D&D Beer Pairings: The Barbarian

When listening to Dungeon Masters talk about their games, you hear a few terms bandied about. RP heavy, rules agnostic, beer and pretzels etc. Today, I’m most interested in that last one. Well, that last one minus the pretzels. Since every other campaign begins in a tavern, I think it’s important that we consider what fuels many adventures: beer.

I’ve teamed up with Jessica Clare, General Manager at Cleophus Quealy Beer Company and licensed cicerone, to pair beers with every D&D class.

Me: We’re talking about the Barbarian today. For those, who for some reason don’t know, they rage like dumpster fires with about the same level of social grace. They’re characterized by their frontline battle ability and their strange affinity for the d12.

Now, I think everyone is familiar with the cliche of the Barbarian ale-hound, but if you really want to embody the spirit of these bruisers, what kind of beer should we be looking for?

Jessica: First of all, as we talk about the classes, I think there are actually two answers to the beers they would drink–one is the kind they are likely to MAKE, the other is what they’d order in a tavern away from home. So I’m going to hit you with both, and throw in some real-life examples.

When I think of Barbarians, I IMMEDIATELY think of sahti. Sahtis are a very old Scandinavian (specifically Finnish) farmhouse beer style, noted for being brewed with whatever grains are handy (rye, usually–Scandinavia isn’t in the barley belt, so they’ve never had a huge supply of the brewing grains the way Germany and England historically have), fermented with baker’s yeast instead of brewer’s yeast, and seasoned with juniper and sometimes honey rather than hops. Old school sahti brewers used to fill a canoe with sahti, shove it out into a lake to ferment for a few days, and then would pull it back to shore. Sahtis are served super fresh (within a few days of brewing) and are super boozy (7% ABV or higher). They’re thick, uncarbonated, and thanks to the yeast, just reek of banana and juniper.  

Basically, sahtis rustic as fuck. 

Since I can’t imagine there are many barbarian farmers, something like a sahti seems like what barbarians would be most likely to have around–ready quick, high alcohol, can be made out of basically anything, and you don’t need any fancy equipment or techniques to make ’em. The vikings were making sahtis, so I bet barbarians could get down on them. 

As for what I think barbarians would order in ye olde alehouse, my money is on whatever’s strong and cheap. No frills. If I were a fine, upstanding alewife, I would brew a nice, strong, no-frills barleywine for my barbarian customers–a little sweet and nice and strong. Think along the lines of Firestone Walker Parabola or Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. If I were more of a scumbag pub owner, I’d probably dump leftover beer and booze into a cask and serve them that swill. 

Me: That makes sense. I could definitely see barbarians loving canoe beer, but I want to make a pitch for an alternate theory. If we were talking low fantasy and had access to all beers from history, do you think Pabst Blue Ribbon or Red Stripe would be good barbarian beers? Or do you suppose they would turn their nose up at the relatively low ABV and fairly mild flavor profile?

Jessica: I actually think they’d be too mild and low ABV for barbarian tastes. (Actually been thinking about those as fighter beers)

I don’t think a barbarian would deny any beer handed to them, but I definitely think they’d give shit about weak beer (think Dennis Hopper yelling at Kyle McLaughlin about Heineken). 

If we’re going all beers from history, I definitely think Sierra Nevada Bigfoot would be a barbarian Beer of choice. Maybe even good ‘ole Old Foghorn by my alma mater, Anchor. Barleywine is historically English, but I think the old school American versions would actually hit the nail on the head. Boozy, rich, pretty easy to find, and no frills. 

Me: Fair enough. Are there any beers that, to your knowledge, induce or intensify raging?

Jessica: Ha, I imagine that more alcohol equals more rage. Inhibitions lower, emotions amplify, and pain becomes dulled the drunker someone gets. Motor skills go to shit, too, but it’s not like barbarians are doing much stealth or precision-based fighting, so they should be able to drunkenly swing a battle axe no problem.

Me: Any final thoughts or opinions you’d like to share regarding barbarians and beer?

Jessica: Only that I pity the tavern owner who has to cut off or kick out a drunk barbarian. 

You can follow Jessica’s brewery at @Cleophus_Quealy on Twitter. She also does work for the Bay Area Brewer’s Guild at drinkbaybeer.com.

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