Who is the greatest American novelist? That discussion circulated among an email thread I was on this week. That’s a tough question to answer. Maybe John Steinbeck, Herman Melville, or F. Scott Fitzgerald? How about William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, or Cormac McCarthy? If you’re a reader of modern page-turners you might say John Grisham, Michael Crichton, or Tom Clancy. Many of those are suitable answers, but there is only one correct answer: Mark Twain.
Samuel Langhorn Clemens, who we all know by his pen name, Mark Twain, was a true American of his time. He knew how to turn a phrase. His novels are part of the standard curriculum in schools, his irreverent quotes are on the tip of our tongues, and his iconic wild hair and thick mustache are forever in our mind’s eye. More than 100 years after his death, Mark Twain is much a part of America’s fiber and being as baseball and apple pie.
Three Nations Brewing Company, a small brewery out of Farmer’s Branch, Texas produces an American Wit beer that brandishes an image of Twain and a quote so appropriate for our modern age: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” The quote comes from an interview Twain gave with another legendary author, Rudyard Kipling, as the Brit traveled in America.
A Slice of Americana
As kids in school we all read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Twain uses his trademark wit and satire to examine the antebellum South, racism, and the mischief and adventures that boys just can’t avoid. When I was in school, I made it my mission to Cliff’s Notes my way through a lot of boring literature. It’s easy to do that with Charles Dickens, but it’s criminal to avoid reading Mark Twain. As a kid who got in all sorts of trouble with my best friend as we adventured through the woods, construction sites, and along the banks of a nearby lake, the stories of Tom and Huck are thrilling.
It helped that Tom and Huck’s adventures aren’t told through old English, but instead the dialect of the nineteenth-century South. Of course there is great controversy that comes with that speaking style. Although Huckleberry Finn is an anti-racism story, it does feature the “N” word, something that has not escaped critics and censors in the many years since its publication. Twain wasn’t writing “literature” in the vein of Shakespeare or Dickens, he was telling the American story in the dialect of those living it out on the pages of his books.
People like Tom, Huck, Jim, and other Mississippi travelers of the nineteenth century didn’t drink beer while sailing up and down Ol’ Man River, at least not good beer, but if they were on that journey today, a crisp, cold witbier is exactly what they would want to drink in the hot, sticky, Southern sun.
A Drinkable, Satisfying Summer Beer
Three Nations’ “American Wit” is a play on a traditional Belgian Witbier. These pale, cloudy, spiced beers are the way Europeans quenched a summer thirst hundreds of years ago. Now that hot days are on the horizon in most of America, this is a great style of beer to keep in your fridge or on your river raft.
More complex and satisfying than a typical summer beer, wits have that cloudy coloring you get from an unfiltered beer, and flavors of citrus and coriander. It pours a nice, soft yellow color, with a small white foam head, and bubbles that stream up the side of your glass.
I don’t think of this as a beer you drink out of a fancy glass. I have a glass for just about every beer, but a thirst-quenching wit is great to drink out of the can, or a small standard glass. I tend to use a Ball jar, but that’s because I live in Texas. My wife has a ton of them crammed into our kitchen cabinets, and they are the perfect size for summer drinks.
Three Nations describes their American Wit as “Strait-laced on the outside – audacious on the inside.” The American Mosaic hops they use give this a flavor that compliments its fruity, spicy, refreshing nature and make it stand out from a traditional Belgian iteration. It’s a European tradition made our own American way, much like the modern IPA.
In a world where debates about “fake news” consume newspapers, cable networks, blogs, magazines, and especially social media, Mark Twain’s quote about distorting facts is as relevant as ever. When you’re thumbing through Twitter wars on your iPhone while sitting in the hot summer sun, remember that a cold can of American Wit and reading some American wit from Mark Twain can make the upstream swim in Ol’ Man River seem just a little bit easier.