There are few problems that I have with living in the beer rich city of Portland. The biggest problem (if you can call it that) is that I often drink so many tasty brews that I forget what a bad ale tastes like, and reversely, it takes a real kick-ass beer to catch my attention. The same could be said for my reading list. I rarely read a bad book.

A while back, I experienced both a beer and a book that got me excited.

I came home from work and found a present waiting for me in my fridge. A bottle of Full Sail’s Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter. As any pizza cook knows, nothing invites a tall glass of beer like a full day of pizza slinging. It had been one of those days.

I sat down on my couch, popped open the bottle of porter, and pulled out Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I have been a lifelong reader of Marquez. I love the way that he can steer the reader in certain directions with great ease.

I watched the porter climb up the pint glass. The scent of chocolate, fig, and a well-aged bourbon wafted towards me. Somehow, these flavors were all detectable, but not a single one was overpowering. I lingered at this stage, simply smelling the beer. Finally, I tasted it. It tasted smooth. I like the idea of bourbon barreled aged ales, but they can be overbearing, often tasting so strong that the flavor of ale is lost. This was not the case with Full Sail’s Top Sail. The bourbon barrels added a smoky aftertaste to the ale, but I could still taste the original porter.

Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a book that is up front with the story. It is a tale of a man, Santiago Nasar, who is murdered when it is discovered that he has dishonored Angela Vicario by sleeping with her before her wedding day. The man Angela marries, Bayardo San Roman, simply returns her, but her twin brothers go on a mission to return honor to the family name.

Marquez’s novella takes its time telling the story of the man who goes back to uncover as many details about the murder as he can. What he unravels but never reveals is that the town knew the murder was to happen. Many in the town are too busy (the bishop is riding through that same day) to deal with it themselves, and others are prevented from stopping it by mere coincidence. As the story continues, we begin to see a society that may have been more proactive had Nasar not been a Turk. By revealing the murderers at the start of the book, Marquez is able to dig into the townsfolk’s whereabouts, eventually revealing an entire town as accomplices in Nasar’s murder.

I enjoy porters, but I am rarely in the mood for them. They can be too heavy. It is only when the rain is pelting the window panes that I can start to feel my appetite for a dark beer growing. However, I am always in the mood for a good beer. Top Sail is such a great beer that it is a shame that it is only available for limited release. Sadly, I have not been able to find another bottle.

I often enjoy sad books, but I have a hard time getting through the really heavy ones. (I have yet to finish a Hubert Selby Jr. novel.) Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not necessarily a sad book. It brings sorrow in the way that the society has failed to stop a murder, but Marquez magically keeps the mood light. In the way that only he can, Marquez weaves the tale of murder with ghosts and wild drunken wedding parties. Perhaps the saddest moment of the book comes in the last paragraph:

“They’ve killed me, Wene child,” he said.
He stumbled on the last step, but he got up at once. “He even took care to brush off the dirt that was stuck to his guts,” my Aunt Wene told me. Then he went into his house through the back door that had been open since six and fell on his face in the kitchen (120).

The murder was what I, the reader, have been waiting to see. I spent the entire book in anticipation, allowing the actual scene to be riveting but not heartbreaking.

I closed the book and took the final sip of my beer. At an ABV of 9.85%, the porter left me feeling pretty fuzzy, but I still had the wits to wonder how a town could have let such a seemingly innocuous man die. I closed my eyes and thought of the two pieces of art that had made for such a wonderful close to a busy day. The beer that allowed for me to be entirely engrossed in a book that was worthy of all my attention. Truly, a wonderful experience.

Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter:
Member of Full Sail’s Brewmaster Reserve Line
Very limited availability in 22 oz. bottles and draught
ABV 9.85%
IBU 65

Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Translated by Gregory Rabassa