I like to think that my resistance to marketing ploys is greater than average, but it turns out that a moderately strong craft ale named “Valar Morghulis” is enough to draw me in.
The brewer is Ommegang, in Cooperstown, New York, out where the Tri-State Area’s notion of “upstate New York” as “anything over the river” really starts to blend into “nowhere.” Basically, if you extend the border of Massachusetts and Vermont out to the longitude on which New Jersey begins to turn into Pennsylvania, you get the Otsego Lake, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a brewer with a license to capitalize on an extremely popular series of books and the associated cable-TV series.
One imagines it’s somewhat north of The Twins, and maybe even Moat Cailin, perhaps as far as Winterfell.
The beer itself is a dubbel ale, at 8% alcohol by volume, and the bottle holds 1 pint, 9.4 ounces. The cork is the kind that can’t be put back into the bottle once it’s removed — which is either a problem or a good excuse. For the label, some copywriter somewhere had the enviable assignment of writing:
When confronted with the most feared saying in High Valyrian, take a sip and choose your words wisely, for all men must die, and all men must serve. Enjoy rich aromas of caramel and ripe fruit with deep flavors of malty sweetness and fruity esters.
By way of explanation, “valar morghulis” is a phrase used by an order of assassins in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series of novels. One of the main characters in the series, Arya Stark, flirts with initiation into the order and uses the phrase in the same way that Samuel L. Jackson uses Ezekiel 25:17 in Pulp Fiction. In more mature usage, though, it’s a phrase of identification, to which the non-initiate had best respond “valar dohaeris,” which means “all men must serve.” (And wouldn’t you know, that phrase is printed on the one-use-only cork.)
The ale has a smooth, slightly smoky flavor, with an aftertaste of caramel. All in all, it’s an excellent flavor for the Halloween portion of Autumn.
And as luck would have it, dinner was an Italian Stromboli, with sharp cheddar cheese and mild banana peppers. The flavors blended well.
My only objection is that the bottle credits HBO with the trademark, and not Bantam Books. The world of craft beers and the linguistic links to marketable products in the fantasy-novel realm seems like it ought to be more associated with a book series than a cinematic replica.
On the other hand, the video tie-in might be understandable, inasmuch as it would be much easier to watch the film adaptation than to read the books after finishing off a large bottle of this strongish beer.
In any event, so begins the quest for remaining bottles of the first three beers of the series. A bookworm in the Internet age can’t help but be warmed by the fact that all things worth having cannot (yet) be summoned with a Google search.