I picked up the Ithaca Box of Belgians: 12 bottles of four different Belgian-style beers. The first Music Box series went well, so I decided let’s do it again! Beer tasting is subjective and influenced by everything from your mood to who you’re with. So, why not lean in to that and listen to a full album while drinking the beer and see what happens?
The beer: Ithaca Obscurité (Belgian Stout)
The music: Zoë Keating, Into the Trees (2010)
Ed. note: I wrote this way back on June 13 but am just now getting around to posting it. Maybe I should have waited a full year.
Continuing the trend of expanding my horizons: some orchestral music! Is this “classical”? I don’t really know what that means, or if I’m using it right.
The warm, deep string tones right off the bat really tickle the right spots for me. The Obscurité smells like an imperial stout, rich and malty and fruity. The taste is right there too, a bit of Belgiany spice at the end, some bitterness that could be from the roast or could be from the yeast, and maybe a bit of thinness in the body right in the finish that belies that it’s not imperial. Well. We’re talking about Ithaca here: for all I know this is 11 damn percent1.
“Escape Artist” kind of sounds like Apocalyptica’s version of “Nothing Else Matters.” Wow. Not to the Metallica reference, but this music. This music! Pounding drums, full, sweeping instrumentals. I didn’t know how much I loved Zoë Keating.
I realized as I was starting this post that I haven’t talked about the pairing of the beer with the music much during Music Box. I did a bit during EMA, but that was two great tastes that tasted kind of out of place together. Here, the bass in the music matches well with the rich maltiness of the beer.
The album art is of Keating in the woods, and the title includes “trees,” so I’m picturing myself alone in a forest somewhere. This could be a forest beer. If I had one complaint it’s that the stout swallows some of the “Belgian.” Some, not all. Possibly none at all, now that I think about it. Stouts are a category where dark fruits and esters can be appropriate, if they’re strong enough, so I think some of the yeast is being miscategorized. Yeast erasure. I apologize.
If I may torture a metaphor: the yeast in the beer is some of the strings in the music. I don’t know which ones: what am I, a musicologist? Oh wow, spellcheck tells me that’s a real word. Huh. Anyway: much of the percussion actually takes the form of staccato plucks at, y’know, some string instrument or another2. Listening casually it sounds like maybe some odd-sounding tom hits3, but on closer inspection they’re actually strings. The same goes for some of the flavors I initially thought were malt but are actually yeast.
“Lost” is both calming and stressful. The music’s tempo reminds me of quick breaths in and out, the kind that trigger anxiety like magic. But the tone of it sounds deep, soothing. Michael Dorn, hyperventilating in my ears. I think I like this beer the best out of the lot. But then, I might just have been burnt out on IPAs, Belgian or not, and the Laissez-Faire tasted good but, as a tripel, wasn’t necessarily the Belgian style I like best.
By the end of “Hello Night” I’ve realized just how relaxing Zoë Keating’s music is. I may have said this before, but The Animatrix: The Album has been my de-stress album of choice for years, maybe some Peace Orchestra or Lemon Jelly if I want to mix things up, but Into the Trees comes close to aural muscle relaxant. I don’t think it sets out to be calming, which is what makes it all the better: sort of like Evil Dead vs Dead Alive4. Then again, this song is called “Don’t Worry.”
I think this album would pair even better with Double Zilla or Nugget Nectar. A little lighter than the Obscurité, a little more woodsy in the hops. Obscurité tastes like a canopied forest, good for solitary contemplation. An imperial red would add a bit of light.
“Zinc” sounds like a song out of the Thomas Was Alone soundtrack, minimal and a little glitchy around the edges. I love that game, and its soundtrack, so I welcome this development.
As “Legions (Forest)” starts, with a very strange pulling, stretching sound, I reflect on this and the past three Music Boxes. I’ve lucked out, truly, with the music and the beer. I bought all of the albums in this second series except for Beyonce’s, and I absolutely could not be happier with that decision. I’d say I’ll see you the next time Ithaca releases a Box of Something, but I would be lying. I have plans. See you soon, dear reader5.
I looked it up: 10.1%. Seriously. Seriously, Ithaca. Stop. ↩
I knew she was a cellist, and apparently the music is her layered and looped, so everything I’m hearing is cello. Good to know. ↩
Yeah, I know drums a bit better. Rock Band. ↩
I apologize to the Dead Alive fandom, if such a thing exists. ↩
“See you soon”, he said, and left this post as a draft for eight months. ↩