Many of us might think we're a poet after a few too many beers, but comedy writer Sam Wagner can rightfully claim the title “beer poet.” His book The Poetry of Beer, which was released during L.A. Beer Week, is the first compilation of original poems about beer (poem titles include “What the Burp Do We Do Now?”), and it's for sure the only one that was written with a serious attention to traditional poetic forms.
The Poetry of Beer began a few years ago, when the recent L.A. transplant was a creative writing major at a liberal arts college in upstate New York. He applied for a grant through the school that would allow him to pen a book of beer poetry, saying he would use the money to cover informational beer books, travel to a few local brewers, beer for “research sessions” (aka drink beer with his friends) and publishing costs. He won the grant and spent a year compiling humorous opinions, off-kilter thoughts and comedic descriptions on his favorite beverage from both novices and experts.
“They say write what you know,” Wagner says. “And I know about beer.”
He also spent time researching obscure and arcane poetic forms — from the clerihew to the villanelle to the ballade — and various metrical lines, from iambic pentameter to skeltonic verse. The result was nearly 30 beer poems, ranging from the short-and-sweet “Pop Sip” (which was written in the shape of a beer bottle) to the two-page “IPA,” a rant about the confounding popularity of the “soap-y,” “crayon-y” “aftertaste of pollution-y,” overly bitter beer style.
There's a sonnet that appreciates the invention of beer and laments a life without it, just as Shakespeare did with his “fairest creatures.” There's also an ode to Saranac Brewing's Prism White Ale — his favorite craft beer during college — written only using words that contain the vowel “i.”
“I wanted to apply the art of poetry to my favorite art form: beer,” Wagner says. “I wanted to make people aware of the different facets of beer. There's brewing technology, beer styles, beer names, beer history. So much goes into it. Beer is more than a beer pong liquid.”
Wagner moved to Los Angeles last year and, while checking out new local breweries, ended up at MacLeod Ale Brewing Company in Van Nuys. With four months before L.A. Beer Week, MacLeod owners Jennifer and Alastair Boase suggested he revive his beer poetry book, write some new poems, do some readings at the brewery and let them host an art show.
A ton of hand-drawn art and six new poems later (including one about MacLeod itself), a gussied-up version of the original The Poetry of Beer is now available for sale at the MacLeod tasting room, the Pub at Golden Road Brewery and online through Wagner's website.
“People outside of beer are probably unaware that it's art,” he says. “If they're only drinking Bud Light, I'm sure they're thinking, 'How can there be poetry about beer?'”