Beer Valley’s Highway to Ale & Easy Rider

Hey there, Drinkers!

Tonight…I’m drunk on a very strong barleywine out of Oregon and watching an American classic about stoner bikers traveling across the country. So, in a word, tonight is all about America. Now, that actually comes off as mildly sarcastic and cynical but the truth of the matter is that tonight’s combo is, truly, about Americana.  So let’s get riding with Beer Valley’s Highway to Ale & Easy Rider.

The 1969 Dennis Hopper-directed film Easy Rideris one of those films that, as s film student, you discuss as being a formative moment in American cinema without ever really watching it. On the surface, I get that. It’s fairly easy to talk about Easy Rider in terms of its visual and narrative style as a break from “traditional” American filmmaking without actually watching much of the film. You can kind of get the idea from just watching one scene. Easy Rider is largely plotless and uses jarring flash-cut transitions, which stands in contrast to the “seamlessness” of most mainstream American films from that time. However, after watching this film, I came to realize that this film not only serves as a stylistic change of pace for American filmmaking but also acts as a document of a country at odds with itself. Produced and released in the throes of the late-60’s counterculture, Easy Rider is less about its protagonists’ drug-fueled journey from Los Angeles to New Orleans and more about their perspective on a country that is at war with itself and its past.

America on wheels

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper play stoner-bikers who are carrying cocaine (?) across the country with a delivery in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. But that’s not really what the film is about. It’s mostly just an excuse to have our characters on motorcycles. In fact, you’d really only catch this plot if you were paying close attention. As cliche as it sounds, the film is more about the journey than it is about the destination itself. As the two easy riders motor across the country, they encounter a hippie commune, an alcoholic alien conspiracy theorist (played incredibly by Jack Nicholson), racist sheriffs, adoring tweenie girls and two friendly whores.  But again, the film is not exactly about these people but what aspect of the country the reflect. You have the traditionalists who want to shave our long-haired protagonists, the blissfully ignorant-yet-curious youth, the disenchanted professional and the drifters. You have untouched landscapes, small American towns, bustling urban landscapes. Every sequence in this film seems to represent, and accurately capture, a different slice of  an America that is colliding with its own past. And while the film itself is not too exciting and the ending wholly unnecessary, it is still an important and engaging film. For those in the right mindset, I think this film can really speak volumes about this nation. But to the more casual viewer, you will probably get pretty bored of looking at Peter Fonda’s perfectly formed chin and Dennis Hopper’s thick-ass mustache. For me, I didn’t fall in love with Easy Rider (I have a problem with plotless films) but I think I can still appreciate what it does with regard to both its unconventional narrative style and its presentation of an important crossroads in American history.

Kinda the film’s attitude towards everything

And now that we’re done with that surprisingly serious and “well thought out” review of Easy Rider, let’s talk about a very strong beer that still has me reeling. I am, of course, talking about Beer Valley’s Highway to Ale barleywine. I’ve reviewed some barleywines in the past (here and here) but I think this is strongest one I’ve tasted so far. Weighing in at a heavy 10.5% ABV, this may be the second strongest beer I’ve every had (number one being the incredible Allagash Curieux). And even though I’ve had stronger, this is probably the booziest beer I’ve ever had, meaning that I could both taste and feel the alcohol moreso than in other high ABV beers. Though you get distinct notes of malt, caramel and fruit, the most defining characteristic of this beer is its bitter booziness. And, to be honest, I found this beer to be a little much. I’ve been on a bit of an IPA kick recently, so I’m no stranger to bitterness but I found this beer to be on the harsh side. Other drinkers on Beer Advocate described this beer as “smooth” but I only found that smoothness once the beer warmed up a bit. In fact, I think I began to enjoy the beer much more once it had been out of the fridge for an hour or so. That may be just a result of me having consumed more alcohol, but I found that the flavors mellowed out a bit as the beer warmed, cutting into the harsh bitterness of this barleywine. For you curious drinkers, I’d say give this one a shot but bear in mind that this beer is not for the feint of heart. It’s strong, flavorful and packs a bit of a punch. If you’re  a more casual drinker, I’d suggest working your way up to this one. Or maybe just try a sip from your friend’s cup. That might be a safer option for everyone.

So that’s it, folks. Truly an interesting evening. Easy Rider and Highway to Ale left me with mixed feelings. Easy Rider is a great cross-section of this country in the later 1960’s but it kind of drifts in and out of the point that it wants to make. And as for the barleywine? It’s definitely an experience. It’s a good beer in my opinion, but only once you’ve let it sit out for awhile. Straight out of the fridge it can be a bit overwhelming but if you give it some time, it’ll give you something to think about.

Tonight’s Tasting Notes:
Beer Valley’s Highway to Ale:
-Drunk-inducing 10.5% ABV
-Tasty beer but a bit harsh
-Warms incredibly well. I’d suggest giving it time

Easy Rider
-The conflicted side of the counter-culture
-Plotless, directionless and proud of it
-Jack Nicholson is crazy and fantastic

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