Friday Musings: Composition

Friday Musings: Composition

This Christmas, I received what I think is going to be the most amazing bottle of beer ever from my son Connor’s equally amazing girlfriend, Morgan. Technically speaking, Dialogues, made by The Referend Bier Blendery in Kutztown, PA, is a spontaneously fermented ale that has been aged in oak barrels along with various grapes, juice, and pomace. Wow, right?? That’s what I think too. To make matters even more interesting, there is a Pablo Neruda quote on the back of the bottle that is part of a poem called “Ode to the Dictionary:”

as slippery as smooth grapes,
words exploding in the light
like dormant seeds waiting
in the vaults of vocabulary,
alive again, and giving life:
once again the heart distills them.

I think that it probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about words. I write with a thesaurus by my side in case I need some help in articulating exactly what I’m trying to say, and I’d probably carry it around in my purse if it would fit. Either way, I love the idea of words being stored inside it as if they are being held safely behind impenetrable steel doors. I have no problem admitting that I occasionally open that thesaurus just to peruse it, and when I do, I sometimes feel as though the words dance off the page right in front of my eyes in search of a sentence to call home. This concept of a thesaurus or dictionary as a physical holding place for words is a rather appealing one for me, but it seems fairly clear that Neruda is also nudging us to think of words as being stored in the vocabulary vault within our own minds, ready to be brought to life again the moment we retrieve them.

Whether or not we sit down every week to write a lengthy blog post, it’s fair to say that we all actually spend a good bit of time thinking about words. They are our means of communication, after all, and communication is necessary for human interaction. Consider how exciting it is when a toddler begins to talk; finally, we know what they’ve been desperately trying to tell us in every other way that’s been available to them! Some words that we use provide basic functions: they instruct, inform, or explain. “Preheat the oven to 425. Remove the frozen pizza from the box and plastic wrap. Heat for 12 minutes.” There is no need to embellish these words in any way, although you certainly could if you wanted to. “Turn the dial on your oven until it rests at the 425 degree mark. Allow the frozen doughy disk to descend upon the oven rack without its outer cloaking; otherwise, spontaneous combustion and serious scalding may occur. Remove the glorious celebration of Italian heritage from the oven after one fifth of an hour has passed.” You get my point. While informative words can seem the easiest to retrieve on demand, there are instances where they can actually fail to provide the best directions. Sometimes it’s just easier (and safer) to show a person how to turn a chainsaw on and off, rather than try to tell them. I apologize for that digression. Something about it seemed necessary.

I think the thing that moves us further in the direction that Neruda wants to take us is the consideration of how the two sets of instructions for cooking the pizza may hit us differently. The first sentences are fairly stark and seem to have very little connection to memories or emotions, whereas the exaggerated group has lots of potential. For me, the use of the words “oven mark” conjures up thoughts of a dear Scottish friend who always wanted to set our American oven to gas mark five, and I would laugh. The pizza’s “outer cloakings” remind me of how obsessed I was with the book and film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Remember that amazing cape that Meryl Streep was always wearing?? “Scalding” brings me back to my high school job at KFC where someone always seem to be inadvertently dipping an elbow into the chicken vats, and the mere mention of “Italian heritage” transports me to my grandmother’s kitchen. Again, you get my point. In the latter example, there is more happening that just the mere intellectual understanding of instructional words. There is an emotional connection being formed. In “Ode to the Dictionary,” Neruda employs the words “the heart distills them” to illustrate this same idea. As human beings, we struggle the most with articulating our emotions, and yet being able to do so is truly vital to sustaining our relationships, despite the “actions speak louder than words” maxim. Sometimes we really just need to hear some feelings. What happens when emotional words are spoken? They definitely travel the same route as the second set of pizza directions, processed first in the auditory and comprehension centers of our brains before making a non-scientific beeline for our hearts where they totally stir things up. My favorite part of this Neruda quote is his use of the word “distills.” The action of distillation, as it it represented here, is the rendering of a spoken thought down to its most refined essence, a process that cannot occur on a purely intellectual level. It is far more intuitive, and it will not happen in the absence of emotion. Neruda is gently reminding us that while we may desire that emotional words be spoken to us, we have to be equally open to allowing them to take up residence in our hearts, if only for a moment before releasing them again. It is in this place that they are alive, deeply resonating, and capable of being understood as intended.

For today’s cocktail, I decided to keep with the beer theme and use a sour ale as one of this drink’s main flavor components. Since sours are Morgan’s favorite style of beer, and since I actually researched a few of them for my Christmas present to her, it seemed fitting for one to have such an elevated role in this post. I chose Tox Brewing Company’s Ink because it was an amazing combination of all the dark fruits, along with lactose and vanilla. I allowed the sour to do the major work in the cocktail, adding to it just a bit of additional citrus in the form of lime juice, as well as using a rosemary simple syrup that complemented the deep fruit flavors. This spoke in the language of margaritas to me, and so I chose tequila as my base spirit and a green chili liqueur as its partner in crime. The result made me think of the way in which multiple words enter into our distillation process where they combine to be one thought and then another. Each of these ingredients had that same effect, perceived individually, then in combination, all felt emotionally as any good drink always should be. Cheers everyone! Happy Friday and Happy New Year!


1.5 oz Teremana tequila
.5 oz Ancho Reyes Verde liqueur
.75 oz lime juice
1 oz rosemary simple
2 oz Tox Brewing Company Ink sour ale

Long shake over ice.
Double strain into a cocktail glass or a tall beer glass.
Garnish with a rosemary sprig and a pinch of sea salt.


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