I can’t imagine what life must be like during the current viral pandemic for those unlucky souls who don’t bird. Certainly, all this isolation and disorientation is strange enough for birders, too, but at least we can but at least we can depend on the comforting patterns of the natural world — especially now that spring migration is really picking up — to provide some sense of temporal order in an existence now otherwise devoid of usual patterns and routines. And even with that, it’s difficult for all of us – whether we’re quarantining, sheltering in place, or just hunkering down – to escape the strange, oppressive monotony of our new day-to-day lives. For one thing, all this social distancing can make each day feel “like déjà vu all over again”, as a famous ball player once put it.

What did baseball legend Yogi Berra know about birding? Well, as he once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Sounds pretty good to me.

Speaking of great quotes, author and conservation icon Rachel Carson once wrote “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” While we certainly agree with that sentiment at Birds and Booze — especially during these trying times — having a good beer in hand to continue that contemplation when you get back home from birding certainly doesn’t hurt.

Truth be told, I picked up this week’s beer long before we embarked on this surreal “three-hour tour” we are now collectively enduring. But even before a daily sensation of déjà vu became our new “normal”, there was something uncannily familiar about this beer, a porter called Stranger than Fiction by Collective Arts Brewing of Hamilton, Ontario. Cracking open a can the other night, it dawned on me: I reviewed this beer a year ago, nearly to the day, in fact (and if the brewery sounds familiar, we featured it several times here already, including last week’s post). The packaging artwork has changed – last year it was a fluid, thickly-textured portrait of a Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) – but I think the recipe has remained the same. The artwork of this edition is by Jenny Keith – an Edmonton, Alberta-based artist with a penchant for depicting animals and natural curiosities. With Stranger than Fiction, she depicts a Siamese cat on the left of the frame being stared down by unlikely menagerie of birds on the right — none of whom are practicing appropriate social distancing, I might add. In descending order, these are a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), a Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber), a Blue-and-yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna), a hummingbird, a kiwi, a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), a platypus (alright, that’s not a bird but the name Ornithorhynchus anatinus certainly hints at the birdlike features of this egg-laying mammal, so it gets a pass), a Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), and a rooster.

Whatever this striking image means, Stranger than Fiction seems oddly appropriate name for a beer given our current reality, a surreal existence that falls somewhere between Nietzsche’s “eternal return” and an unfunny, Kafkaesque purgatory from which birding is often the only escape to sanity.

Even though the artwork has changed, the flavors of this full-bodied and impenetrably dark brown beer are just as delicious as they were a year ago. The rich coffee aromas of last year’s version are still present, along with hints of dark, crusty bread and toasted nuts. There’s perhaps a bit more milk chocolate sweetness to complement the deeply roasted malt this time around, mingled with hints of earthy hops and sassafras, and ending with a dry, licoricey finish. All in all, Stranger than Fiction isn’t all so peculiar: just a good, comforting mug of beer to help get us through these uneasy times.

Good birding and happy drinking — and be well, everyone.

Collective Arts: Stranger than Fiction

Three out of five feathers (Good).

Written by Tristan Lowery
Tristan Lowery’s busy homebrewing schedule took a hit in 2010 when he discovered birding and found that scanning the waterfowl at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on a frigid midwinter morning could be just as much fun as standing over a steaming mash tun in a sweltering Queens apartment in August. While his growing commitment to birding has undeniably diminished his brewing output of ales - fine and otherwise - Tristan finds that birding still affords him plenty of excuses to at least keep drinking beer, especially when celebrating life birds, lamenting unsuccessful chases, and capping off an exhausting Big Day or Christmas Bird Count. After leaving behind a hectic cooking career in New York City’s fine-dining scene, Tristan moved inland to the New York's Capital District, where the relative abundance of Pileated Woodpeckers almost makes up for the fact that he’s only seen a single Sanderling in Albany County ever. When he isn’t birding his local patches in urban Albany, Tristan works in energy regulation for the State of New York.