Blonde on (Belgian) Blond Ale w/Apricots
It’s hard to know exactly where to start with Blonde on Blonde as it’s one of my all time favorite albums and a true masterpiece. It’s widely regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made, and is one of only two of his albums to go 2x Platinum in the US (the other being Blood on the Tracks). This unique combination of commercial and critical success made designing this beer a bit of a challenge to make sure proper dues were paid.
Released in 1966, Blonde on Blonde completed the “trilogy” of albums Dylan released within 14 months, starting with Bringing It All Back Home, followed by Highway 61 Revisited. The fact that Blonde on Blonde was a double album (debatable as being the first in rock history) means he essentially cranked out 4 albums of that caliber in less than a year and a half is more than remarkable. I think a better term than trilogy would be a three-peat, in sports terms, as all 3 are masterpieces and consistently ranked as among the greatest albums ever recorded. And although all three are fantastic for their own reasons, Blonde on Blonde is my favorite.
Starting in 1965 when he started experimenting with electric sound, Dylan’s concerts were often contentious, with members of the audience shouting “Judas” and “traitor” at him. Bringing It All Back Home dealt with the expected blowback, with songs like “Maggie’s Farm” announcing his departure from the folk scene in a more authoritative tone, while the final song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is significantly softer. The second side of Bringing It All Back Home was accoustic, almost like Dylan was offering an olive branch and invitation to join him on his journey.
The following album, Highway 61 Revisited, made no such attempts. This album was all electric (sans the final song) and it’s lyrics were more cynical and direct. If there was any doubt where Dylan was headed, the album was more than a roadmap (pun intended).
Blonde on Blonde is different, at least to me, as it no longer seems like Dylan is trying to make a point about his departure from the political, protest and folk scenes and feels free to make what he wants. Dylan himself once remarked “The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up.” The album starts with the very well known “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35”, which contains the iconic lyrics, “So I would not feel so all alone, everybody must get stoned.” The playful and funny Dylan that we knew from his acoustic albums had returned. This playfulness continues with “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” There are also several sweet, romantic songs, such as “I Want You” and “Pledging my Time”, while also talking about the darker sides of relationships in “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”, “Just Like a Woman” and “4th Time Around.” But perhaps my favorite songs on Blonde on Blonde are the epic “Visions of Johanna” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” I love the story telling, the abstract lyrics and their meaning, as well as the grand picturesque visions that are created through the vocals, all backed by fantastic blues inspired rock, that would only be considered second fiddle when paired together with a master like Dylan.
So let’s refresh, Blonde on Blonde is fun, sweet, a touch sour and grand. It didn’t take me long to decide that the beer for this album should be a Belgian Blond aged on apricots. While it may seem like an easy answer to a complex question, I’ll respectfully disagree. As this album was one of Dylan’s greatest achievements, both commercially and critically, I wanted to make a beer that would embody both of those traits. A belgian beer with fruit, when done right, is a beer that will hit both those notes.
On top of that, the belgian yeast adds complexity, with light fruit and subtle spicy notes, representing the session musicians in Nashville that Dylan recorded with. The apricots add grand flavors, tartness (similar to sour, but not quite) and sweetness, much like Dylan’s lyrics. And overall this beer is just…fun. It’s served in a belgian tulip glass, has a big fluffy white head, and is fantastically delicious. This type of fun is the same type of feeling I get when listening to this album.
Finally, just as Dylan comes across as less encumbered compared to his previous two efforts, I wanted the idea for this beer to come straight from my gut, without analyzing and stressing about it too much, and I feel it comes across very natural. We’re taking a Blond Ale and aging it on blonde fruit. Sometimes the simple answer is the correct answer.
Evaluating this beer, the spicy and peppery characteristics from the yeast show up initially in the aroma, along with a pear like fruitiness. The apricots show up prominently in the flavor, accented by similar characteristics of the aroma. The beer is highly carbonated, and while has it has sweet flavors, finishes dry. The carbonation adds to a perception of body, adds an effervescence and brings all the aromas and flavors to the forefront. I am extremely biased, but I think it’s lovely.
When this beer is released, I’m personally going to drink the living daylights out of it, so I suggest you don’t delay too much in coming to try it. This beer will never match the quality of the album, not many things in life can, but I hope that I came close enough. Cheers.