As Marge Simpson says in a Tree House of Horror episode, “Hmm, I guess you should judge a book by its cover. ” And a nearby secret agent agrees, “Definitely! Especially if you count the inside flap as part of the cover, it usually gives you a great idea of what the book's about.”
You might argue about whether this is actually true of certain books, but in any case, how about beer? Can you judge a beer by looking at its label?
A literary drinking buddy and I were knocking back a bottle of Spiral Jetty that I’d brought home from Utah. I asked him how he liked it. “It’s fine,” he said, “but somehow it doesn’t taste the way I expect a beer called Spiral Jetty to taste, but then I don’t really know how I expect a beer called Spiral Jetty to taste. Salty? Sandy? Arty? Of the land?”
A good point, I thought, and I had no answer, only more questions, for instance: how should a beer taste that’s called Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale and has a label like this one?:
Should it be acidic, psychedelic, distorted, hair-curling, a bit sixties? In fact it was perfectly OK – a bit cloudy, a bit thin, and to my ravaged taste buds without any taste of orange, bloody or otherwise. But I don’t blame the beer for not living up to its label, because really how could it?
And how about a beer that has a label showing Thelonius Monk, with a keyboard halo and a skull? Should it be improvisational, dissonant, idiosyncratic, straight with no chaser? I had no idea.
Again, I thought that a probably no beer could live up to that image on the label, but then I tasted it and wow – it totally knocked my socks off. It was intense strong, dark, tangy, smooth, complex – most of these traits definitely shared with the great Thelonius. And the best thing of all – regardless of any label – if you drink enough of it, it gets you nicely drunk.