I like pairing beer with things. This should be pretty apparent at this point, as the person who writes Paste’s absurdly detailed blind craft beer style tastings/rankings—not to mention as the person who has written an ongoing column about pairing beers with terrible movies. That one was a no-brainer: What makes a terrible movie better? Some great beer. What keeps your mind semi-occupied while drinking great beer? A terrible movie. It writes itself!
As it turns out, though, great craft beer also makes an excellent bedfellow with non-terrible, classic films. And considering that we’re headed into the Halloween season, my favorite time of the year, I figured I would share some recommendations for pairing craft beer with various horror classics.
I tried, by and large, to keep this to beers and breweries that distribute at least regionally, so you’ll have some ability to go out and acquire said beers should you want to. But considering that watching horror movies really should be a year-round endeavor, feel free to refer back to this list throughout the year whenever you run into one of these beers on the shelf of your local package store.
Great Lakes Brewing Co. Nosferatu
We kick off with an obvious, slam-dunk pairing. The original Swedish 2008 film is one of the very best modern vampire stories, revolving around a young, emotionally disturbed boy who makes a strange friend in the form of a prepubescent vampire girl who is actually hundreds of years old. It’s occasionally touching and tender, often quite creepy and impeccably well-acted. The American remake, 2010’s Let Me In with Chloë Grace Moretz, is also a very solid, often underrated horror film that tightens some of the story elements, but if you’re only going to watch one it should be the unnerving Swedish original.
The beer, from Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Co., is a blood-crimson imperial red ale perfect for sharing from a goblet with your undead soul mate. Biscuity, bready and deeper toffee/caramel malt is the star of the show, with a big supporting charge of piney, resinous hops to balance things out. This is a style of beer you don’t see being made quite as much these days, which has drifted to making more overt “red IPAs,” but the American strong ale characteristics of Nosferatu make it a very autumnal brew, as does its 8% ABV. It’s a contemplative beer, and pairs well with a vampire movie that carries itself with much more gravitas than usual. And what a face he’s got on him!
Fuller’s Extra Special Bitter
The Innocents, like any great cinematic ghost story, makes you question whether any of the events you’re watching are truly happening. In it, a caretaker comes to a sprawling, creepy mansion to care for its two orphaned children, who have ended up there under mysterious means. She soon begins to hear things that go bump in the night, but who is to blame? Are old spirits being dredged up by her presence in the house? And can she protect the children from an evil presence that threatens to possess them, body and soul?
An elegant film of that nature deserves a refined British beer to accompany it—something with an illustrious history such as Fuller’s ESB. With lightly floral and herbal hops that might remind one of a cup of midmorning tea, it’s beautifully balanced with delicate bready and caramel maltiness. This style is all about combining drinkability with enough subtlety to keep you coming back for more, which flies in the face of modern craft beer’s bombastic flavors in the same way that a deliberate, moody British ghost story is nothing like modern, jump scare-dominated horror cinema. Note: If you’re unable to track down the ESB, you could pretty easily substitute Fuller’s London Pride, the same brewery’s classic English-style pale ale.
North Coast Old Stock Ale (Cellar Reserve)
A lot of lists would simply cite a Universal classic like Frankenstein and be done with it, but why stop there when these films are so brisk (only 70-ish minutes), and when the sequels exceed the original? Granted, James Whale’s Frankenstein is an all-timer, and far superior to the same year’s Dracula, but on both technical and storytelling levels, Bride and the overlooked Son of Frankenstein handily surpass it. Bride is a heartbreaking story, as the Monster searches for companionship and bonds somewhat with the human world before being cruelly rejected once again. Son of Frankenstein, on the other hand, follows the son of the mad doctor, Wolf von Frankenstein, as he is seduced into picking up his father’s work … by Bela Lugosi, of all people, in the first character of the series to actually be named “Igor” (although it’s spelled “Ygor”). If you wanted to plow straight on afterward into Ghost of Frankenstein, I certainly wouldn’t stop you.
What does one pair with these well-aged classics? My pick is an equally antiquated style: Old ale. You’re going to need a beer that’s high in ABV and appropriate for drinking over a long session, and the port-like fruitiness of high-ABV old ale is just the thing. North Coast’s Old Stock Ale is already quite heady stuff at almost 12% ABV in its base form, but if you’re able, hunt down a bottle of the barrel-aged variant, Cellar Reserve. The bourbon barrel-aged bottles will probably be easier to get, but it’s the brandy barreled version that feels like the perfect fit for Frankenstein of all things—the kind of drink that Mary Shelley and Lord Byron are imbibing in the beginning of Bride as they shiver at both the thought of a stormy night and Mary’s grotesque imagination. It’s always brandy in these films that someone pours to steady the nerves.
Let’s mix things up with an entirely different kind of horror movie in Halloween, one of film’s early, definitive slashers. Although not the first (Black Christmas, among others, has it beat), Halloween was the film that codified many of the early slasher movie conventions, including the “final girl” and a killer who is seemingly supernaturally enabled, becoming more than a man. It’s telling that Michael Myers is listed in the credits simply as “The Shape,” because his style of killing is quite stealthy and stalker-y. Myers lurks in the shadows and slinks through backyards and open windows. He never speaks, but his actions betray a deep and frightening sense of cunning. He’s terrifying because you never know where he is at any given time, or where he’s going to pop up next.
As for the beer, I’m pretty sure this is my strangest pairing, but stay with me: Because Michael Myers is the silent, stealthy and deadly type, I tried to think of a beer that could also sneak up on you. Duvel, the classic Belgian strong pale ale, weighs in at 8.5% ABV, but it drinks far more easily. It’s exactly the kind of beer where you end up having multiple pints without realizing how strong it is, and ultimately get in over your head. It doesn’t announce its ABV with huge flavors, but hides it behind impeccable balance of light malt, subtle hops and fruity esters. As with Myers, it will do a number on you, and you’ll never see it coming.
Revolution Straight Jacket Barleywine
This film/beer makes a good counterpoint to Halloween, because Jason Voorhees is more or less Michael Myers’ opposite. Where Myers lurks in the shadows, Voorhees comes right at you. Myers sneaks into your home; Voorhees leaps straight through the front door. This is my personal favorite in the Friday series, which comes along at a sweet spot in its ever-mounting ridiculousness. It’s the first film where Jason legitimately returns from the grave as a superpowered zombie, and the body count is ridiculously high. Jason is popping off heads with glee, menacing horny teens and turning people inside out for the hell of it—just your standard Friday the 13th stuff. The film is the horror equivalent of comfort food or movie popcorn: You can’t possibly take any of it seriously (or be legitimately frightened), but it’s a hilariously wild ride.
The beer, likewise, is the opposite of something like Duvel in the sense that it’s not subtle in its flavors so much as it’s like a flavor bomb going off in your mouth. The booze certainly isn’t hidden in this bourbon barrel-aged, 13% ABV barleywine—rather, it revels in the sweet, alcohol-driven flavors in the same sense that Jason Lives revels in its own carnage. There’s a very definite, decadent maple syrup note in particular present here that ties the whole thing together, but Straight Jacket is like a tessellation of huge, rippling flavors of custard, caramel and toffee. It’s easy to see how it won Paste’s blind tasting of barleywines, back in January.
Note: I really wanted to use Gigantic Brewing Co.’s Brain Damage for this one, another barrel-aged barleywine with a gory as hell label, but it hasn’t been produced since last year.
The Lost Abbey Framboise De Amorosa
The 1958 original Blob with Steve McQueen is an enjoyably campy film, but I’m partial to the much more serious, much more violent 1988 remake. Featuring great, extremely icky FX, it once again tells the story of a malevolent alien slime that crashes to Earth in a meteor before crawling forth to devour the world. The difference is that this time, we get to see that devouring in much more graphic means. When people get engulfed by the Blob, you can see just how excruciating it is as they’re literally melted to death. It’s as if the Gelatinous Cube monster from D&D came to life and ran amok. Certainly a major entry in any horror sci-fi arcana.
To go with such a potent, powerful threat, you need a beer that can match its bracing acidity. We therefore turn to a fruited sour from The Lost Abbey, Framboise De Amorosa. Spending more than a year in wine barrels aging on raspberries, the resulting beer has the Blob’s pinkish hue, and it also has its correspondingly low pH. Bracingly tart, Framboise De Amorosa is likely to be challenging to those whose palates have not yet acclimated to the joys of more assertive sours, but the raspberry simultaneously provides balance and a nice reprieve from the puckering effect. It’s as close as you can get to drinking a delicious counterpart of the Blob, without the worry of your insides dissolving.
Clown Shoes Undead Party Crasher
Return of the Living Dead might be the most fun, re-watchable zombie film ever, the ultimate celebration and simultaneous parody of ’80s teen culture and zombie films, which simultaneously added new tropes to the genre. It’s the first zombie movie where the creatures ever targeted “brainssssssss,” spawning a misconception of zombie lore that has persisted to this day. At the same time, it sports a solid punk soundtrack and an amusingly broad pastiche of teen characters who represent various archetypes of ’80s pop culture and fashion—I particularly like the kid who seems to be dressed as David Byrne. The zombies, meanwhile, are nigh-on indestructible in this one, making Return one of the few zombie movies that legitimately makes it seem realistic that these creatures could conquer the world.
With this we pair a sturdy but still approachable imperial stout from Clown Shoes, which gives us some classic Russian imperial stout flavors while not being overwhelmed by additional barrel-aging or gimmickry. A small portion of smoked malt in the mash bill adds complexity to a beer awash in ashy roast, coffee and dark, bitter chocolate—I’d like to imagine the smoked malt also represents the woeful attempt to burn the Return of the Living Dead zombies and the catastrophic fallout of that poor idea. This is the type of RIS that I love, one that drinks like a substantially smaller beer while staying dryish and roasty. It’s like a supersized version of a great Irish dry stout.
Creature Comforts Tropicália IPA
Rightfully hailed as one of the crowning moments in the history of practical special effects, alien horror movies don’t get any better than John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing. Taking source material handed down from John W. Campbell’s original novella Who Goes There?, Carpenter crafts a film that is part intense body horror and part brooding mystery. The movie is absolutely crawling with clues and signifiers that help audience members deduce the sequence of events: Who is infected by the Thing, and when did it take them over? It’s a long, slow burn of a build that explodes into a frenetic conclusion as Kurt Russell tests petri dishes of blood, aliens get torched with flamethrowers and everything goes straight to hell.
As for the beer—I had to get a bit creative. The Thing is from space, right? What better, in that case, than an IPA loaded with southern hemisphere Galaxy hops, eh? Eh??? Creature Comforts’ popular IPA, Tropicália, is hunted by Atlanta-area beer consumers in much the same way that Kurt Russell’s Macready singlemindedly hunts down the film’s alien visitor. It has a reputation as a hop bomb, but the actual beer is more about balance than one might expect—a very light touch of caramel malt/toastiness that supports juicy, tropical fruit-forward hops. It remains a sought-after beer for a reason, and it goes down quite a bit easier than the Thing.
Straight to Ale Unobtanium
One has to imagine that H.P. Lovecraft certainly had Frankenstein on the mind when he originally wrote his short story, “Herbert West—Reanimator,” but the very loosely based film adaptation goes much further in building itself up as a modern version of the mad scientist story. Highlighted by an undeniably classic performance by Jeffrey Combs as the petulant, egotistical Dr. Herbert West, it’s another ’80s horror gem that simultaneously revels in violence, sex and weird science. As a doctor obsessed with the bringing the dead back to life, or simply creating life on his own, Herbert West’s quest for power ends up getting most everyone around him killed by rampaging ghouls. Naturally, though, West’s own arrogance always leads him to believe that the problem is fully correctable—next time.
To pair with Re-Animator I’ve chosen a beer that features a very Herbert West-like mad scientist right on its label: Straight To Ale’s barrel-aged old ale, Unobtanium. I figured that if I paired the Frankenstein movies with a more stately version of old ale, then Re-Animator should be paired with a more raucous one. Straight to Ale’s hugely flavorful beer certainly qualifies on that front, as it presents huge bourbon barrel flavors of caramel, vanilla, oak and toasted marshmallow. Drink enough of it, and you might find yourself gripped by delusions of grandeur, much like Herbert West. I’d encourage you to hold off on your scientific exploration until you sober up.
Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale
Trick ’r Treat is a somewhat-underseen horror anthology from 2007 that presents its story a bit differently than most. Instead of being separated into truly disparate tales, which each have their own beginning and conclusion, Trick ’r Treat weaves half a dozen stories together all revolving around Halloween customs in a small Midwestern city. Each story touches on Halloween history, with some on time-honored monsters, from werewolves to ghosts, but they all come together in a very satisfying, organic way. Bookending the stories is the now iconic character of Sam, a seemingly childlike trick-or-treater who in reality represents the spirit of Halloween itself, and defends its traditions.
Given that film description, the paired beer should also be something that conveys the spirit of the holiday, and Rogue’s widely available Pumpkin Patch Ale does that ably. Performing very well in our recent blind tasting of 59 pumpkin beers, Rogue’s beer is a perfect example of “classic-style” pumpkin ale, with toasted, bready malt supporting a spice profile of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Off dry, it has just the right level of residual sweetness to amplify the character of its spices while being drinkable enough for a full evening of trick or treaters.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident horror and beer geek. You can, and should, follow him on Twitter.