There are people who will tell you that a Liberal Arts degree, in the possession of an English major, is one of the most worthless pieces of paper in general circulation. But as I possess one such scrap of parchment, I am not one of those who will speak disparagingly of it.
And this is why: Years ago, I was chatting with Mary Rubenstein at Middle Ages Brewing, and she told me that they had just made a stout, and asked if I had any ideas for a name. It had to be Arthurian, in keeping with the Grail legends. It was a lovely stout, more black than brown, rich, velvety, delicious and seriously dark, and I was immediately reminded of Mordred, the black-hearted, a shadow cast across Camelot, because I had read Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and a host of other Arthurian tales, and Mordred was not a character one forgot easily. And so I said, “How about Black Heart Stout?” And Mary liked the idea, and applied to the BATF. But they said, “Aren’t ‘black hearts’ a kind of drug?” And Mary said, “Oh, no, it’s a reference to Mordred, the black-hearted,” and they said, “Oh, okay.” And there you have it.
I was reminded of this on Saturday when I had a growler filled with Black Heart Stout at Middle Ages Brewing, and spent a wonderful weekend with it.
A weekend all the more delicious because I had named the beer, and a lovely beer it is.
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With thanks to N.C. Wyeth from The Boy’s King Arthur (1917); Arthur Rackham in The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table (1917); Howard Pyle for “Sir Mordred the Traitor” from The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur (1910), and (below) Alfred Kappes’ “The Combat of Mordred and King Arthur,” from The Boy’s King Arthur (1880).
“And when Sir Mordred heard King Arthur, he ran unto him with his sword drawn in his hand. And then King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield with a foin of his spear throughout the body more than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he had his death’s wound, he thrust himself, with the might that he had, up to the bur of King Arthur’s spear. And right so he smote [the king] with his sword holden in both his hands, on the side of the head, that the sword pierced the helmet and the brain-pan. And therewithal Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the earth. And the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth, and there he swooned ofttimes.”
— From The Boy’s King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s History of King Arthur and His Knights of the R0und Table (1880) edited by Sidney Lanier.