It’s no accident that some of the most iconic detectives in literary history are beer lovers. Beer lubricates the gears and gets the mind humming. Nero Wolfe does some of his best thinking with a delicately poured glass of Remmers, and John Rebus has contemplated many a mystery over countless pints of Deuchars IPA in his favorite pub, the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh. And what would Harry Bosch do without a cold bottle of Fat Tire? Or Robert B. Parker’s Spenser without a Sam Adams, or a Blue Moon, or a Rolling Rock, or tall can of Budweiser? (Spenser may be the most beer obsessed private eye out there.) Robert Crais’ yoga loving gumshoe Elvis Cole even gives beer to his cat.
But readers needn’t let the detectives, or their cats, have all of the fun. From a cozy whodunit to a hard boiled noir, a good mystery and good beer go hand in hand. While I myself am partial to drinking a hoppy, West Coast style IPA while reading a dark, sinister thriller, there are many delicious combinations to try. Here’s a list of some of my favorite pairings.
John Burdett, Bangkok 8
Set in the seedy underworld of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok 8 throws Buddhist cop Sonchai Jitplecheep into a mystery teeming with prostitutes, jade merchants, crooked cops, and death by snakebite. While Thailand’s most popular beers, Singha and Chang, would seem the obvious choice, Burdett’s debut novel calls for something with a little more backbone. Snake Handler Double IPA from Good People Brewing Company in Birmingham, Alabama is produced a world away from Jitplecheep’s city. But with its aromas of pine, citrus, spice and pineapple, as well as an ABV of 10%, Snake Handler has the right amount of venom to pull you into Bangkok 8’s gritty mystery.
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Arguably one of Christie’s most cunning and shocking novels, and one of the Queen of Mystery’s own favorite works, the Murder of Roger Ackroyd deserves a brew that can stand up to the challenge. Hercule Stout from Brasserie Ellezelloise in Belgium is a self-proclaimed Belgian Stout honoring the country’s most famous detective. Dry and malty, and brewed without any spices or sugar, Hercule Stout is made in small batches and lagered for ten days in German oak casks. The result is a smooth, balanced beer with notes of red wine and coffee and a surprising hint of sweetness in the finish. Just like the novel, the twist at the end is a real kicker.
J.A. Konrath, Whiskey Sour
Wearing a London Fog trench coat and blue Armani blazer Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels is called out into the freezing Chicago rain to examine the corpse of a young woman stabbed multiple times. Stapled to the woman’s chest is a note reading: You can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man. So begins this tightly plotted and savagely funny mystery. The novel opens with a recipe for the Whisky Sour but a sour ale is an equally fitting companion to the first book in Konrath’s bestselling Jack Daniels series. Bubbly Creek with Yuzu from Marz Community Brewing in Chicago is a tart Berliner Weiss with notes of grapefruit, rosemary, and chardonnay. It’s a crisp, sour delight that will keep you humming through the pages of Konrath’s laugh out loud romp.
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
When Terry Lennox introduces Philip Marlowe to gimlets, the hard boiled, and hard drinking, private eye is immediately hooked. A gimlet is certainly the logical pairing for what many consider Chandler’s best novel, even though his recipe, half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice, is sickeningly sweet by today’s standards. And while Marlowe favored bourbon, The Long Goodbye goes surprising well with a cold Mexican lager like Tecate from Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Brewery in Monterrey. Marlowe didn’t question why his friend Lennox decided to fly off to Mexico immediately after the savage murder of his wife, and I ask you not to question what may seem like an illogical pairing. But trust me, Chandler’s hard boiled story of wealth and loyalty matches well with this refreshing beer that goes down easy despite the subtle hint of bitterness.
Arnaldur Indriðason, Jar City
The Icelandic author’s American debut is a modern mystery steeped in the past. The story finds veteran Reykjavik police inspector Erlendur Sveinsson working multiple cases: the murder of an accused rapist named Holberg, the assault of twin sisters, and the disappearance of a recently wed bride. As Sveinsson unravels the threads of each case he discovers Holberg may have been involved in rapes and murders dating decades back. This chilling Nordic noir calls for a beer deep and complex. Icelandic Wee Heavy, a Scotch Ale from Einstök Beer Company in Akureyri, Iceland (just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle) is brewed with native Icelandic angelica, an herb the ancient Vikings used as currency. Its rich, smoky flavor is the perfect match to a mystery full of dark themes and harsh landscapes.
Tana French, The Searcher
After twenty-five years with the Chicago police force newly divorced Cal Hooper has retired to a quaint Irish village in search of solitude. But his peace and quiet are thwarted when he befriends a thirteen year old boy whose older brother has disappeared. Eventually Cal slips back into detective mode and slowly, and casually, begins collecting information. The landscape of western Ireland is a major character in this taught thriller, and a Guinness or a Murphy’s Irish Red would fit the bill quite well. But for this slow burn of a mystery I believe a Guinness Nitro Cold Brew Coffee is the sensible choice. It’s an Irish stout full of smooth, rich, coffee flavor balanced between bitter and sweet. And the nice jolt of caffeine will keep you on your toes as Cal methodically conducts his search.