After a 3-1/2 month hiatus1, I am happy to report that the St. Cecilia Brewery is back on track.
This month’s offering-to-be has as its base an English Stout, with good English yeast, Northdown and Willamette hops, and some rich-smelling roasted barley and chocolate malt. To the mix I’m adding some rolled oats2 and just a hint of cocoa powder. The oats should add some creaminess and body, and the cocoa should add….well, good stuff. Chocolate.
We here at St. Cecilia love Stout, whether Irish, American, or English, but the English always hold a certain special place in our hearts. Just as the English musicians do. So who gets the honor of having his name grace our Stout? A beer that promises such richness, taste, subtlety, and magnificence needs a composer who can live up to the name Stout. And in thinking of Stout Composers, there’s only one name that comes immediately to mind: England’s favorite adopted son, George Handel. Yes, he was a Saxon by birth, and to his dying day spoke the Queen’s English with (by all accounts) an endearing German accent. But 45 years’ time on the Sceptred Isle left its mark on the man, to be sure: this is, after all, the creator of such beloved monuments as the Water Music (for royal boat parties on the Thames), Zadok the Priest, the Chandos Anthems, and (lest we forget), Messiah.
“Handel’s general look was somewhat heavy and sour; but when he did smile, it was his sire the sun, bursting out of a black cloud. There was a sudden flash of intelligence, wit, and good humour, beaming in his countenance, which I hardly saw in any other. The figure of Handel was large, and he was somewhat corpulent, and unwieldy in his motion; but his countenance, which I remember as perfectly as that of any man I saw but yesterday, was full of ire and dignity; and such as impressed ideas of superiority and genius. He was impetuous, rough, and peremptory in his manners and conversations, but totally devoid of ill-nature or malevolence. Handel, with many virtues, was addicted to no vice that was injurious to society. Nature, indeed, required a great supply of sustenance to support such a huge mass, and he was rather epicurean in the choice of it; but this seems to have been the only appetite he allowed himself to gratify.” – Charles Burney (1785)
There are numerous anecdotes and witty remarks attributed to Handel, which, whether they are apocryphal or not, belie a man of sharp intellect, quick thought, and sardonically good humor. In short, Mr. Handel represents the very zenith answer to the perennial pub question, “with which composer would you most like to have a beer?”
For now, we’ll leave you with these two gems. The inimitable Harry Christophers leads his top-notch band The Sixteen at the 2009 BBC Proms (speaking of Englishness…). That’s Carolyn Sampson in the first video3, in an aria from Semele. Note the archlute next to the harp in front of the podium. No games.
And the real money-maker:
And that’s why Handel is one of Our Favorite Composers.
1 for no good reason, beyond “life got in the way”…what’s that, you say? Brewing is life? Shut up and read the post.
2 ask 5 people and you’ll get 6 different opinions on the use of oats in extract brewing, but I’m going with the experience and advice of fellow-brewer JT, who assures me to go for it — and who’s beer I’ve sampled. And it was good.
3 Handel here pokes fun at both Sopranos and deity-loving Greek mythological figures, a joke that is largely lost on the Sopranos, who tend to view it as a flattering self-portrait.