Belgian Strong Dark…Side of the Moon

It starts with silence, like someone forgot to press the right button. But then here it comes slowly, a heartbeat. And it’s just a heartbeat for a short time, growing louder, a constant thumping coming through the speakers. Soon there’s a swooshing, then a chatter like noise, then some light, almost indistinguishable talking complemented by what sounds like the laughter from an insane asylum. Finally, there’s a woman’s voice that sounds like she’s screaming like a newborn. It builds and builds with a rush, before this fantastic release, where you feel you can finally breath again. And just like that, you are born into the world of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

As I wrote about in my post, “Introducing the Pink Floyd Series”, Roger Waters had come up with the idea of having the album revolve around a singular concept, which was determined to be “things that made people mad.” Floyd had their own experiences with madness as their original frontman, Syd Barrett, had left the band in 1968 due to health problems, mainly mental health. Barrett would long cast a shadow over the band, and their themes would include insanity all the way into the 1980’s.

Each side of Dark Side of the Moon runs continuously (speaking in vinyl terms here…), with the album essentially representing human life, starting and ending with a heartbeat. The opening song of the album (“Speak to Me”), described in the first paragraph of this blog, represents birth, complete with the newborn’s wailing, before seamlessly shifting into “Breathe.”  An interesting subject on the meaning of life, “Breathe” encourages you to live your life to the fullest by telling you “don’t be afraid to care”, while at the same time, letting you know how pointless your life will end up being with “And when at last the work is done/ Don’t sit down it’s time to dig another one” and “You race towards an early grave.” One could surmise that “Breathe” is a child growing up, being told conflicting pieces of advice from various people as it grows into a man/woman. Eventually, that child needs to grow up, and start to experience the real world, with all it’s stresses, represented by “On the Run.” This instrumental track has an anxious synthesizer base with various sound effects. The song also represents the stress of travel, as you can hear someone announcing flights to Rome. In comes a voice, “Live for today, gone tomorrow, that’s me”, followed by more insane-like laughter. The song ends with what sounds like a plane taking off, and as the music calms, a ticking clock becomes the focus.

I could probably spend an entire blog post on the next song, “Time.” I won’t, but I will spend some “time” on it (I’m so funny). From the moment I really got into Pink Floyd to today, I’ve felt that the lyrics in “Time” were to most poignant to me. Similar to “Breathe”, it focuses on the meaning of life, the passage of time and the importance of how you choose to live your life. We’ve all killed time at one moment or another, and the idea that time should never be wasted is explored. “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” This was something that always hit me while I was in college. While I was there, I didn’t really have an exact direction or idea of what I was going to do with me life, and I was definitely afraid that in the future, I’d realise that “ten years had gotten behind me”.  It’s a weird stage in life, where you transition from a careless teenager into making some of the most important decisions of your life. I continuously felt that I had “missed the starting gun” and didn’t know when or to where I should run. The biggest stanza was “So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking/Racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.” I felt this provided a counter argument to the previous lyrics I shared. What is the point of running and running if you’re never going to catch the sun? What is the point of becoming “shorter of breath” when we’re all going to die anyway? If the game ends the same for all of us, doesn’t it make sense to take our time and enjoy the trip? Or does it mean that we have limited time and opportunity, and we better make the best of it because although the sun will never change, we will? At the end of the song, it seems there is a bit of regret, with the lyrics “The time is gone, the song is over, Thought I’d something more to say.” So perhaps, Floyd is letting us know that we all have these thoughts and emotions in our life, and maybe life isn’t always pretty, but at the end, we will wish we hadn’t “frittered and wasted the hours in an offhand way.” Some seriously heavy stuff here, I know.

After a brief reprise of “Breathe”, the first side concludes with “The Great Gig in the Sky”, a song with no true lyrics, but with Clare Torrey providing a famous performance that is something between a choir hymn and a wail. As the song represents death, it’s no wonder the background voices on this track discuss being afraid of death, or lack thereof. “I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do: I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it – you’ve got to go sometime.” And thus concludes the first side, with someone being born, becoming stressed, followed by becoming reflective about how time was spent and wasted earlier in life, and finishes with death. Quite a rosy fairy tale so far!

You flip the record over, and you immediately hear a cash register. If you’ve ever done “The Dark Side of Oz” (which is when you synchronize the album with the Wizard of Oz), the first cash register sound corresponds with the first time you see color in the movie, which just so happens to be the color green. “Money” is an obvious knock on consumerism and it mocks the greed that fuels it. Other than for a guitar solo in the middle of the song, “Money” was written in 7/4 time, and it’s the only commercially successful song in 7/4 time that I can recall. The song finishes with more voices, this time discussing things that make us turn violent against each other. Soft organ music segues us into the next track, “Us and Them.” The song provides a quiet interlude after the rocking “Money” and dives into depression and conflict. More voices are heard discussing violence with a beautiful jazz inspired saxophone solo interrupting the story. The next song, the instrumental “Any Colour You Like”, is a bit of a play on Henry Ford’s famous saying, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” By the 1970’s, there were certainly other car colors to choose from, so the song could be in reference either to the lack of choice in our society or the illusion of choice.

The last two songs sum up the overall theme of madness and “the things that make you mad.” However, “Brain Damage” also explores themes of altruism, as well as a feeling that you can relate to other’s eccentricities. The song is mostly about Syd, and how Waters felt he related to him from time to time. The line “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes” is a direct reference to Syd and how, near the end of his tenure with the band, he would sometimes play a different song from the rest of the band in the middle of a concert. Syd is also a symbol of all of humanity, that perhaps peculiarities are subjective and that we’ll all see each other on “the dark side of the moon.” My favorite line of the song has always been “You lock the door/And throw away the key/There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.” Fittingly, there’s more manic laughter toward the end of the song, followed by strong, deliberate drum strikes on four consecutive downbeats before crashing into the cymbals as the song perfectly transitions into “Eclipse.”

“Eclipse” continues on with the themes of altruism and togetherness, and shines a light on the idea that it doesn’t matter what our differences are when we are all the same during an eclipse. The eclipse can represent many things, be it a dark thought or phase where light is blocked or death. Waters has said that the final lines “the sun is in tune/but the sun is eclipsed by the moon” doesn’t necessarily mean that light is ultimately destined to be blocked by evil, but more of an observation that an eclipse will happen from time to time, and it is better to be focused on the brightness that surrounds us on a day to day basis rather than concentrating on the brief moments of darkness. The music fades and we are left with a heartbeat again, with a voice saying “”There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.” Again, I don’t think it’s meant as that everything is dark and pointless, but rather the philosophy that darkness can only exist because of the light, and what is dark will eventually rotate and come into the light, and we should cherish our time in the light rather than dwell on the darkness.

Wow, music blogger Dave, can we get to the beer now? Oh yeah, I forgot that’s what we’re supposed to be talking about. Let’s get to it.

First off, HA! I got you! You thought this beer would be a big stout or something of the like, didn’t you? Nope, the Belgian Dark Strong style represents this album so much better. I’ve written in the past about my affinity of Belgian styles and how they were a game changer for me in regards to my romance with craft beer. There is a rich and beautiful complexity that comes from Belgian yeasts that cannot be replicated anywhere else. There’s spiciness and fruitiness, a tartness and a sweetness. I thought the complexity of Belgian yeast matched up extremely well with the complexity of the album’s lyrical content. As the album touches on somewhat “sour” themes of insanity, stress, anxiety, greed and violence, I decided to add tart cherries. Now, tartness isn’t the same as sourness, but they are similar, so the symbolism works for me. Also, just as the album ends on a bit of a sweeter note, encouraging us to set aside our differences and focus on the light, tart cherries provide much more than just tartness, as they impart a delicious sweetness at the end of each sip. The cherries and Belgian yeast were born for each other, as our Belgian strain already produces lots of dark stone fruit flavors, especially that of cherry. Lyrically, I think the yeast and cherries knock it out of the park.

As far as the “dark” aspect, the album does have a darkness to it, based of it’s lyrical themes, but in no means is it stark black and pessimistic. Therefore, I wanted to choose a style that was darker in color without being black, representing that light can still get through. The dark amber with copper hue fits the bill.

I wanted this beer to be dry for a few reasons. First, Belgian beers should be dry and very attenuative. Part of the allure of a good Belgian ale is that it tastes sweet up front, while finishing dry on the back end. It’s part of the reason why you can have such high alcohol beers without them being too cloying. When a beer is clean and dry, you want to take another sip and start all over again. I equated this to if you played the album on repeat, and it ends with a heartbeat fading into nothing, and then reappearing again. Since this beer is at 10% abv and finished just a hair above 2° Plato, we accomplished this goal.

Finally, when we think about not wasting time and enjoying life to the fullest, I wanted to create a beautiful beer that would show people joy and bring people together. Personally, some of my favorite beers to share with friends on special occasions are Belgian beers, especially Belgian Dark Strongs. There is beauty and elegance to the flavor, the presentation, the glassware and the entire experience. You may be experiencing times of grief or strife, but when you’re drinking a fine Belgian ale, your cares and worries seem to float away. Often times, I find myself becoming very contemplative while gentling sipping, much like my behavior while listening to The Dark Side of the Moon. I wanted this beer to represent this album in so many ways, the reflective nature of it’s content, the use and value of time, and the short bouts of darkness that can distract from the beauty of life. Now, you may say that sitting around drinking beer IS frittering around and wasting hours, but I’ll disagree. Beer is the ultimate social network and has been bringing people together for thousands of years. I don’t believe spending time with people you care about while enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor to be a waste of time. Therefore, I’ll describe this beer as darker on it’s initial appearance, but the more you dive into it, there’s tartness, richness, sweetness and beauty.

For the grist, we used Belgian Pils, Munich, Special B and Aromatic malts. We hopped with one addition of Hallertau and fermented with a classic Belgian yeast that has it’s roots in the monasteries. At high krausen, we added the cherries at a rate of about a pound of tart cherries for every 1.25 gallon of beer. We also added dark Belgian Candi syrup and dextrose to add additional flavor complexity and to dry the beer out. The final stats are 10% abv, 30 IBU and 18 SRM. We serve it in a 10.5oz tulip glass the showcases the beauty of this beer phenomenally.

Without trying to build this beer up too much, I honestly think this is one of the best beers I have ever constructed, either here at the brewery or on a homebrew scale. I am in love with it. It’s too bad it’s at 10% abv because I wish I could drink it all day. Because of this, we are limiting it to 3 glasses a day, as the alcohol is so well hidden, you can very easily overdo it. I am thrilled the beer came out as well as it did to pay respect to one of my favorite all time albums by one of my all time favorite musical groups. My hope is you’ll fall in love with this beer as well, and be reminded of the beauty in life while cherishing time spent with those close to you. I’ll see you all on the dark side of the moon.

~Dave