It’s 1967, and the Beatles are burned out. They’ve been touring extensively around the world, complete with accompanying interviews and other press engagements. They’d become dissatisfied with the composition of their concert audience, who they felt only came for the spectacle of seeing the Beatles and to scream, rather than being there to actually listen to the music. They were also dealing with a severe public backlash due to Lennon’s “Bigger than Jesus” comment. They had begun to record a new album, that was originally supposed to be about their childhood. However, when the songs “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” were finished, their business manager, eager to get new material into the marketplace, released them as a double sided single. Soon, the band was recording a McCartney song named “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Once they were finished with it, Paul suggested they make an entire album around it, performing as the Sgt. Pepper band. By creating alter egos, they wouldn’t be making the album as The Beatles, they could make it as their alternate self. They were taking away the stress of having to live up to Beatles hype, as well as giving themselves the space and opportunity to be endlessly creative. They had, at this point, decided they would no longer do live performances, which added to their creative output, as they no longer had be constrained by what sounds they could make just out of their instruments, but could add in more complex harmonies (think “Nowhere Man” on Rubber Soul), orchestral arrangements, and various studio effects. This decision, to momentarily stop being “The Fab Four”, and become a brand new band, ultimately created one of the most diverse, creative, influential, and fantastic albums ever created.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is over the top in many aspects. Most visibly is the grand album cover, which supposedly cost 60 times more to produce than normal album covers at the time. There stand The Beatles, clad in brightly colored military-esque costumes, all in mustaches, standing in between wax mannequins of themselves on one side and Marilyn Monroe on the other, with various other artists and celebrities behind them. In front of them is the iconic Sgt. Pepper drum skin, as well as the word “Beatles” spelled in flowers. Many people (especially the “Paul is dead” conspiracy theorists), believe the cover is a funeral, with what looks like a bass guitar also formed in the flowers, representing Paul. If it is indeed supposed to be a funeral, I think it is more likely they are putting the old Beatles to rest, symbolically representing the change that wasn’t just coming, but had already arrived. The Beatles had decided that the studio music would be their performances.
(side note about our version of the cover: every single brewer and beertender currently at Joyride is pictured on our album cover, as well as the 3 principal owner/operators. How many can you spot? Hint, there are 21. Find them all!)
I think an easy way out for this beer would’ve been doing a pepper medley, using multiple different colors of peppercorns to create a cornucopia of flavor. One problem is that it has already been done, and it didn’t fit the narrative that I was trying to tell. I wanted to think like Paul had, of trying to step outside my comfort zone and brew as if I was someone else.
One of the trends in craft beer right now is variations within the IPA category. It probably started with creation of Double/Imperial IPAs around twenty years ago, and picked up steam in the past 5-10 years with Black, Red, White, session, Barrel Aged, West Coast, East Coast, New England, Brett fermented, and kettled soured versions all appearing on our shelves and tap lists. The past 12 months, I’ve seen a bigger influx of fruited and New England style IPAs popping up around Denver, with some being standouts. I decided several months ago that Sgt. Pepper was going to be a fruited, New England IPA, and to add some grandeur to match the album’s opulence, I also decided it should be kettle soured. We have done a kettle soured IPA before, with Bringing It All Back Home Sour IPA from our Bob Dylan series of about a year ago. We’ve also done a fruited IPA before, with Wish You Were Here Blood Orange Black IPA from our Pink Floyd series that started in December of 2015. Recently, we have even brewed some New England style hoppy beers with the hire of our new Head Brewer, Chris. But we had never attempted to blend any of these very unique IPA styles, and I was excited to see what was going to happen when we infused several different distinct flavors together.
Sgt. Pepper starts with what sounds like an audience before a concert begins, while the orchestra is still warming up. Twelve seconds in, the drums and guitar kick in, and we are introduced to the band. The audience cheers, the horns play, and you immediately know this isn’t the same Beatles we knew from Revolver. Paul is the leader at this point, and let’s us know that someone else is going to sing a song for us, and it’s the fictional Billy Shears, portrayed by Ringo.
“With a Little Help From My Friends” may not be the best track on Sgt. Pepper, but I think, in a way, it represents the overall theme the album is going for. Ringo opens the song by singing, “What would you think if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me?” The line is initially amusing, as Ringo doesn’t have the best voice, and was very self conscious about singing the song to begin with. But I think it is also addressing the fact that we are listening to a completely different Beatles. There are various vocal effects used throughout the album, using techniques like speeding up or down the speed of the tape, that changed the tone of the singer’s voice. Ringo could be referring to that, or the overall theme of the album in general. But Ringo hits this one out of the park, and he comes across very warm and welcoming, almost like he is inviting the entire world to embark on a journey with the band.
For that journey, it’s fitting the next song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, opens with the line “Picture yourself in a boat on a river.” With “Lucy”, the Beatles have picked up where they left off with “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Revolver to dive deeper into psychedelic themes. And although the Beatles admit that the lyrics were purposely obscure with vibrant, psychedelic imagery, the title and chorus of the song were not intentionally chosen to spell “LSD”. John has said he was inspired by a drawing by his four year old son, where Lucy was flying in the sky with diamonds around her. Whether the song was supposed to be about acid or not, the song takes you on a trip nonetheless.
So far, all three songs on the album have been extraordinarily different, while still managing to somehow have a theme between them. The next song, “Getting Better” changes tempo yet again, and although the song comes across as poppy and positive, it actually acts as Lennon’s confessionary, admitting his past history of being abusive. And when McCartney sings “It’s getting better all the time”, Lennon counters with “Can’t get no worse.”
“Fixing a Hole”, a Paul song that is credited to Lennon-McCartney, is about self-reflection and improvement, although some have speculated it was about John’s supposed heroin habit. “She’s Leaving Home” is another Paul song that was inspired by a newspaper article about a teenage runaway. This beautiful song is similar to “Eleanor Rigby”, in that there are no traditional rock instruments used, and could very well have been the band singing over an old classical music performance. The interplay between Paul and John on the song is especially interesting and pleasing.
John takes us back to psychedelia with “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” This is yet another rumored drug song, with one of the characters in the song being “Henry the Horse”, two nicknames for heroin. Although Lennon denied it had anything to do with drugs, it didn’t stop the BBC from banning it from the radio. Lennon was inspired by a circus poster from the 1830’s he had bought, and the song certainly has a circusy theme to it. In fact, reading the script from the actual poster, the majority of the lyrics are coming straight from, or being inspired by the poster. The lone difference is that the horse, who is advertised as being one of the best in the world, is actually named Zanthus. This closes the first side of the album, a dizzying array of various musical influences.
To continue to trend of varied influences, side 2 starts with Harrison’s “Within You Without You”, an Indian inspired tune written after spending several weeks with his sitar instructor. Harrison expresses some of his newfound religious thinking in this song, and the lyrics “Try to realise it’s all within yourself/No one else can make you change/And to see you’re really only very small/And life flows on within you and without you” are particularly powerful. George is imploring us to love and be the best examples of ourselves, and that no one else can force us, we can only change our own perspective. The universe is going to live on no matter what, but wouldn’t we want to be a positive force in our short time?
Tell me a rock song that has a clarinet as a primary instrument. Quick! How about “When I’m Sixty-Four”? Again, the Beatles change what a rock album can be, placing a song like this after Lennon’s psychedelic “Mr. Kite” and the sitar driven “Within You Without You.” Although the cheese factor is strong with this one, I find that it improves as I age. However, the song represents the kind of Paul’s “granny music” that John hated, which was a contributing factor in the band’s eventual split.
“Lovely Rita” is another psychedelic number, but this time written by Paul instead of John. Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys has frequently cited Rubber Soul as a primary influence for Pet Sounds, and you can hear the Beach Boys’ influence in this song, especially with some of the unique instruments used. With “Good Morning Good Morning”, the Beatles once again reference some Pet Sounds influence, with multiple animal noises throughout the track. The sequence of animals was deliberately chosen that each animal could, in theory, “devour” the animal preceding it. Perhaps this was Lennon’s way of expressing the “dog eat dog” world of advertising, as it was inspired by a cereal commercial. In fact, the chorus is meant to be a form of jingle.
After this variety show of different songs, themes, influences, instruments and styles, the Sgt. Pepper band returns for a reprise and provide a bookend to the album. This version of the title track is much different, it’s faster with an absence of horns, and there is less empty space between vocals. As would be expected, it sounds like the last song of a concert where the group wants to end of a big and happy note to close the concert out in style. This reprise certainly lends a hand to making the album sound cohesive, and brings closure to the band’s performance.
Except the performance isn’t over quite yet, as there’s still time for an “encore” of sorts. What comes next is mesmerizing, haunting, beautiful, sad, and jarring. If “A Day in The Life” isn’t the Beatles at their absolute best, then it’s certainly close. With the slow acoustic guitar and gentle piano playing, it’s unclear whether this is actually an encore or whether this is now something different. The rest of the album has this fantasy-land quality and fun about it, but when “A Day in The Life” comes on, it’s almost like you have to stop and start taking things more seriously. Lennon sings, “I read the news today, oh-boy…” and goes on to talk about reading a newspaper article about a politician who died in a car crash after getting all hopped up on drugs. Here today, gone tomorrow. Lennon muses about the fragility of life and can only muster a laugh. He then goes on to talk about watching a film where “the English Army had just won the war.” He mentions a crowd of people turn away, symbolizing their willingness to move on from the horrors of World War 2, but Lennon has to look, “having read the book.” Maybe this doesn’t mean Lennon isn’t ready to move on, but perhaps means he is going to analyze the situation and drift into thought, saying “I’d love to turn you on.” Both Lennon and McCartney have denied that the lyric is a drug reference, but have also said that they meant for it to be provocative. It’s at this time that the orchestra comes in and begins their organized chaos over the course of 24 bars that just seems to build and build and build until it’s like a water balloon that’s about to bust. It peaks, an alarm clock goes off, and Paul’s section begins.
Paul’s section may just be a small bit, but it works within the framework and narrative of the entire song. He sings about an uneventful day where he wakes up, has a cup of coffee, makes the bus just in time, has a smoke and goes into a daydream. Is he contemplating the purpose of life? Is he thinking about the meaninglessness of his day so far? Is he dreaming about better days? Or was his smoke a special kind, and he’s going into a different type of dream altogether? In either case, Lennon’s haunting wailings come in to symbolize the dream, before the horns come back strong, signaling the end of the dream.
John comes back reading the news again, this time about how many holes were in the road in the city of Blackburn. After reading about a death and thinking about war, this seems a little different. Maybe this is the author looking for some levity in what is so far been a bit of a melancholy day. Perhaps he’s trying to shift his focus onto less important things, or maybe this is John lambasting this trivial story for the journalists not focusing on something more important. Again, he slips into contemplative thought, turning his mind on, and the orchestra starts up again. Somehow, it sounds more chaotic and apocalyptic than the first time around, and the tension keeps building. Your mind starts to wander, just as the author’s mind is, wondering where this craziness is all going, and where they’re going to go from here. Finally, we reach our crescendo, there’s a brief pause, then a defining E major piano chord, created by simultaneously pressing the chord on 3 different pianos, that is allowed to ring out for 40 seconds. At this point, I’m breathless, and I find myself thinking about life during that long fade out. It’s almost like the orchestra’s chaos represents our busy life, which suddenly comes to a halt. By stripping it down to a single note, it allows for mental clarity and easier contemplation. Sometimes you don’t realize how noisy everything around you is until you remove yourself completely from that environment. Maybe this is what they meant when they said “I’d love to turn you on.”
As the album is incredibly diverse and complex, I wanted to create a beer that would also have those traits. To start, I wanted to use ingredients and techniques from various places to represent the various influences found on the album. The malt is almost all English, using Golden Promise, with smaller additions of Vienna, Wheat and Oats. The kettle souring technique we used is most well known from its application in Berliner Weisses’s, a German specialty. The hops are mostly American (Amarillo and Mosaic mostly, with a bit of Apollo for bittering), with a little bit of new age German hops thrown in as well (Huell Melon). Aside from the Lactobacillus bacteria used in the kettle souring, we used two yeast strains in the fermenter that are known for their fruity esters. Finally, we added mango purée halfway through fermentation. Mangos are native to Southern Asia, and are actually the national fruit of India. I thought the variety of different ingredients and their origins represented the album well, especially with the mango representing Harrison’s work. As a nod to the band, we used four different malts and four different hops in the recipe, a theme you’ll notice continuing in subsequent beers in the series.
I also feel that, like the album, the beer has several unique and different characteristics that mesh together beautifully in the end. Normally, I don’t think that sour and bitter work well together, but we also integrated in some residual sweetness from the use of the mango, which I feel helps bind it together. And even though we’ve probably all heard every song on Sgt. Pepper a million times, I feel that when I listen to the album, I still pick up something I had never heard before, or noticed something on the cover I had never seen before. I feel that this beer is very similar, in that it changes with every sip. Initially, the tartness is very pronounced and I get notes of peach and orange marmalade. As it warms, I get more of the mango coming through, as well as passionfruit, melon, and light stonefruit. The tartness subsides a bit, with a little more sweetness and bitterness coming through. Toward the end, it becomes much more like a fruity IPA with a lighter sour note, almost like you’re biting into actual fruit and getting the acid in it.
I was initially reluctant to do a Beatles series because I had concerns about paying proper respect to the music. I had similar concerns about writing this blog post, I mean, we’re talking about Sgt. Pepper! But in retrospect, as I’m swirling and sipping my snifter of kettle soured mango IPA, I couldn’t be happier with the result. This isn’t going to be a beer for everyone, just as not everyone was ready for Sgt. Pepper when the album was released. We very easily could have just made an IPA, just as the Beatles very easily could have released a different sounding album with a different conceptual direction. But they didn’t. And just as Paul’s suggestion to step outside the box and pretend to be someone else had a profound impact on the band during those recording sessions, it had an impact on me when I was designing this beer, and tinkering with the recipe over the past few months.
This is Sgt. Pepper’s Kettle Soured Mango IPA, and I hope you enjoy the show. It’s Sgt. Pepper’s Kettle Soured Mango IPA, sit back and let the evening go.