"Game of Thrones" makes its long-awaited return to HBO on Sunday, and you’re going to need some beer to get through what is sure to be a drama-filled bloodbath.
Once again Brewery Ommegang has released a special "Game of Thrones"-inspired beer, and the Three Eyed Raven is a dark saison that mixes the fruit and spice character of a farmhouse ale with a roasty dark beer. It’s an interesting mash-up of styles, and you could make a case for a special brew like it being served at a royal feast in the fantastical realm of Westeros.
But what other types of beer could be filling the drinking horns of the (anti)heroes and (sympathetic) villains? Looking to the novels for clues doesn’t yield much. While author George R.R. Martin describes the wines of the realm in great detail, beer gets mentioned mostly in passing.
The word “beer” appears only 19 times in the entirety of the first book’s 800-odd pages, while “wine” is written well over 100 times, and R.R. Martin’s descriptions of these brews are about the only thing that he doesn’t expound upon in great detail. In book one, doomed king Robert offers his similarly doomed best bud Ned Stark a horn filled with brew that was “black and thick, so strong it stung the eyes."
The commander of the Nights Watch, Lord Mormont, was known for drinking a “thin, yellow beer” each morning (which he always took with a squeeze of lemon to ward off scurvy). Small beer — a style traditionally made to very low strength and often by re-using grains after a proper beer was brewed with them (like getting a second cup of tea from one tea bag) — is mentioned once, while “brown beer,” “black beer” and “dark beer” are the most common descriptions.
Consider brown ales of English ancestry as the modern brews most similar to the beer commonly available in Westeros. Brown ales don’t get a ton of attention in California’s craft brewing scene; they're just not flashy enough. But the way a brown ale can balance malt sweetness with hop flavors and robust yeast-derived esters makes them both very approachable and very drinkable.
Thankfully, there are some excellent varieties available to fill your flagon while enjoying the melodrama (and the dragons).
Golden Road Brewing — Get Up Offa That Brown. A well-rounded American brown ale, this is an often overlooked brew in the Golden Road catalog. It balances a slightly smoky, toasty malt character with just enough American hops for a brisk finish.
AleSmith Brewing — Nut Brown. A classic English-style brown ale, Nut Brown has a round and rich malt body with a fruity yeast character and that distinct earthy finish from English hops. It’s particularly vibrant when brewery-fresh.
King Harbor Brewing — Abel Brown with Coffee. A specialty brown ale that gets a dose of cold brewed coffee, Abel is the newest bottled offering from the year-old Redondo Beach Brewery. It’s under 5% alcohol, so you can refill your tankard a few times during the episode, and the extra depth provided by the coffee is perfectly matched to the malty body.
Eagle Rock Brewery — Solidarity Black Mild. This is perhaps the local brew most like what the average tavern patron in Westeros would be drinking, and Solidarity is every bit as complex as the characters living (and more often dying) on screen in "Game of Thrones." At under 4% alcohol, you’re going to need a few hornfuls to soften the blows that the Season 5 premiere will surely deal.
Also keep an eye out for Brekle’s Brown from Anchor Brewing, Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing in Colorado, and Saint Botolph's Town from Pretty Things Beer.