There are a number of great beers that seem made for Halloween – Wychwood Hobgoblin, The Lost Abbey’s Witch’s Wit or just about anything from Brasserie Fantôme can work well. But to really encourage a spooky bring-on-Samhain mood,why not try pairing an autumnal beer with some seasonal music? Thanks to Folk Alley’s Halloween Scream Stream and Spotify, I have a constant rotation of traditional and not-so-traditional Halloween tunes going in the background, and have selected a few music and beverage options below.
Tam Lin – Fairport Convention / Traquair House Ale
I could have chosen any version of Child Ballad 39A – I have something approaching twenty in my own collection (considerably more if you include print), and there is a seemingly endless supply beyond that – but I’m a big fan of this particular one. As you are probably aware, the song tells the story of Janet (also called Margaret in some versions), who must rescue her lover, Tam Lin (insert many variants here as well) from the Queen of the Fairies, who has been keeping him captive at Carterhaugh, a wooded area near Selkirk in Scotland. Appropriately enough, there is fine beer to be had locally – Traquair House Brewery’s excellent House Ale and Jacobite Ale are both perfect tie-ins.
Witches [sic] Hat – The Incredible String Band / Moorhouse’s Pendle Witches Brew
Veering toward the more psychedelic end of the of the psych-folk band’s canon, this 1968 track presumably owes more to chemical experimentation than to the folk tradition, but its trippy lyrics and music are still atmospherically-appropriate for Halloween. Pair it with Moorhouse’s Pendle Witches Brew for some malty goodness, and raise a glass to the real-life Pendle ‘witches,’ executed in 1612. Moorhouse’s Black Cat, a mild, is also a fantastic beer.
Lord Of The Ages – Magna Carta / Weyerbacher Old Heathen
Perhaps you have friends who aren’t quite sure what prog rock is. In response, you might have gone easy on them, offering up some Jethro Tull, but why hold back? This track, released in 1973, has everything: lyrics that might have been borrowed from Tolkien-inspired fan fiction (‘Lord of the Ages rode one night / Out through the gateways of time / Astride a great charger / In a cloak of white samite…’ – you get the idea), a ‘rocking out’ section toward the end, a little chanting and a nearly 10-minute running time. You may need a strong drink after listening to it, so a Weyerbacher Old Heathen should be just the thing.
Widdicombe Fair – The City Waites / Hambleton’s Nightmare Porter
The most well-known version of the comedic West Country folksong was collected in 1888 by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, whose career as an antiquarian, songwriter, correspondent, novelist and folklorist is, perhaps, the classic example of why being a wealthy 19th century churchman was pretty awesome. In the song, a number of stock characters (possibly or possibly not based on real 18th century people from the town of Widecombe in the Moor) borrow a horse to visit the eponymous fair; the mare dies from the effort of hauling a goodly portion of the village around, and returns as a ghost with all aboard. The song, as interpreted by The City Waites, puts the emphasis on the comedy. Although hailing from an entirely different moorland (Yorkshire rather than Devon), Hambleton’s Nightmare Porter still works, and rather nicely too.
Damn These Vampires – The Mountain Goats / Great Lakes Nosferatu
I know, vampires are presently extremely uncool, given their sparkly associations with teenage girls who fear actual boys, but this song recalls a time (not so long ago) when they were still dangerous as well as glamorous (and, frankly, a lot more interesting). Luckily, there is a beer than can help you forget the Twi-hards (or could be employed with caution in a related drinking game, though one suspects that it would be easy to see such a game reach Withnailian proportions) – Great Lakes Nosferatu. This big, red beer is one to look forward to every fall (rather unlike Twilight movies, unless your capacity for ironic viewing is unparalleled).
In the Company of Ravens – Maddy Prior / Black Raven Brewing’s Tamerlane Brown Porter
This spare, haunting tribute to the oft-misunderstood bird, from the Steeleye Span singer’s 1999 solo album, Ravenchild, is a great mood-setter for Halloween, and Black Raven Brewing’s Tamerlane Brown Porter keeps the spooky theme going with a liquid nod to Edgar Allen Poe. Appropriately enough, in addition to their porter, the Seattle brewery makes a great IPA called Trickster – also raven-approved in Native American lore.