandemic running for more than a year and a half now, I find that I don't spend much time going to bars or breweries. My sons, John and Ben (ages 7, as of this month, and 4), can't be vaccinated yet. And while we went out here and there during summer when case numbers and hospitalizations were low, with the numbers shooting back up I'm left once again relying on bottle shops to carry the load of my suds addiction.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. My home offers plenty of things bars and breweries can't provide. Card games with my kids and Tom Waits playing on an endless loop.

But the one thing that can be overwhelming about sticking to your often overstocked fridge is the sheer volume of potential names.

How many beers does your favorite bar have on tap? Your favorite brewery?

I can go to the State Street Market (predictably on State Street in Watertown and, no, not the one that sells plants) and even in a small place like that, a converted bar, I have dozens of 6- and 4-pack options. If I head further down the road to Griff's or Bear World or Bottle Caps or some other place with a big, walk-in cooler, then my options multiply.

So how do you choose one?

I try not to settle too much into a rotation, even with something I really like, because I don't want to leave any tab untabbed or bottle cap unpopped.

So, being that I recently turned 42 and remember ancient technology, I take the same approach I took when shopping for a movie rental at Solid Gold Video on 82nd St. in Howard Beach, Queens when I was a kid.

Fine, often I would play it safe and pick "Tron" or "Troll" or apparently any number of Tr- movies. But you could find a lot of weird, great stuff just by looking at the names and labels.

Heeeeeyyyyy ... this has Lance Henriksen summoning a pumpkin demon to avenge his dead son?

How much did they pay Christopher Plummer for this?

In that spirit, I thought I'd pair a few recent beers with the long lost midnight movie rentals they remind me of most, a kind of movie playlist to pair with your night in-night out. All of these brews are available at bottle shops throughout the north country, and every one of these films is a pretty cheap movie rental on your preferred service.

And, hey. It's October. It's a good time for monsters, bad costumes, bad haircuts and good beer.

The pairings

1. Roadsmary's Baby (Two Roads Brewing Company, Stratford, Conn.)

Best paired with: "Pumpkinhead" (1988, director Stan Winston)

The Baby is one of my favorite pumpkin beers for a number of reasons. It pairs with a low budget horror classic for reasons that go beyond the horror movie name tie-in. Baby is lean and mean for a pumpkin ale at just 6.8% ABV, which is just about as lean as Mr. Winston's 86-minute sleeper classic.

Director Winston, the FX genius behind such genre classics as "Aliens" and "The Terminator," lends this tale of a father's bloody, Pumpkin-demon-fueled revenge (don't ask) an undercurrent of visceral credibility, the same way Baby's deep notes of vanilla and rum peer through the jack-o'-lantern eyes and flesh out the otherwise lean pumpkin ale.

2. The Stars Above (Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, Burlington, Vt.)

Best paired with: "Starcrash" (1978, director Luigi Cozzi).

I swear, I'm not trying to insult this lovely beer by serving it with what was possibly the nadir of a wave of bad "Star Wars" ripoffs that flooded American and British cinemas in the late 1970s. But from the hit podcast "How Did This Get Made," to a bad movie club in Chaumont, aficionados sing the praises of this low budget disaster of a movie, which is kind of loaded with bold- to semi-bold-face names, including a young David Hasselhoff, a former child evangelist in Marjoe Gortner and, of course, the late, great Christopher Plummer in what I hope was a very well-paid sojourn into trash cinema.

Now that's not quite on par with the all-star cast of hops Zero Grav's Imperial IPA can boast of, from Southern Cross to Amarillo, Sabro and, yes, appropriately, Galaxy and Comet. But this smooth, juicy IPA packs a lovely 8.2% ABV but remains light and drinkable. The perfect beer to sneak in one too many while watching this unintentional camp classic.

3. Hipster Apocalypse (Mason's Brewing Company, Brewer, Maine)

Best paired with: "Night of the Creeps" (1986, director Fred Dekker)

This is a beer that sold me almost entirely on its name and its label, which features a skeleton with a very fanciful beard and sunglasses imploring me to read Stephen King.

The curb appeal of both is clear. The Hipster skeleton and his perfectly-coifed hair and beard and the iconic dead "date" at the door of some unwitting woman with the classic tagline, "The good news is your date is here. The bad news is ... he's dead." I must have rented this movie a dozen times as a kid, even if I no doubt should not have been allowed to. Like Hipster, an American IPA with a kind of tangerine profile that's really dank and kind of punches above its 5.7% ABV, this movie is kind of better than you'd think. Punchy dialogue, corny but effective special effects and it moves quickly at a brisk 88 minutes.

Hipster will move just as quickly from your fridge to your glass to the next can. It's one dead date you should open the door for.

4. Oktoberfest: Beer That Tastes Like Beer (Big Ditch Brewing Company, Buffalo)

Best paired with: "Manos: The Hands of Fate" (1966, director Harold P. Warren)

A great pairing of redundant titles. While Big Ditch's Oktoberfest (6% ABV) thoroughly explains its cheeky name as kind of a dig at the broader flavors that have entered American breweries in recent years, "Manos" is just way too much absolute nonsense to even try.

But Big Ditch isn't warning you off the big ABVs, fruit flavors or bitter, dank IPAs. They're just celebrating beer by stripping it down to its simple, malty goodness. I don't think "Manos" was intended to come off quite so stripped down, with its elaborate and nonsensical plot about a family road trip gone awry out west. But it is a film that seems to be trying to criticize the hippie culture of the late 1960s while at the same time serving as a trippy satire of a PSA. Big Ditch is celebrating craft by telling you it isn't.

5. Secret Broadcast (War Horse Brewing Company, Geneva)

Best paired with: "Talk Radio" (1988, director Oliver Stone)

So not all things Oliver Stone have aged well. To start with, his films have pretty much been rubbish for going on a quarter century, and when you cut through some of the violence and paranoia of some of his most frenetic works, there's a lot of bloat. But one of my favorite Stone films is this small, spare, nasty little movie about a talk radio host (the incredible Eric Bogosian, who co-wrote the play the film is based on) that doesn't have any of that bloat. It's a small film, after big, award-grabbing stuff with "Platoon" and "Wall Street" with no big stars but a lot of familiar faces in tight, claustrophobic shots and sets.

Well, Secret Broadcast isn't the kind of home run swing that you might get from one of my favorite breweries. It's 8.2% ABV, and that's nice. But this isn't aged in rum barrels or boasting of six or seven kinds of hops. It's a double dry hopped imperial IPA that balances tropical flavors with a nice bitter finish. It's BIG, but it's not showy. It's a powerhouse performance in a one-man play.

6. Karate and Friendship (Meier's Creek Brewing Company, Cazenovia)

Best paired with: "Miami Connection" (1987, director Richard Park, Y.K. Kim)

Now, ostensibly, this might be a reference to a recurring gag on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." But when I saw these 8-bit video game characters in gis hoisting big pints in friendship, I only thought of this mid-80s masterpiece.

This one you just have to trust me on. If you've never seen "Miami Connection," then I don't even know if I could describe it to you. A rock and roll band/martial arts club of college students stumbles into a drug war with motorcycle-riding ninjas. Now, don't pay any attention to the fact that most of the movie takes place in Orlando or that the acting is, politely put, quite pedestrian. From ham-fisted and ill-fitting scenes about a son connecting with his long-lost father to lengthy conversations about how tae kwon do is a metaphor for life, this movie absolutely thinks it has a lot to say, and it's really, really trying hard.

But so is Karate and Friendship. This is a collaboration with Thin Man Brewery in Buffalo, and it goes for big flavors. Big tropical, juicy IPA flavors with a harsh, bitter aftertaste that I loved. It's so juicy the mouthfeel is almost thick. This is a beer you'd give someone if you wanted to show them the best and most aggressive things New England IPAs are after. And this movie is all bright colors and bad music and just remarkable haircuts ... just every excessive bit of nonsense that stood in for popular culture during the moral and economic chaos of the Reagan years.

It's a perfect beer. It's a perfect movie. I don't know if either of those things are true, but I think you should give both a try.

So if you're wandering the cooler, trying to figure out what to buy ... just get the weirdest sounding beer you can find and make a night of it.

Follow Dennis O'Brien on Instagram @beernerddennis.

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