Growing up, I wasn’t always the biggest Beatles fan. In fact, for the longest time, I actually had a distaste for them. When my family would go to a Christmas tree farm to cut down our own tree, there was a time when they were picking me up from a friend’s house after a sleep-over, and they’d normally be showing up early after I had stayed up late playing video games. On the radio on the way to the tree farm was usually “Breakfast with the Beatles.” This made me associate them not only with my parents (and when you’re that age, you definitely don’t want to like your parent’s music), but would also remind me of being tired, wanting to go back to sleep, and being dragged around at a family activity.
Fast forward to either freshman or sophomore year in high school, and I was on the equivalent of the JV football team. The night before a game, a parent would host the entire team over for a spaghetti dinner. At one of the first dinners, I remember our host putting on disc 1 of The Beatles (I will refer to it as it’s more common name, The White Album, from here on out). At first, I groaned on the inside. The Beatles? Really? To use one of John’s descriptions, they were granny music. Then before I knew it, the entire football team was singing along to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” I remember that was the first time I thought to myself, “Huh, maybe there’s more here than I give credit to. Perhaps I should check them out a little more.” Man, am I glad I did.
The White Album is a fascinating piece of work because it exposed the cracks that were beginning to show in the band. Before the recording of The White Album, the band would record the music together in the studio before deciding which take they liked best, and use that take on the album (maybe with minor over-dubs). Starting with The White Album, the band would record their parts individually, and would often time be in the same building in different recording studios recording different songs. While this recording technique didn’t create the discord amongst the band members, it certainly didn’t foster or strengthen their relationships. What did create discord amongst the band members, however, was the constant presence of Lennon’s new girlfriend, Yoko Ono. Before The White Album, the Beatles had always worked alone, and this new development, essentially from the first day of recording, was a contributing factor in their eventual breakup.
Yoko gets a bad rap, but she was far from being the only reason the Beatles broke up. The band had experienced so much success by this point that creative difference were bound to creep up. Lennon, who was the original leader of the band, was annoyed with the amount of attention his famous collaborator, Paul, was getting. Paul was was partially jealous of John’s status as the unofficial leader of the band. By this point, John and Paul had begun to despise the other’s songs as they drifted further apart, musically and personally. The two of them had always worked together, which alienated George, who always felt 3rd fiddle in the band despite his own brilliance. And Ringo, poor Ringo, never got any respect. There were many more angles and friction points in the band. Paul felt left out on the recording of “Revolution #9”, so he recorded “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” without John. George invited Eric Clapton to play the signature guitar part on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” because he wasn’t satisfied with how the other band members were playing it. When Clapton expressed reluctance, Harrison replied “It’s my song.” Things got so bad at one point that Ringo actually quit the band. Before his return, the band recorded “Dear Prudence”, which actually features Paul on the drums. The band also grew tired of Paul’s increasing demands on perfectionism, especially on “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. To give a glimpse of the band’s working relationship during this album, consider the fact that there are 30 songs on The White Album. All four band members play on only 16 of them.
I think the album is also fascinating because the vast majority of the songs on the album were written while the band was attending a meditation retreat in India. This trip was supposed to relax the Beatles and have them feel like they were getting away from “being the Beatles.” The retreat did lead to the band writing some of their best songs (and reportedly doing it sober, having only brought marijuana with them on the trip), and was especially refreshing for Harrison, who after getting 3 songs on Revolver was only given one on Sgt. Pepper, and emerged with one of the greatest Beatles songs of all time in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” But you can just hear that something is different on The White Album, especially after listening to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. It lacks the cohesion of those aforementioned albums, as well as the still to come Abbey Road. In short, The White Album sounds like a collection of solo songs that each member submitted for approval. It’s still a fantastic album, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it feels like a picture where you’re forced to smile instead of capturing something genuine.
I’ve heard before that Sgt. Pepper was so over the top because it was the only direction they could go after Revolver. If that was the case, then The White Album is intentionally stripped down because there wasn’t anywhere to go other than the opposite direction. Even the album cover is a polar opposite. Instead of an outlandishly decadent cover with lots of color and people, The White Album has only the words “The Beatles” on it. Musically, it is dramatically different from Sgt. Pepper. There are still studio effects, and “what the heck was that?” moments (as I’m listening to “Piggies”), but not at all close to the same rate of usage. If the Beatles had changed to direction of music and what pop music could be with Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, then The White Album is them getting back to their roots, and you can hear more blues and traditional rock ‘n roll influences on it. But as strange as it sounds, the album has a tremendous amount of different musical styles, yet still sounds stripped down. Perhaps this leads to the album sounding like a collection of solo songs.
When designing this beer, I certainly had a challenge. I have an album that is complex, yet stripped down. An album where the creators were contentious towards each other, yet still made beautiful music. I ultimately went with my original instincts, a Double White IPA. It seems simple to make a double white IPA for a double album, but there’s multiple layers here. I’ve always thought that Belgian IPAs clash a bit in flavor, that the esters and phenols from the yeast don’t always get along with the hops. Which brings me to a point: what is the difference between a Belgian IPA and a White IPA. The best and shortest answer I have for you is that a Belgian IPA is pretty much the same recipe as an American IPA, but then fermented with a Belgian yeast. A White IPA is essentially a hopped up witbier. I’ve never been a huge fan of Belgian IPAs but have found the few examples of White IPAs I’ve had pleasant. I think a big difference is that White IPAs don’t have as much of a prominent yeast character, and therefore don’t clash as much. I also feel that brewers have figured out which hops work with which yeasts better than they were a few years ago when Belgian IPAs were flooding the marketplace. Just like how The White Album sounds like a collection of solo songs, I wanted each ingredient to be distinguishable without it detracting from the overall experience. How I saw it, is that I was taking a beer style that I always felt was clashing (with contentious ingredients, if you will) and make a beer I would like to drink.
I also felt that making a white IPA was appropriate, and not just because of the name. Our beer for Sgt. Pepper, a sour mashed mango IPA, is more reflective of the over the topness of that particular album. This white IPA is anything but simple, but didn’t require the time, resources, and specialty ingredients like the sour mashed mango IPA did. They’re both fantastic IPAs, but very different in their approach and how they drink.
To make this beer, I started with a base of Belgian Pils and Continental White Wheat, with smaller amounts of flaked oats and wheat. We added a small amount of Apollo in for bittering, but then didn’t hop again until the whirlpool, where we added very large amount of Cascade, Centennial and Nugget. We also dry hopped extensively with Cascade, Centennial and Nugget. Four different malts and 4 different hops, I told you four would be a theme for this series. During the boil, we also added orange peel and coriander to give extra complexity. We finished it off with a Belgian yeast that is known for having creatures on their labels that many people put statues of in their yard. We fermented slightly lower than normal so the yeast character wouldn’t dominate. The final stats for this beer are 8.4% ABV, 80 IBU and 6 SRM.
This is where I normally go into every song on the album to help justify my inspiration and the style of beer that I made, but I feel I’ve already done that with the overall feel of the album and how it was made. Also, there’s 30 songs on it, and I have a business to help run. 🙂 So I’m going to skip that part, at least for now. This decision doesn’t mean that I think there aren’t interesting songs and stories behind the songs on this album. But I feel that each member of the Beatles was kind of doing their own this at this moment, and had different sets of inspiration and ideas that didn’t always mesh with everyone else, and I tried to make a beer to match.
Speaking of the beer, the Cascade and Centennial hops add citrus and floral notes, while the Nuggets are more earthy and herbal. All three of them compliment and contrast the yeast characteristics in different ways. The yeast is spicier than the normal Belgian strains we use, and the Nugget plays along while the Cascade and Centennial hops add a citrus backer for complexity. There is no mistaking there is Belgian yeast in this beer and we don’t try to hide it. I feel like I get more of the orange peel and coriander than I did a couple weeks ago, which I find very enjoyable. Overall, I think the citrus is more prominent than the spicy tones, but not by a large margin.
The White Album may not be as revolutionary as Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, but when it has songs like “Back in the USSR”, “Dear Prudence”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “I’m So Tired”, “I Will”, “Blackbird”, “Birthday”, “Yer Blues”, “Helter Skelter”, “Long, Long, Long”, and “Revolution 1” on the same album, you’re talking about one of the greatest albums of all time. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Beatles lyrics of all time, which always brings a smile to my face. I hope I can bring you the same. “The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful, and so are you.”