In Boozo Veritas #48 by Teege Braune
What to Drink in Westeros
It has now been two weeks since the Game of Thrones’ season four finale aired, and if you are anything like me, the long, drawn-out, nearly endless interval before season five has you jonesing for an Ice and Fire fix. Common symptoms of withdrawal from GoT include nervousness, phobia of weddings, the fear that friends and loved ones will die violently without warning, itching, and hallucinations of Peter Dinklage.
What is one to do to assuage the agony? Binge on something like Supernatural just to get that dose of fantasy? No, of course it doesn’t hold up against Game of Thrones. Diehard fans, those with the worst yen, already know what’s going to happen in the next couple seasons as they’ve no doubt read the entirety of George R. R. Martin’s groundbreaking Song of Ice and Fire series. Furthermore, those who have followed Martin for any extended period of time, must be used to waiting by now as a period of over five years went by between the publications of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so what’s the big deal? Why the jittery, anxious impatience?
Here’s the rub: even the most colorful imagination can’t always hold up against a cast of talented and often very attractive actors, lush sets and costumes, and a budget of millions of dollars. The TV series and the book series have a marvelous way of filling in each other’s gaps, and sometimes seeing how one’s favorite scene plays out is exciting as reading that scene in the first place.
If waiting is just that unbearable, there is one recourse left to you: have a drink, and then have another.
Anthropological evidence has recently suggested that alcohol is the oldest form of artificial patience in human history. Before folks were able to kill time with Facebook, iPhones, and HBO, they had booze. Additionally many of the characters in the technologically challenged land of Westeros combat their ennui with alcohol. In his books Martin mentions many different adult beverages enjoyed by his characters: ciders, dark beers and rich ales, and especially wines such as the highly regarded Arbor Gold and the strong, sour Dornish reds.
The Inn at the Crossroads is the official food blog for The Song of Ice and Fire, and while they do an excellent job of recreating the exotic menus that Martin describes in his novels, their input on the booze is more limited. Much of the technology and culture found in Westeros is comparable to that of Europe in the late middle-ages, so one can imagine that the booze would be similarly linked. For example, the cider Brienne enjoys at the Inn at the Crossroads (the fictional one, not the blog) wouldn’t be the overly sweet, fizzy stuff we refer to as hard cider in the United States. A cider in Westeros would probably be very dry or tart with perhaps even a mineral quality such as Hogan’s Cider out of England. It would also likely be still or contain only a slight effervescence from the natural fermentation process.
Before he was gored to death by a wild boar, King Robert Baratheon was unconventional in more ways than one. While the nobles of GoT usually only drink wine, Robert seemed equally at home indulging in beer, a beverage that was a staple among the commoners and clergy of medieval Europe as well. Truth is, Robert was apt to drink anything he got his hands on, and his love of the common folk was more amorous that it was paternal. If the ales Robert enjoys share their origins with the ales of the middle ages, they would have most likely be missing the hops, which characterize the bitter flavors of American IPAs and pale ales. Before hops became a popular ingredient, ales were more akin to what we call gruit today, an odd, malt-forward fermented beverage that utilizes herbs and spices in place of hops, not something that is particularly easy to come by these days. Pale, crisp lagers weren’t even invented until the nineteenth century, but then again, the same goes for stouts, and we’re told that these exist in Westeros, so perhaps the seven kingdoms have a more developed brewing history than did the people of medieval Europe, or perhaps the strong, dark beers that Robert enjoys are more akin to Gouden Carolus Cuvée van der Keizer, which means Grand Cru of the Emperor, a rich, Belgian ale that is brewed every year in honor of Charles V, certainly a beer fit for a king.
If you want to drink like a Lannister, the wealthiest family in Westeros, then wine will be your pleasure and your poison. Other than their surname, the one thing Cersei and Tyrion have in common is that both our seldom seen without a chalice of wine in their hand. Martin describes many kinds of wine in The Song of Ice and Fire: along with the Arbor Gold and Dornish red, he mentions iced wine; honeyed wine; warm, spiced, mulled wine; wines made from plums, apricots, persimmons, or blackberries; spicy pepper wine. One’s mouth waters imagining slurping down all these delightful, albeit fictitious, beverages. TV does a shoddy job of filling in the gaps in this context, and what’s more, examining the wines of medieval Europe isn’t much help either. Is there a historical antecedent for the Dornish sour? Sour flavors are usually avoided in fine wines, and yet this is a prized vintage in Westeros. I imagine it has more in common with Flemish reds, such as Rodenbach, which while actually beer, have a tart, decadent, semi-sweet flavor, perhaps an acquired taste, but one that is worth the initial shock.
Mead, on the other hand, a staple of hospitality in the northern regions of Westeros, is easier to get one’s mind around. That is assuming one has tried mead in the first place. Brewed from water, honey, and occasionally spiced with other ingredients like hibiscus, hops, or ginger, mead is the oldest fermented beverage in the world, and has evolved relatively little in the last few centuries. Only recently rediscovered outside of a few small circles, mead has enjoyed a surge of popularity in Orlando thanks to its availability at innovative bars such as Redlight Redlight, Li’l Indies, and Oblivion Taproom. After all, how could fantasy fans resist something with a name like Dansk Mjød Viking Blod.
There are other more illicit beverages floating around the world of Game of Thrones as well. Maesters often give a drink called milk of the poppy as an anesthetic, and we can assume this would be similar to laudanum. The warlocks of Qarth drink a mysterious beverage called Shade of the Evening that stains their lips blue and supposedly enhances their magic. Perhaps one could dissolve a grape Jolly Rancher in a tea of psilocybin mushrooms to capture this effect, though I can’t legally recommend you actually do this. Nevertheless, one can only imagine that a decent enough portion of this drink would be ample to propel the uneasy fan, dreading the upcoming Game of Thrones-less year, straight into George R. R. Martin’s universe, a place that I, for one, would much rather observe than actually live in, but I’m the voyeuristic type who’d rather gander at other people’s cosplay than actually participate in it. Maybe a tripped-out, hallucinated afternoon in Westeros would be just the thing to ease the agony of waiting.
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77, episode 90, episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.