Beer for Beethoven

Original Gravity concert curator Keith Kirchoff pairs local brews with classical masterpieces.


Classical music isn’t confined to the concert hall. Lately, we’ve heard it performed in local bars and living rooms, and this Wednesday brings sweet strains to some new terrain: a brewery. Pairing works by local composers with local brews, the Original Gravity concert series kicks off at 7 pm on July 30 with a night of works by Boston-based composer Peter Van Zandt Lane and beers from Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewing Company. Eventually, the Original Gravity crew aim to have composers working with brewers to create beers to suit their specific sounds. But in the meantime, we tapped concert curator Keith Kirchoff—a pianist, composer and avid home brewer himself—for his musical matches for four choice local brews.


Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes + Trillium Brewing Company’s Fort Point Pale Ale

Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes are the quintessential piano studies. They are incredibly flashy and entertaining, wildly virtuosic, easy to digest and understand, and when that last note is played, the audience immediately leaps to their feet clamoring for more.
What better beer than Fort Point Pale Ale? A virtuosic ale if there ever were such a thing, the drinker is hit in the face with flashy citrus hop aromas that just dance out of the glass. It’s easy drinking, and when that last drop is sipped, I’m immediately jumping to my feet and reaching for another!

Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan und Isolde + Jack’s Abby Brewing’s Coffee Framinghammer

I cannot think of a more soulful composer that sums up the profundity of human emotion than Wagner. With Tristan und Isolde, Wagner expresses deep love, intense longing and overwhelming loss; I have never listened to this heart-wrenching piece without crying by the end. This piece will take a listener on a very deep journey and force him or her to confront potentially painful truths about themselves, their relationships and the world around them.
For such a profound work, I suggest Jack’s Abby’s Coffee Framinghammer. One of the most profound beers I’ve ever tasted, this barrel-aged Baltic porter is rich, thick and deep. It is a slow sipper that encourages private contemplation. With subtle coffee notes and rich flavors of chocolate, vanilla, bourbon and oak, it’s not a party beer any more than Tristan is party music.

John Zorn’s Aporias: Requia for Piano and Orchestra + Night Shift Brewing’s Art #21 Farmhouse Bramble

Perhaps best known for his work as a jazz composer, John Zorn is also a highly prolific and tremendously creative composer of classical music. Like most of his music, his piano concerto Aporias blends dozens of different musical genres, ranging from classical to rock, jazz to metal, blues to minimalism. The piece balances so many diverse styles that it is a difficult piece to classify: Is it classical? Or is it more of a rock concerto?
Wildly creative, Zorn refuses to be boxed into committing to any one style or way of doing things. And there isn’t a better brewery to pair with such an aesthetic than Night Shift Brewing. They similarly refuse to be boxed into one style or conform to style regulations, and their beers blur the lines between IPAs, stouts and sours. (They have previously released a white stout and currently are pouring a summer porter.) And though many of their beers would pair perfectly with the music of Zorn, I feel Farmhouse Bramble might just be the best fit for Aporias. The beer is a barrel-aged dark saison that combines blackberries and grape musk. Like Aporias, it’s fun, entertaining, a little challenging and a tad brooding.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 Enlightenment Ales’ Transcendence

With the very first notes of its ethereal opening, this piece grabs the listener by the ear and entices him or her into a sense of anticipation and active listening. It’s not long before these suspenseful opening phrases blossom and reveal the power and majesty of this piece, taking the listener on a truly epic journey unlike any other in music history…. Besides this immediate impact, the symphony’s depth, intricacies and subtleties are what has kept it alive in our musical culture nearly 200 years after its composition; no matter how many times a person may listen to or perform this work, the listener or performer is always discovering something new.
To pair with such a piece, one needs a beer that can also evolve over time. Because of the symphony’s length (the work clocks in at around an hour), the corresponding beer must be one that has an immediate impact and draws in the taster, but also contains so many details and nuances that it remains interesting and new to the very last drop. Transcendence from Enlightenment Ales does exactly this: There is an immediate fruitiness to the beer that draws one in, and the wild yeasts lend such a menagerie of funky flavors, it may take that full hour to fully wrap your head around this magnificent beer.


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