Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Death of Cthulhu

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wagh'nagl fhtgan ("In his house at R'lyeh, Cthulhu waits dreaming"). 

H.P. Lovecraft's masterpiece, The Call of Cthulhu, is one of my favorite works of fiction.  Published in February 1928, it is a short story  from the perspective of Francis Wayland Thurston, who discovers notes left behind after the death of his grand uncle, George Gammell Angell, a linguistics professor at Brown University.  Thurston finds a small bas-relief sculpture among those notes, which he describes as "simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon and a human caricature." The notes themselves reveal that, in 1907, the New Orleans police, led by officer John Raymond Legrasse, intervened during a ritual by an all-male cult.  After killing five of the cultists and arresting the remaining forty-seven members, Legrasse learns that the cult worships the "the Great Old Ones" and is awaiting the return of Cthulhu.

Thurston further investigates Cthulhu, and, to make a short story even shorter (you should, after all, read the original story yourself), he receives a manuscript from the widow of a dead sailor.  That manuscript recounts an uncharted island where there is a "nightmare corpse city" known as R'lyeh. The sailor's crew tried to understand the non-Euclidean geometry of the city, but were unable to do so.  Eventually, the crew accidentally released Cthulhu, who killed most of the crew.  The sailor was the only one who escaped and lived to tell the story. 

Last year, I spotted the visage of an octopus, dragon and person resembling the Great Old One.  Only, it was in the form of The Death of Cthulhu, a beer from Adroit Theory. The label depicted the monster, with the following passage: 
In the darkest depths of the ocean slumbers the Great Old One, for whom this humanity and so-called life means little. So transcendent is he, so free of the bondage of rules and regulations we so desperately adhere to for meaning, that we are drawn either to his cult or his destruction.
Between the reference to Cthulhu and the label, this beer got my attention and I knew that I had to do my own investigation into the Great Old One.

The investigation first began with the style.  Any beer that is based upon a reference to the Great Old One must involve a beer style that is dark, with a sense of foreboding. After all, do you honestly think that a ghastly monster -- part octopus, part dragon, part human -- could haunt the label of a Hefeweizen?  Would such a beast be the best marketing vehicle for an American Light Lager? While I would not put it past the marketing people of Molson Coors to put Cthulhu on a bottle of Miller Chill (after all, the green skin is a perfect reflection of the lime taste of the beer, LOL). But, Cthulhu would have to look something like this ...

But, even in fiction, there is a reality.

Returning to Lovecraft's work itself, Cthulhu is described as "a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious clause on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind."  Something that terrible has to be associated with a dark beer style.

But, not just any dark beer. the style has to have a seemingly impenetrable murkiness, something that could hide such a malevolent force  appears to be hiding a deadly secret that does not want to be found. something that is murky and projects a foreboding feeling as it pours into the bottle. Few styles could achieve such results, but a Russian Imperial Stout is one of them.

Like any Russian Imperial Stout, the Death of Cthulhu pours a very dark color, near total blackness, light the depths of the ocean.  Its near impenetrable liquid is covered with a light brown foam.  The foam provides a temporary veil from which the aromas of the beer try to escape.  Aromas such as dark toasted malts, chocolate, and some dark stone fruit.  Those elements call out for a sip, which, when taken, reveals the deep dark character of the beer.  There is definitely dark chocolate notes, even some coffee tones, in the beer, which give rise to a somewhat surprisingly smooth finish.  Who would have thought that Cthulhu or its death could have been so smooth.

I have to say that artwork alone makes this beer a winner, but it is also a very good example of a Russian Imperial Stout.  I found this beer in Williamsburg, Virginia, where it sold for $13.39 a bottle.  My only regret is not buying a second bottle.


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