The Hobbit is coming out, none too soon! If a hobbit and thirteen thirsty dwarves turn up on your doorstep, what kind of beer should you have on hand?
In honor of the upcoming Hobbit movies I’ve been informally polling brewing friends on what they think a Hobbit would drink, or a Dwarf. Or a princely Dwarf, for that matter. One wag said Hobbits would drink short beer, which (by the way) is a real beer style with lots of historical precedent. My friend Matt Garland pointed out that Tolkien himself said they drank butter beer, a term co-opted by the Harry Potter people since. The recipes online for butter beer tend to include ice cream or caramel syrup, which I doubt Tolkien envisioned.
I re-read The Hobbit, and made a list of all the beverages mentioned. The list was longer than I expected, mostly from the day the dwarves invade Bilbo’s home for the first time and everyone asks for whatever they please. The book mentions several kinds of beer: ale, stout, porter. Mead and port come up. Gandalf asks for a glass of red wine. In their travels, Bilbo and the dwarves must drink water for the most part.
My totally informal poll is by no means closed. I think it’s an amusing debate, particularly over dinner and a glass of whatever, so if you have an opinion don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment here. Maybe I should open up the question – if you think Hobbits and Dwarves would drink something other than beer or mead, by all means let’s consider the possibilities.
Here are the suggestions made to date for what hobbits and dwarves drink, loosely in order of brew color. Lest you think we’re including everything there is, let me assure you that there are hundreds of different styles – well, a hundred twenty-five and counting, according to the Brewers Association. We’ve only listed six!
Hobbits : weissbeer amber ale red ale heather gruit English Southern Brown Ale (or brown ale in general) stout
Most of the votes were for brown ale, so far. I have only one vote for stout, from my very-beer-savvy (and not afraid to buck the tide if he thinks he’s right) friend Carl Swan.
The list for Dwarves is much shorter. I like the suggestion of ice wine or ice beer, myself. I see them drinking simpler beverages, in the sense that they’d have fewer ingredients but be very finely crafted. I see the men of Gondor making much more complicated brews. For a princely Dwarf of proud lineage like Thorin Oakenshield, the call is unanimous for golden mead. If you’re not familiar with this glorious wine-like beverage made from fermented honey, mead comes in many colors too, depending on the type of honey and what-all else you put into it (spices, fruit etc). A mead made from light-to-medium honey, like clover, orange blossom or wildflower, would be golden, and I think it would probably be what we call a traditional mead – only water, honey, and yeast, without other flavorants. Some herbs, such as elderflower, hyssop, or rosemary, impart flavor but not color, so some taste variety is possible. Also possible is a slightly (very slightly) stronger-flavored honey, as long as it ferments out golden. Stronger flavors in honey tend to come with darker color, though that’s not an absolute rule. I’d go as far as including a medium amber to meet the term “golden”. Any darker starts having the same color as bronze or tarnished copper (though a mead should be relatively clear), which may be delicious but is not the point. Mesquite or cotton honey…though I don’t see those growing in places easy for Dwarves to reach (no pun intended); they’d have to trade far for it.
OK all you Hobbit fans – what trees or plants appear in The Hobbit that the bees might have had access to, where someone could have access to bees? I know there are crops, flowers, and trees mentioned. Hie ye forth and gather me names! Some scholar is going to point out that this is an English book and the plants I’ve mentioned aren’t particularly English plants, and they’d be right, but I”m not sure it’s relevant. I think the only thing that really counts is what could exist inside the story.
I’ve written this from the point of view of a Southern woman who wants to have the right things on hand (as Bilbo did) should a wizard come knocking on her door. Hospitality is terribly important. This begs other questions, though, to be addressed in another post: What ought a hobbit or a dwarf drink, outside the boundaries of our one tale? What would I make or serve the actors themselves?