Video Game Sommelier: The First Coming of Hops
som·me·lier -[suhm-uhl-yey; Fr. saw-muh-lyey]
noun, plural som·me·liers [suhm-uhl-yeyz; Fr. saw-muh-lyey]
-- a waiter, as in a club or restaurant, who is in charge of wines.
Alcohol is one of man’s most ingenious inventions. It helped build the pyramids, preserved us through the dark ages, and if some theories are correct, may be responsible for the formation of civilization itself. In response, humanity has embraced alcohol and turned it into a huge part of our daily lives. We’ve created professions whose sole duty is to know what alcohol goes with what, when, and why.
Years past, it used to be the sommelier profession was limited strictly to wine. However, in the last several decades (as craft beer and spirits have made a comeback), “beer sommeliers” and “certified spirit specialists” have come to fruition.
So why not video games? After all, they range from the mundane to exquisite works of art. And if video games are good, and alcohol is great, why not pair them accordingly, based on similar and complimentary properties?
So, in accordance with no tradition or formal training (other than a huge collection of games, a trained palette for alcoholic drinks, and an ego the size of Fenway), I declare myself the first Video Game Sommelier. This weekly column will highlight video games, old and new, and pair them with their appropriate drink -- sometimes general, usually specific, and always entertaining.
First off: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the epic, large-scale sandbox RPG set in the titular Nord province. Home to glaciers, giants, and all manner of long-legged beasties, Bethesda managed to create a world that felt more natural and alive than any of the previous titles in the Elder Scrolls series. From the world layout, to the music, to the simple joy of exploration, Skyrim calls for a singularly unique beverage experience. The overt Scandinavian influence on Nord dialect, architecture and culture, as well as the sweeping landscapes of a huge, detailed world, demand a beverage that’s ancient and rustic, with enough flavor and character to savor over a long period of time.
For anyone who’s played Skyrim, the answer is obvious: honey mead. A strong alcoholic drink brewed with honey and (sometimes) flavored with spices and fruit, mead is an ancient beverage dating back more than 9,000 years and is one of the earliest known alcoholic drinks. It’s featured in ancient religious ceremonies, in our mythology and epic poetry, and still has influence over our everyday lives (the term “honeymoon” derives from ancient Celtic marriage traditions involving copious amounts of honey mead). Depending on your location, it may be tricky to procure -- in the U.S., many meaderies have small areas of distribution, so you may need to contact a home brewer in order to get your hands on some. It may not be Black-Briar, but you’ll be a lot warmer and a lot happier with a belly full of mead.
The original Assassin’s Creed was full of epic grandeur and spectacle that was underrated and dismissed by many, citing it as a repetitive exercise in monotony. Climb tall tower, look around, swan dive, and repeat. While Assassin’s Creed’s detractors aren’t strictly wrong in this regard, they failed to appreciate the subtlety of the title. Mired in history and painstakingly researched, this was a title for those who appreciate background and design. The average gamer needs instant and constant gratification, and Assassin’s Creed didn’t pander to that. It wasn’t about achieving a messy kill, or the most kills; it was about waiting for the right moment to strike, and achieving the perfect kill.
Assassin’s Creed’s audience has always been staunchly a love or hate demographic, and thus, it’s fitting that the drink of choice mirrors that relationship. Stone Brewing Company’s Arrogant Bastard Ale is a big, bold beer for big, bold beer lovers. Earthy, strong, and hoppy, Arrogant Bastard Ale is an epic beer that was not designed for mass approval. With strong whiffs of pine and a malty sweetness to counterbalance the hop intensity, people love it or they hate it. There is no in between. And frankly, that’s just fine.
Finally, we have World of Warcraft. Based on subscription numbers, WoW is the most popular MMO of all time. That’s not an accident -- it’s designed to appeal to everybody, in some form or another. Not too difficult to learn, not too hard to play, has bright colors, follows a semi-linear progression, and if all else fails, it’s a shared experience -- almost everybody has played WoW at some point or another because everyone else was playing. Unfortunately, being the most popular doesn’t always translate into being the best, and WoW also had the unfortunate side effect of stunting future game design because everyone was trying to imitate WoW, and instead of bolstering the video game market with its success, it’s actually (in this writer’s opinion) served to damage it. I’m not going to go so far as to say you should hate it, but if you just like WoW because you you’ve never bothered playing anything else, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
The obvious pairing is Budweiser. Anheuser-Busch’s flagship beer is the most popular beer on the planet, and I challenge anybody to try and convince me that it’s good. Not too hard to drink, not much flavor to taste, it’s the beer everybody has tried because -- why not? It’s cheap, it’s unchallenging, and it’s everywhere. Much like WoW, its appeal is that it’s easy to get into, and most people just don’t know any better. It’s dumbed down the uninitiated to think that, “This is what beer tastes like.” But it gets better, guys, I promise. Just like WoW, if you’re drinking Budweiser because you’ve never bothered to try anything better, all you’re doing is limiting your options.
That’s all this week from the Video Game Sommelier. Next week, three more games, three more drinks, and three more stances on the state of video game culture.