It features portraits of fifty chefs, each of whom replied to a questionnaire about his or her fantasy final meal. Truffles are a frequently requested palliative: thirteen respondents wouldn’t go without a fix, whether white, black, shaved, coarsely grated, wrapped in thin slices of salt pork, served with grilled-shirako risotto, or minced on toast. Caviar (ten mentions) and foie gras (seven) are also popular, as are the humbler condiments cracked pepper (three) and sea salt (six), often accompanying bread, which, in its various forms—baguette, rye, Pullman loaf—seems to be the most beloved foodstuff of all. Duck fat is big. So is sea urchin, an aphrodisiac. Whiskey comes up a few times. Blowfish is mentioned just once, by Masa Takayama. He craves clear blowfish soup with temomi-somen noodles, wild-blowfish sashimi with liver, fried blowfish cheeks, and a pudding made with blowfish testicles. Oh, and it would be great if Mozart could perform live.You see exactly where I'm headed with this (and not because of the title), don't you? The state of Texas is about to send you onto the next stage of existence, and as the orderlies strap you down to the executioner's table, which beer would you like to be lingering in your mouth? (It's possible this was not the scenario put to the chefs, but you never know.) So?
It's a slightly different question than which beer you'd take to a desert island, another diverting thought experiment. Your last beer would not necessarily be the easy-drinker you'd choose to have every day of your life. If you were headed to the gallows, you'd want it to be strong--nothing like a bit of alcohol to take the edge off a grisly execution. You might like it to be sticky with hops, so you could indeed carry it along with you after the final sip. Or perhaps you'd want something rare and elegant; a beer fit for the ritual of the last supper.
The circumstances of the end would certainly affect the choice, but I think I can narrow it to these five:
Pliny the Elder - Not only is this beer on the far edges of strength, hoppiness, and quality, but the name would remind me of the churn of life, of the truth that we all--even those of us who discover hops--become mulch for the malt.
Rodenbach Grand Cru - This beer, despite its intense sourness, has a quality that always buoys my mood. I couldn't go out morose after a tipple of Rodenbach.
Guinness Extra Stout - For me, this is the comfort food of the beer world. It warms and caresses, and delivers a narcotic sense of wellbeing.
Orval - A liquid benediction. What more needs to be said? (My fave of the Trappistes.)
Aged Fred - Of course, in the end I would never go out with a foreign beer on my lips, nor--despite its quality--one from California. It must be Beervana kissing me sweetly as I go. Hair of the Dog's Fred seems to combine all the qualities I'd desire--strength, hops, ritual, locality. But please, bring me one from the cellar, once its had an opportunity to mature and deepen. It's my last beer, after all--only the best will do.