Artists Series 4: Sky Blue Sky
The Artists Series is a deeply personal project and this beer is probably the most personal undertaking so far. I would be hard pressed to come up with an album that has meant more to me on a personal level than Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky so it was obvious for me that this beer was going to carry that name. But the name was the easiest part – the hardest part was designing the beer and for that, we need some backstory.
My mom was an amazing person. I know that everyone thinks that about their parents and their mom in particular, but in my case it was true. She had an adventurer’s spirit and nothing scared her, it’s one of the things I most treasure about what she passed on to my brothers and I. The three of us have walked our own paths through life, sometimes traditional and other times far off the beaten path. But none of us has been afraid of what we’d find on the other side and we’ve always known that our mom would be there to pick us up and push us along.
So it came as no surprise when my mom and dad announced they were selling their home, moving on to their boat and sailing to Mexico. It also didn’t come as a surprise when two years later they announced their plans to circumnavigate the globe. As the years and the miles piled up, so too did the adventures. And back home my brothers and I continued to move through our lives – marriages, moves and eventually children.
My mom had always been one of those people who loved babies. Didn’t matter whose baby, she’d snatch them up and coo and cuddle until the only thing they wanted was her. So as the first grandchildren arrived we all knew she would be ready to return home. And sure enough, within a year they had established a new home base in Florida and the boat was on the market even though the circumnavigation wasn’t complete. After all, there would always be time to finish once the babies weren’t babies. Or so we all thought.
When the cancer diagnosis came, none of us were prepared – except for mom. I don’t know if we never saw her fear or she just wasn’t afraid. I’d like to think she wasn’t afraid but, honestly, even if it was just a brave face she was putting on for us I’ve never seen anyone so unafraid and ready to face cancer down.
But the world is an unpredictable place and what seems surmountable can quickly change. Five months after her diagnosis my mom passed away in Jacksonville. During those five months my brothers, myself, our wives and our kids tried to spend as much time as we could in Florida around my mom and my dad. So many of my memories from that summer are airports, lonely flights and nights in my parents condo trying to fall asleep in a bed by myself.
On all those car trips and flights and nights, one of my constant companions was this Wilco album. I don’t know how it happened, it wasn’t a new album – I’d actually had it for a while by that point. But somehow it wound up popping up again and again until eventually it had become that comfortable pair of pants you wear on Saturdays in the house.
For me, this album is inseparable from that moment in my life, those too few short months five years ago. Any attempt to encapsulate the album falls silent for me – every song weighed down by an emotional weight. But that’s one of the most amazing things about music, that something so heavy and weighty and difficult to hold can be contained by a single album. That it wouldn’t spill over and color every song I listened to seems like such a gift – that one album could hold all that sadness seems like such a piece of magic. So I leave it to others to describe the album itself because for me it will forever be of that time and place, of airports and hospitals and flights and the oppressive summer heat of Florida.
Five years have passed now, lives have changed, new children have arrived, jobs and lives have altered and my brothers and I still walk our own paths – each step marked with some of the adventurous spirit from mom. And while five years can bring a lot of change it doesn’t bring a lot of distance. So from this space and this time I set out to design a beer to say thank you: to this album, to the place where I find myself, and most importantly to my mom.
In thinking about beers that could say what I wanted to say, I just couldn’t find the right beer. Every style seemed to have an angle to probe but also something to disqualify it. And it was at that moment when I realized I needed to say something that hadn’t been spoken before, something no beer single beer style could contain. At its heart, my mother and this album were and are singular things – and so a singular beer was required.
The Artists Series 4: Sky Blue Sky IVL (India Vienna Lager). At its heart, a traditional Vienna Lager with roasted, deep, malty notes – European lager hops provide the bittering backdrop and flavor undertones. Layered on top is an unexpected depth and complexity of a huge and heavy American IPA – redolent with pine, resin, grass and tropical hints. It’s a beer designed for an adventurous spirit and dedicated to an album with layer upon layer of complexity and meaning.
Crossing the Bar
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.