I first dreamed up the "beer suicide"—a glass of all the draft beers at a bar mixed together—last fall, in an attempt to piss off a beer snob friend of mine. We were out at a bar, and he wouldn't stop moaning about the shittiness of East Coast breweries and his need for an "Oregon craft beer."
I told him that if he longed for a more complex flavor profile or whatever, he should just get the bartender to mix a few draft beers together, like we used to do with fountain sodas when we were kids. He puckered, insulted that I would even suggest such a thing, so I called the bartender over and asked if she'd fix me a pint of all the drinks on tap mixed together.
"It's going to curdle or something," my friend said, revolted, as if dumping an IPA into a hefeweizen would create some kind of strange, toxic sludge. The bartender took his side, rolling her eyes before pouring me another Narragansett. I drank it and let the subject drop, but the idea ignited a desire inside of me that no normal beer could soothe. I realized that the young kid who once carefully layered different Slurpee flavors into a cup was still alive deep down—his tastes had just matured.
Beer mixing isn't a completely taboo concept. Drinking a pair of beers blended together is a pretty normal thing, at least in the UK, where their beer palates are a little more open to experimentation than us Yanks. The Black and Tan is the most common beer blend—it's a light beer, normally a pale ale, mixed with a stout, and people have been sucking them down since the 1800s. There's also a Snake Bite, which is a half lager, half cider mix; and the Black Velvet, another beer blend from the brains of the Brits that combines champagne and stout.
All those drinks are fine and good and whatever, but I didn't want "fine" or "good." A normal beer is full of subtle notes of this and flowery hints of that. Fuck notes; I wanted a drink that tasted like all 88 piano keys played at once. Fuck hints; I wanted to be steamrolled by flavor. What kind of terrible, twisted tastes awaited me at the bottom of a beer suicide? What new realms of intoxication might I reach? I had to know.
Watch River's quest to taste a beer suicide below:
Unfortunately, almost every bartender I asked refused to pour me one, thanks to some weird bartender principle/utter lack of adventure. But I continued to order them everywhere I went. After a few more months of failed attempts, and a few more bar patrons thinking I was either an asshole trying to troll (partly), or an asshole with terrible taste (definitely), I found three spots that would let me taste test their beer suicides. The moment that my mind and body had been waiting so long for had finally arrived.
Here's how it all went down.
Number of Taps: 23
Notable Flavors: Dogfish Head Breakfast Stout, Aspall Dry English Cider, Guinness
Megan Hopkins, the bartender at Iona, was a little apprehensive when whipping me up a suicide. Luckily she wasn't completely averse to the idea, since she's used to selling a Snake Bite or a Black and Tan to customers from time to time.
She gave me a couple of these two beer mixes to start. They tasted fine and looked pretty (the dark beer floated on top of the light like a booze ombré), but they only whet my appetite for my one true desire: a thick hoppy stew of all the beers at once.
When Megan finally poured it, she quickly realized that she was going to need a bigger glass, so we pulled out a ladder from the back room, and I climbed to a high shelf behind the bar to grab a giant, dusty novelty glass that you could easily drown a small child inside. It looked glorious when it was finally full.
The taste, unfortunately, wasn't that intense or disgusting or otherwise mind-blowing. The multiple IPAs Iona has on tap dominated the flavor profile, and it seemed like something that my snobby-ass beer friend could sip on while talking about floral hops.
It was fine. But was that it? Had I come this far to taste a beer suicide just to find out that it was, you know, pretty fine? I needed to try another.
Number of Taps: Six
Notable Flavors: Pacifico, Modelo, Founders Porter
Chilo's is a great bar with an even better taco truck in the back. The guy tending bar is an old pal, so he was ready and willing to whip me up a beer suicide for the sake of science. He even garnished it with a lime, which felt in keeping with the Modelo and Pacifico on draft. I twisted the wedge, dropped it in, and took a swig.
The draft porter mostly dominated the flavor, and the whole thing tasted like thick, citrus sludge. It was grosser than Iona's, but still mostly palatable, aside from the notes of lime. I drank about half of it and moved on.
Still, I wanted my tastebuds to be brutalized with beer flavor in order to feel that I had achieved a truly transcendent beer suicide experience. I knew just the place where I could get it.
Bar: The Well
Number of Taps: 54
Notable Flavors: Basically every beer imaginable
The Well has more beers on draft than any place I've ever seen. The bar's intrepid manager, Ian Ljungquist, didn't need any convincing to pour me a suicide—he leapt at the opportunity, excited, like we were some kind of kindred beer brothers. He had already experimented with beer blends, and not just the basic Black and Tans.
"The most I've ever blended is three," he said. "Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. A mixture can bring out strange flavors in one beer you might not have known were there. Sometimes it accentuates interesting flavors or creates a really nice harmony that you wouldn't have expected. Sometimes two great beers can be really terrible together."
But what about 54 beers?
Ian poured the beer suicide into the largest container he could find: a big plastic tub. As he went, the liquid grew darker and darker, until the whole thing was pitch black. He swirled the tub around to make sure the mix was even, and then grabbed me a glass.
I sipped, then sipped again. I could feel my pupils dilate. It was everything I had hoped for and more. My mouth was overrun with flavors—flavors of all kinds, contrasting and complimenting and dancing around. It was like I was hearing a thousand conversations and understanding them all simultaneously.
Ian poured himself a glass, and we drank together like two beer adventurers trekking deep into the unknown. I knew him, then, and he knew me; something close and intimate passed between us, something neither of us could fully articulate.
"It's not bad," he finally said, after a time. "It's just weird. Sometimes it's good to taste weird, though, right? Not everything you drink or eat has to be delicious. Isn't it fun to try things that are compelling strictly because they're weird?"
He poured the remains of the concoction into a growler for me, and we said our goodbyes. I walked home in silent revelry, bottle of beer suicide in hand. Then I walked inside my apartment and immediately dropped the jug on my kitchen floor. As I cleaned the 54-beer mess up, I dreamed of my next beer suicide, of the weird tastes and textures it might hold. I'll never order a normal drink again.
If you see River around New York City, buy him a beer suicide, so he can continue this important research. Also, follow him on Twitter.