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As a big fan of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, I was excited to run across a bottle of Neptune the Mystic from Bell’s Brewery of Comstock, Mich.
Of all the strange but wonderful reasons for making a beer, this is just one entry in “a seven-part series inspired by Gustav Holst’s musical composition The Planets,” proclaims the copy on this beer’s back label.
Well, I’ll drink to that! What a kooky idea, but I love it. What’s next? The Goldberg Variations? Or Scheherezade, perhaps?
So I put on my favorite copy of The Planets, a 1970 recording on London Records of the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alfred Hitchcock maestro Bernard Herrmann, side 2, which ends with the mysterious and ethereal 8-minute, 10-second piece “Neptune, the Mystic.”
This piece still sends pleasant chills through my spine. It might be the best piece of outer space music ever written. I swear at times Holst and Herrmann make the orchestra and choir sound like a theremin, which is the ultimate outer space instrument, but had not yet been invented when Holst wrote his magnum opus in 1914-16. But Herrmann was well aware of it. Many credit him for first introducing theremins to outer space operas when he scored Robert Wise’s brilliant 1951 outer space film noir The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Holtz’s fadeout on angelic voices is powerful, suggesting that though we are passing the last planet in this corporal world, the journey continues into the infinite.
I have to play it a second time, this time thinking more about the beer than the music.
Neptune the Mystic (the beer) is big and dark. A large chunk of the front label is taken up with naming the ingredients. This is a kitchen sink beer. I’ll list them as the brewery does: Ale brewed with black pepper, hickory bark, dandelion root, spices, molasses, maple syrup, cayenne peppers, star anise, raisins and dates.
Oddly, other than a very faint whiff of molasses, this dense beer does not reveal much in the nose.
The palate is another thing. Wow! As the ingredients suggest, there is a lot going on here. Definitely get a comforting burn from the black pepper. Hickory bark and dandelion root I’ve not encountered in beers before, so not sure what to look for there. Earthy, maybe? If so, check! Star anise, check! Cayenne, check! A big dark fruit and alcohol finish. There are plenty of other things going on as well. Coffee. Toffee. The generic “spices” are probably bringing something, but so is the molasses (blackstrap, I hope). I search hard for the maple flavor and, finally, I find it early on in the explosion of flavors.
Ah, Neptune, please don’t tell the others, but I think you are my favorite. Or is that presumptuous since I haven’t even seen any of the others?
Let me put it this way, then. The six other planet beers would have to be pretty great to knock you from the pedestal I put you on.
All hail Neptune the Mystic!