Sorry for the embarrassingly long gap between posts. I’ll try not to let it happen again.
I’m watching the MLB All-Star game as I type this, and in the spirit of fun but mostly pointless competition I thought it would be interesting to try out a new blog feature – a head-to-head face-off between the two top-rated examples of a beer style. Additionally, I’ll take a brief look at two stylistically similar literary passages, one by Shakespeare and one by one of his contemporaries. Without identifying the respective authors, I’ll end with a poll asking which passage you, dear readers, consider superior. Just promise not to Google the passages before you vote.
For tonight’s beers, I’ve chosen the top-ranked examples of a rather obscure style: Kristalweizen. A wheat beer of German origin, Kristalweizens are essentially just Hefeweizens with the yeast filtered out, yielding an appropriately crystal-clear body instead of the cloudiness characteristic of the more famous style. Since a huge portion of a Weizen’s flavor (banana, clove, and bubblegum are standard notes) comes from the distinctive yeast strain, removing said yeast tends to result in a somewhat more restrained, grain-forward beer. It’s no coincidence that the top-rated Hefeweizen on BeerAdvocate, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, has a solid place in the overall Top 100 list and an impressive weighted score of 4.4/5, while the current #1 Kristalweizen (not too coincidentally from the same brewery) has a rather mediocre weighted rank of 3.99. As luke-warm as my fellow beer nerds are about this style, I happen to love it – especially for a refreshing tipple on a warm summer evening like this one. Let’s open up some beers the way the National League opened up the scoring in the top of the first.
The reigning champion for this style, as previously mentioned, is Weihenstephaner Kristalweissbier. Brauerie Weihenstephan is about as venerable as you can get, being, as it is, the oldest brewery in the world. After nearly a millenium of brewing, Weihenstephan stands as the undisputed master of wheat beers. Who would dare to challenge the master?
A plucky, upstart American craft brewery, of course. Sixpoint, out of Brooklyn, has been making waves in the northeast over their short 8 years of existence. Apollo, their new summer seasonal, has been well-received – especially for its style – and currently sits in a virtual tie with its veteren opponent on the BeerAdvocate style list. It actually has a slightly higher raw score, and only enjoys the #2 slot due to its relative paucity of reviews. Let’s see how it compares to the classic paragon of the style.
Appearance is always the first thing to note about a beer, but sadly the photo above hardly does justice to the shocking difference between these two: the Apollo looks like a mediocre Hefeweizen, with a hazy orange body and a thin tan head that disappears almost immediately. The Weihenstephaner, on the other hand, displays the gorgeous clarity that gives this style its name, and accentuates it with a tremendous head of dense, persistent, bright white foam. Sixpoint might have named their beer after the sun god, but it’s the German brew that truly shines.
The radical differences between these beers aren’t limited to the appearance, but distinguishing the superior brew in terms of aroma and flavor is much less clear-cut. I had my wife take a whiff of each, and, as she is most assuredly into the whole brevity thing, she distilled each scent into a single word: “banana” for the Sixpoint, and “beer” for the Weihenstephaner. I would be a bit more descriptive, of course, but her assessment is dead on: one is powerfully fruity, the other much more subtle and complex. If you like banana, vanilla, and flowers, check out Apollo. If you prefer wheat, minerality, and delicate spice, then opt for the other. I find them both extremely enjoyable, with perhaps a slight preference for the more restrained, lighter aroma.
The differences adumbrated by the aromas carry through even more prominently in the flavors of the two combatants, with the Sixpoint boiling down so purely to its fruity essence that I was genuinely tempted to limit the “flavor” segment of my review to my wife’s assessment of its aroma. Seriously, there’s nothing here but banana. The Weihenstephaner, on the other hand, displays flavors ranging from, yes, banana, through to grainy wheat, clove, ginger, and crisp minerality. It’s complex enough to keep anyone interested in picking out flavors busy, and yet coherent enough to be truly refreshing. Apollo, tasty as it is, really can’t be described as delivering any real refreshment – it’s just too heavy and insistent.
As much as I enjoyed Sixpoint’s new beer, it didn’t pose much of a challenge to the reigning champion; Weihenstephaner Kristalweissbier was superior in every way possible, except container – I do love a craft beer in a can. Somehow, though, I don’t expect to see the tradition-bound Bavarians offering their world-class Weizens in widemouths any time soon. Pity.
Let’s hope, for the sake of a future discussion, that the comparison of dramatic verse isn’t as lop-sidedly obvious. I’ll save in-depth analysis for a follow-up post, and for now just introduce and quote two passages that are stylistically similar.
The early years of Shakespeare’s career were characterized by a frequent employment of a distinctive style of powerful (many would say bombastic) blank verse popularized by Christopher Marlowe. Metrically, this heroic style tended to be heavily end-stopped (i.e., most thoughts are contained in a single line, rather than spilling over to another via enjambment) and highly regular, following the 5-foot, unstressed-stressed pattern of iambic pentameter very closely, with few examples of trochaic substitutions, feminine endings, and other variations to the rhythm. This style, with its percussive regularity of both tempo and sentence length, naturally leant itself to a declamatory, rather than conversational, subject – perfect for the high-flown rhetoric of heroes (like Marlowe’s Tamburlaine and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus), kings (like Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard III), and villains alike. It is from the villains that I’d like to draw two similar, closely-related passages: one from Shakespeare’s Aaron, the evil Moor in Titus Andronicus, and the other from Barabas, the evil Jew in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.
As for myself, I walk abroad a-nights, And kill sick people groaning under walls; Sometimes I go about and poison wells, And now and then, to cherish Christian thieves, I am content to lose some of my crowns, That I may, walking in my gallery, See ‘em go pinion’d along by my door. Being young, I studied physic, and began To practice first upon the Italian; There I enriched the priests with burials, And always kept the sexton’s arms in ure With digging graves and ringing dead men’s knells. … Then after that I was an usurer, Ad with extorting, cozening, forfeiting, And tricks belonging unto brokery, I fill’d the gaols with bankrouts in a year, And with young orphans planted hospitals, And every moon made some or other mad, And now and then one hang himself for grief, Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll How I with interest tormented him.
—. Art thou not sorry for these heinous deeds? —. Ay, that I had not done a thousand more. Even now I curse the day – and yet I think Few come within the compass of my curse - Wherein I did not some notorious ill, As kill a man or else devise his death, Ravish a maid or plot the way to do it, Accuse some innocent and forswear myself, Set deadly enmity between two friends, Make poor men’s cattle break their necks, Set fire on barns and haystacks in the night And bid the owners quench them with their tears. Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves And set them upright at their dear friends’ door, Even when their sorrows almost was forgot, And on their skins, as on the bark of trees, Have with my knife carved in Roman letters, “Let not your sorrow die though I am dead.” Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things As willingly as one would kill a fly, And nothing grieves me heartily indeed But that I cannot do ten thousand more.
So, two gleeful confessions of complete and utter wickedness, both written in highly regular, rhetorically ornate blank verse. Which do you prefer?
If you don’t mind taking an extra moment, please leave a comment explaining your vote. A future post will examine the results, and assess the strengths and weakness of each passage. Reader feedback would be a great addition to that discussion.
Thanks for reading, thanks for voting, and cheers!