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The final season of Game of Thrones, the greatest achievement in televised violence and incest since Dexter, has proceeded, so far, at a surprisingly measured pace, considering the season’s abbreviated six-episode length and the intimidating number of still-unresolved plot threads. We can safely expect that’ll change tonight, with Jon, Dany, and their patchwork army playing horde mode against the Night King at Winterfell. Characters we love are going to die (alas, poor Beric), and while George R. R. Martin’s obsession with being unpredictable often ends up being its own kind of predictability, at the moment it doesn’t feel like anyone’s especially safe.
“Who will end up on the Iron Throne?” is the show’s marquee gambling proposition. It’s never seemed more beside the point, supplanted as the central question of the show by “Will the White Walkers kill literally everyone?” But the former is the question I’ll be attempting to answer today, based on Ommegang’s release of four GoT-branded beers, each named after a major character. I mean to read the hop leaves, as it were, and award the throne to the contender with the best brew.
The reviews will contain spoilers for the series to date, because I just don’t think this would be as interesting without looking at how these beers tie in with with the show’s storylines and characters. The thing about Beric above isn’t a spoiler, it just seems inevitable. Anyway, proceed with caution.
KING IN THE NORTH
It’s explicit early on in George R. R. Martin’s first book that stout is the beer of the North, so there’s no question this style is thematically appropriate for Jon Snow, a born-and-bred northerner notwithstanding his secret parentage. Maybe you can quibble about it being an imperial stout, which requires a whole lot of barley that may not be so readily available in the North’s shortened growing season; or about it being whiskey barrel aged, because I can’t recall any evidence that whiskey (or really any hard liquor other than rum) exists in the world of Game of Thrones, though the barrels would certainly see repeated re-use if it did.
King in the North pours appropriately black with a light, fluffy head that vanishes quickly. The base beer is decidedly more bitter than sweet, but not quite as aggressive as a North Coast Old Rasputin. The whiskey character is subtle, but does produce a chocolatey, woody, and satisfying finish. This would be a very good imperial stout without consideration for branding or lore. I also think it’s a good distillation (metaphorically speaking) of Jon’s character, a beer that’s sturdy and even-keeled, strong, but not loud.
lady snow says: It has a very barleywine smell to me. Pretty boozy, can taste the barrel aging. I don’t agree that it’s especially subtle, the whiskey is the first thing I notice. And it’s bitter, too. It’s definitely a winter-type beer. I don’t think it suits Jon Snow’s personality so much because it’s bitter, and I wouldn’t describe Jon as bitter. He doesn’t have time to be bitter because he’s got stuff to take care of. But I could definitely see him drinking this kind of beer on the Wall.
MOTHER OF DRAGONS
Befitting Daenerys Targaryen’s complex background, Mother of Dragons is a blend of two very different styles. Westeros is, of course, basically Britain, so it makes sense that one half of the blend is in the very British imperial porter style, smoked, of course, as a reference to Dany’s affinity for fire and connection with her dragons. Mother of Dragons also supplies the other half of House Targaryen’s “Fire and Blood” motto in the form of a red Belgian cherry kriek, a sufficiently exotic style for Dany’s formative experiences across the Narrow Sea. If it were up to me, I might have snuck some habaneros (or worse) into this recipe just to give it some real heat, but I know chili beers aren’t for everyone.
Mother of Dragons is very dark brown, near-black, with some faint red highlights. The head is dense and lingering. I’d have expected the smoke in this beer to be the defining element, but it’s fairly faint. It’s noticeably tart, then finishes sweet, not unlike a Belgian oud bruin. As a matter of fact, I’d say the cherry and sour elements of this outweigh the smoked porter, and maybe that’s story-appropriate; Dany’s heritage may be Westerosi, but her personality is rooted more than anything in the harsh practical education she’s received in Essos. Still, I think this beer underdelivers on its “Fire and Blood” theme.
lady snow says: It smells like Worcestershire sauce.
make it snow: One hundred percent. The two traditional beer styles that it reminds me most of are oud bruin and Flanders red, which both frequently remind me of Worcestershire sauce.
lady snow says: I’m getting prunes and cherries on the taste. And sourness. It’s definitely not overly sweet. There’s a bit of bitterness, too. I’m not really picking up on the smoke at all. I doubt Dany smells like Worcestershire sauce. I guess there is that association with putting it on steak, with grilling, fire, I don’t know, I’m stretching here. I can see it in the sense that Dany looks like a very sweet woman, so the fruitiness on the front end is appropriate, but she’s actually likely to kick your ass, which suits the sour, bitter finish.
HAND OF THE QUEEN
Much more than the first two characters, borderline ascetics whose few indulgences in any sort of pleasure are treated throughout the series as highly noteworthy departures, Tyrion Lannister likes to drink. Tyrion likes beer but loves wine, so “the wine of beers” is a very sound stylistic choice for him even if it doesn’t correspond directly to any in-universe Westerosi beverage. Arguably it’s a bit of a miss that this isn’t the strongest beer of the quartet (10.7% ABV to King in the North’s weighty 11%), considering Tyrion’s prodigious tolerance (and often even more prodigious appetite) for hard drink.
Hand of the Queen is a lovely garnet-brown. It’s ironically the prettiest of these beers for, by authorial direction at least, the ugliest character. It’s unsubtle, all caramel and brown sugar and banana bread and none of these flavors come in any small measure, and it’s here that I’m starting to see the downside to assigning Tyrion a barleywine: His character’s first and foremost defined by being smart, but second by being subtle, and there’s really no sublety here. Hand of the Queen hits like Sandor Clegane. It’s delicious, but it’s mismatched with its subject.
lady snow says: This smells and tastes like a textbook barleywine. I don’t know that I have anything intelligent to say about it, which I know is in direct opposition to everything Tyrion represents as a character. I do think it’s a beer a heavy wine drinker would enjoy.
make it snow says: I’m not 100% certain I’m remembering the text correctly here, but if I am, Tyrion prefers richer, sweeter reds from the Arbor.
lady snow says: Yeah, and this is definitely one of the sweeter beer styles, so I think it would suit his preferences if not his personality.
QUEEN OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS
Like her brother, Cersei Lannister is an enthusiastic wine drinker, with a particular preference for sour Dornish reds. Sour wine, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a major retail category these days, but sour beer is, and so it’s no surprise that Queen of the Seven Kingdoms is a sour beer. While a Flemish red ale would have been more directly on target than a golden sour, Flemish red is not a style I particularly enjoy, so I’m not going to be the one to complain about it.
This name is a bit of flattery, incidentally: Cersei claims the eponymous title, but at this point in the story she’s Queen of No More Than Five Kingdoms: Dorne as far as we know is still in open and effectively uncontested rebellion, despite a likely leadership crisis, and Jon Snow has claimed the title of King in the North. Despite the lack of a clean break, it’s very much in doubt that Cersei actually controls the Vale of Arryn either; Petyr Baelish didn’t exactly declare formal independence before bringing the Vale’s impressive and previously unused forces to bear against Cersei’s lieutenant in the North, Ramsay Bolton. But with Baelish dead, the Vale only seems more committed to its natural allies in the North.
Queen of the Seven Kingdoms pours pale gold, and it’s at this point I realize that it’s the perfect color for a Lannister queen. It’s unapologetically forward with its sourness, not a hybrid like Mother of Dragons, and that feels right for Cersei, who’s given to political maneuvering but never really deceptive about who she is. It’s not a dry sour by any means; the malt base has a clean, clear sweetness that balances the beer and gives you an idea how Cersei’s many suitors see her; they don’t fail to notice her acidity, but they overlook it for her beauty and charm, or for the perks their association with her can bring them.
lady snow says: I like sours, so of course I like this, but I definitely see how the sourness is a commentary on her character. She’s thrown away everything she ever cared about except for power. These beers sort of present Cersei and Dany as two sides of the same coin, women who seem very nice and personable, but that’s just not who they really are. Is it bad if I like this one best?
make it snow says: It’s bad for the people of Westeros! But it’s my favorite too.
So there you have it. Queen of the Seven Kingdoms is the best of these beers, and as a consequence, four weeks from now, Cersei Lannister—surely the show’s most widely despised character—will still be sitting on the Iron Throne. I’m sorry. I don’t like the result, but I got to drink four beers, so I can’t argue with the process.
make it snow is an alot of beer and an avid Game of Thrones viewer and A Song of Ice and Fire reader, and a Denver-based Broncos fan. The stout is dark and full of terrors.