Roald Dahl’s The Twits

Today is the birthday of curmudgeonly children’s writer Roald Dahl (September 13, 1916-November 23, 1990).

[He] was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter, and fighter pilot. His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.

Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, in which he became a flying ace and intelligence officer, rising to the rank of acting wing commander. He rose to prominence in the 1940s with works for both children and adults and he became one of the world’s best-selling authors. He has been referred to as “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century.” His awards for contribution to literature include the 1983 World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and the British Book Awards’ Children’s Author of the Year in 1990. In 2008, The Times placed Dahl 16th on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.”

Dahl’s short stories are known for their unexpected endings and his children’s books for their unsentimental, macabre, often darkly comic mood, featuring villainous adult enemies of the child characters. His books champion the kind-hearted, and feature an underlying warm sentiment.[10][11] Dahl’s works for children include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG, The Twits and George’s Marvellous Medicine. His adult works include Tales of the Unexpected.

One of his less well-known books was The Twits. “The idea of The Twits was triggered by Dahl’s desire to ‘do something against beards,’ because he had an acute hatred of them. The first sentence of the story is, ‘What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays!'”


Even though it was written in 1979, and published the following year, just like today hipsters with beards drank lots of beer, if Mr. Twit is any example. One chapter, “The Glass Eye,” involves a trick his wife played on him with his beer.


Ballantine’s Literary Ads: J.B. Priestley

Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was J.B. Priestley, who’s best known novel was probably The Good Companions, though I think he’s more well-known in Great Britain than in the U.S. His ad ran in 1952.

Today is the birthday of John Boynton Priestley, better known as J.B. Priestley (September 13, 1894–August 14, 1984), who “was an English novelist, playwright, scriptwriter, social commentator, man of letters and broadcaster. Many of his plays are structured around a time slip, and he went on to develop a new theory of time, with different dimensions that link past, present and future.”


His piece for Ballantine was done in the form of essentially listing all of the things he likes about the beer, point by point:

This is what I like, first of all, about Ballantine Ale: It’s a wonderful thirst-quencher. It passes smoothly over the palate, creating at once a fine feeling of refreshment.

At the same time, because it’s got body and flavor, it’s something a man can offer another man when the two of you begin to expand in talk, and perhaps boast a little.

Ballantine Ale is what I like to call “a clean drink.” You take another glass for the sheer pleasure of drinking it, and not because the first glass has failed to fulfill its promises and left you still feeling thirsty.

Finally, I like my Ballantine cold, but not too cold, please. Deep chilling, to my taste, tends to destroy the flavor. And the flavor’s worth keeping.


Ballantine’s Literary Ads: James Hilton

Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was James Hilton, who’s best known for a few novels turned into films. His ad ran in 1952.

Today is the birthday of James Hilton (September 9, 1900–December 20, 1954), who “was an English novelist best remembered for several best-sellers, including Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. He also wrote Hollywood screenplays.”


His piece for Ballantine was done in the form of his reminiscences about his first Ballantine Ale, and why he continues to recommend it or serve it to friends:

I first tasted Ballantine Ale on a mountain. We left a few bottles hidden in the first snow on the way up, and when we came down they were a treasure trove — deliciously iced and full of the flavor of fellowship and happy hours.

Since then I have enjoyed Ballantine Ale and offered it to friends on many far different occasions — lower in altitude but just as high in satisfaction. For Ballantine Ale is a good drink at all levels — and by a good drink, I mean that I’ve always found it thirst-quenching, smooth and comfortable, kind to the senses and nourishing to the memory.


Ballantine’s Literary Ads: Henry Morton Robinson

Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was Henry Morton Robinson, who was reasonably well known in 1951, when his ad ran.

Today is the birthday of Henry Morton Robinson (September 7, 1898–January 13, 1961), who “was an American novelist, best known for A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake written with Joseph Campbell and his 1950 novel The Cardinal, which Time magazine reported was ‘The year’s most popular book, fiction or nonfiction.'”


His piece for Ballantine was done in the form of his reminiscences about how Ballantine Ale has helped him relax over the years:

If Ballantine Ale didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

The tensions generated by modern life begin to lessen for me whenever I pluck a dewy-cold bottle of Ballantine Ale from the refrigerator. Anticipation mounts as I snap off the cap with its familiar three rings. There’s a promissory gurgle in the neck of the green bottle, then a swirl of full-bodied amber ale into my tilted glass. I watch the creamy collar rise to the brim — and the ritual of pouring is complete.

A sip, a swallow, a draught — according to my mood. Deep speaks to deep, as thirst and tension vanish together. Relaxed, I savor the distinctive after-tang prized by everyone who has ever tasted this hefty brew.

I lift glass and bottle to gauge my remaining measure of enjoyment. I’m prolonging, not scanting, an experience that will be repeated when I open another bottle of Ballantine Ale to be my companion at lunch or dinner.


Ballantine’s Literary Ads: C. S. Forester

Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was C. S. Forester, who’s best known for his Horatio Hornblower novels.

Today is the birthday of Cecil Louis Troughton Smith (August 27, 1899–April 2, 1966), who wrote under the nom de plume Cecil Scott or “C. S.” Forester. He “was an English novelist known for writing tales of naval warfare such as the 12-book Horatio Hornblower series, depicting a Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic wars. Two of the Hornblower books, A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours, were jointly awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1938. His other works include The African Queen (1935) and The General (1936).” His Ballantine ad ran in 1952.


His piece for Ballantine was done in the form of a letter reminiscing about first beers he’d tried doing his travels, including Ballantine the first time he came to New York City:

There’s always a first time for everything, and I still remember my first Ballantine Ale.

I had ordered my first “kleines hells” in Munich, my first Bock in Paris. As a rather bewildered young man in New York, I did a two-hour sight-seeing tour before being shipped to Hollywood, and in the half-hour before my train was to go, I had my first Ballantine Ale.

So my first recollection of Ballantine is linked with the Port of New York, the Empire State Building, and Grand Central Station. All of them were different from anything that had ever come into my experience — and all of them great.

Even then, I realized that the flavor of Ballantine Ale was unique. I thought it better than any brew I had met in Europe’s most famous beer gardens. I still do.


Peter Parley’s Definitions Of Beer

Today is the birthday of Samuel Griswold Goodrich, an American writer who wrote under the pseudonym Peter Parley (August 19, 1793-May 9, 1860). He was a very prolific writer, of mostly non-fiction and children’s books, with around 170 titles, with an estimated sales total of around 8,000,000 copies of his books sold during his lifetime. One of his most popular titles, “Peter Parley’s Geography for Children,” is believed to have sold 2,000,000 copies alone! He also published magazines, such as “The Token,” almanacs and much more.

One of his books, Peter Parley’s Illustrations of Commerce, was published in 1849. It’s essentially a dictionary of goods that can be sold which Goodrich defines in the beginning of his Preface as “the exchange of commodities for other articles, or for some representative of value, or for which other commodities can be procured.” There are short entries defining and describing a wide range of items under that loose definition. Not surprisingly, a few of them are about beer or the ingredients that are used to brew it. His books were aimed at a general audience, rather than brewers or others knowledgeable about beer, so they definitions are interesting when viewed in that context.












Spruce Beer




Historic Beer Birthday: Emile A.H. Seipgens

Today is the birthday of Emile Anton Hubert Seipgens (August 16, 1837-June 25, 1896). Seipgens was born in Roermond, the Netherlands. He was the son of a brewer, and after school and some failed jobs, joined his father at the brewery in 1856. By 1859, he was running the brewery along with his brother. But apparently he wasn’t happy there, and in 1874 decided to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Throughout his life, he wrote poetry, novels, plays and much more.


Here’s a translated biography of his literary career, from Literary Zutphen:

Emile (Anton Hubert) Seipgens, born August 16, 1837 in Roermond, from 1876 until 1883 teacher of German at the Rijks HBS in Zutphen. He founded a literary reading companion for his disciples and was a member of the “Circle of scientific maintenance. He lived Nieuwstad A128-2. Seipgens was an outspoken Limburg author. His work – theater, novels and novellas village – is invariably located in Limburg, and sometimes – his songs – even written in Limburg dialect. Some of his best known and most read titles he wrote in his Zutphense period: The chaplain Bardelo (1880), from Limburg. Novellas and Sketches (1881). In this period made ​​Seipgens, who was first trained to be a priest, then was brewer, then teacher, to eventually become a writer, definitively separated from the Catholic Church. He started on the assembly line to write stories, which he published in magazines such as The Guide , Netherlands and Elsevier . One of those stories, Rooien Hannes , had worked to folk drama and staged by the Netherlands Tooneel great success. Later titles are: In and around the small town (1887), along Maas and Trench (1890), The Killer Star (1892), Jean, ‘t Stumpke, Hawioe-Ho (1893), The Zûpers of Bliënbèèk (1894) and A wild Rosary (1894). In 1892 Seipgens secretary of the Society of Dutch Literature in Leiden, and in that place he died 1896. Posthumously published yet his novel on June 25, Daniel (1897) and the beam A Immortellenkrans (1897). Seipgens, which is one of the earliest naturalists of the Netherlands became completely into oblivion, until the late 70s of the last century actually was a small revival. Which among other things led to reprint the novel The chaplain Bardelo and stories in and around the small town , and to the publication of his biography, written by Peter Nissen: Emile Anton Hubert Seipgens (1837-1896). Of brewer’s son to literary (1987), and the placing of a memorial stone at Seipgens birthplace. But this revival was short-lived. If Emile Seipgens remembered voortleeft, it will have to be on the legend of the rovershoofdman Johann Bückler based ‘operabouffe’ Schinderhannes (1864), which to this day in Roermond is staged!


And here’s another account from “The Humour of Holland,” published in 1894.



Ballantine’s Literary Ads: Ernest Hemingway

Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was Ernest Hemingway, who wrote several memorable novels, such as the The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

Today is the birthday of Ernest Hemingway (July 17, 1899–July 2, 1961). He “was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Additional works, including three novels, four short story collections, and three non-fiction works, were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.” His Ballantine ad ran in 1952.

Hemingway NYT Ballantines

His piece for Ballantine was done in the form of a letter on fishing, written from Cuba:

Bob Benchley first introduced me to Ballantine Ale. It has been a good companion ever since.

You have to work hard to deserve to drink it. But I would rather have a bottle of Ballantine Ale than any other drink after fighting a really big fish.

We keep it iced in the bait box with chunks of ice packed around it. And you ought to taste it on a hot day when you have worked a big marlin fast because there were sharks after him.

You are tired all the way through. The fish is landed untouched by sharks and you have a bottle of Ballantine cold in your hand and drink it cool, light, and full-bodied, so it tastes good long after you have swallowed it. That’s the test of an ale with me: whether it tastes as good afterwards as when it’s going down. Ballantine does.


Ballantine’s Literary Ads: Erle Stanley Gardner

Between 1951 and 1953, P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company, or simply Ballentine Beer, created a series of ads with at least thirteen different writers. They asked each one “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” Each author wrote a page that included reference to their beer, and in most cases not subtly. One of them was Erle Stanley Gardner, whose most well-known character was Perry Mason.

Today is the birthday of Erle Stanley Gardner (July 17, 1889–March 11, 1970). He “was an American lawyer and author. Though best known for the Perry Mason series of detective stories, he wrote numerous other novels and shorter pieces, as well as a series of non-fiction books, mostly narrations of his travels through Baja California and other regions in Mexico.” His Ballantine ad ran in 1952.


His piece for Ballantine was done in the form of a Perry Mason script, written on his personal stationary from his home in Temecula, California:

If you are calling upon me to put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words, I’m inclined to retain Perry Mason to state the case for me:

Mr. Mason:

“We offer in evidence this green bottle containing an amber beverage, bearing the famous three-ring label.

“We propose to prove that the content of this bottle is accepted as the nation’s outstanding ale, from the standpoint of purity, body and flavor.

“In fact, your Honor, we contend that Ballantine Ale begins where other brews leave off! And the whole country knows it.”

The District Attorney:

“I object. How can you prove that the whole country knows it?”

Mr. Mason:

“That fact already has been proved, your Honor. Ballantine Ale is America’s largest-selling ale … outsells any other 4 to 1!

“And, if the Court please, may I suggest that the Court try a glass of Ballantine Ale? And when you do, may it please the Court!”

At this point, Mr. Mason and I rest our case.


This one is definitely one of the cheesier ones in the series. I’ll feature the rest on their respective authors’ birthdays throughout the year.

Chasing Utopia(s)

Today is the birthday of poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni. She’s currently an English professor at Virginia Tech, and has authored over twenty collections of poetry, children’s books, and many other works. She isn’t much of a beer drinker, sad to say. But her mother apparently was, and that’s what she wrote a story about: honoring her mother by searching out what she believed was one of the best beers around, Samuel Adams’ Utopia [sic].


Curiously, even though her story was printed in a prominent magazine and then later collected into a book, meaning editors and copy people presumably poured over it, nobody noticed that Utopia was not the actual name of the beer that was so central to the story. The actual name of the beer, of course, is Utopias. It’s possible it was by design, and I can see a scenario where the “s” was left off to give the phrase “chasing utopia” more meaning. That gaffe aside — if indeed it was one — it’s still an interesting story.

When Giovanni’s mother passed away, Nikki Giovanni decided drinking wine, which she preferred, wouldn’t do. But she also didn’t think that the pedestrian beers that her mother favored wouldn’t quite pay the proper respect, and she decided to find out what was the best beer in the world, and decided for her purposes that it was Utopias, and then wrote about the experience of trying to find a bottle for the July 2011 issue of Poetry Magazine.

Michel Martin interviewed Nikki Giovanni on NPR in early 2014, about her new book, and the Chasing Utopia story:

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: We start today with the award-winning writer Nikki Giovanni. She’s one of the best-known and most celebrated poets of our time. She’s known for her accessible and beautiful writing about home, family, friends and even food. Nikki Giovanni is the university distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech. She’s also the author of 28 books. Her latest “Chasing Utopia” is a combination of essays and poetry. I spoke with her when the book was first published last year, and she began by telling me how she chose the title “Chasing Utopia.”

NIKKI GIOVANNI: Well, it really is that my mom died now in 2005. And so it’s been a while, but, you know, losing your mother, even though it’s the right order of things, is sad. I was a mother’s child. And I stayed very, very sad. And I finally said, you know, Nikki, you have to get out of this. And mommy, every day — we knew that mommy was dying when she said no she didn’t want a beer because every day of her life, she drank a beer. And so I said to myself, well, I’m missing mommy, why don’t I have a beer? But I really — I hate to say it, Michel, I just don’t like beer. And so it was like, OK, if you’re going to drink a beer, then you ought to drink the number one beer in the world. So I went and looked it up. Well, it turns out it’s Utopias, which is actually a beer by Sam Adams. So I called a man at my local store, Keith (ph), and he said, Nikki, we never get Utopias. You know, we’re a small market, they never sell us any Utopias. Well, I started to do what I do when things don’t go well. I just started to complain. You know, everybody starts going – why can’t I find a Utopias? And I happened to be on NPR actually, and the guy who makes Utopias heard it. And he actually sent it to me. But in the meantime, I had been to a government agency. I’ve been every place, you know, and everybody was like, oh, you’ll find utopia. And I was like, no, it’s a beer for Christ’s sake. So it’s been really fun learning about beers, and it makes me smile because I think of my mother. And I know that she’s sitting in heaven, you know, kicking back. She’s a Bud Light person.

MARTIN: She’s a Bud Light — not even a Utopias? What?

GIOVANNI: No. She couldn’t afford Utopias.

MARTIN: Maybe her tastes will change in heaven. Would your mom have enjoyed Utopia, or would that be too rich for her blood?

GIOVANNI: Oh, no. Mommy would’ve enjoyed it. Mommy enjoyed anything. But, you know, I could take my mother a glass of water and she would – and that’s what I loved about her. She would like, oh, I’ve never had water this good. What did you do to the water? You know, my mother always made me feel incredibly competent. And I don’t think anybody else has taken that place in my life actually.

A press shot of the Utopias

Here’s the story itself, from the Poetry Foundation website:

Thanks to social networking, G.K. Chesterton’s remark that “poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese” has recently been given wide, if undeserved, circulation; anyone who consults the Poetry Foundation’s online poetry archive will find his claim not to be true. Hoping to disprove any larger point he may have been making, however, we asked several poets to mix memory and desire — for food — in the pieces that follow. Bon appetit!


So here is the actual story. I was bored. Bored even though I had the privilege of interviewing Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, who said she pursued a degree in physics and also became a medical doctor to keep her mind occupied. Mae’s iq must be nine hundred and fifty-five or thereabouts. I asked: “How do you keep from being bored?”

And she replied: “A friend of my father’s once told me ‘If you’re bored you’re not paying attention.’”

So I said: “Beer.”

We are foodies, my family and I. My grandmother was an extraordinary cook. Her miniature Parker House rolls have been known to float the roof off a flooded house in hurricane season. Grandpapa made pineapple ice cream so rich and creamy, with those surprising chunks that burst with citrusy flavor. My sister, Gary Ann, made spring rolls so perfectly the Chinese complained to the State Department, and my Aunt fries chicken just short of burning that has been known to make the Colonel denounce his own kfc. Mommy was the best bean cooker in this world—and still is, I’m sure, in the next. I do a pretty swell pot roast myself. We are, in other words, dangerous when it comes to food.

Mommy also liked pig feet. Boiled. Not pickled.

I was sad when Mommy died. Then six weeks later Gary Ann died. Then my Aunt Ann. I tried to find a way to bring them back.


Mommy drank Miller Genuine Draft. Gary Ann drank Bud Light. Not me. What did I have in common with those guys on tv who were throwing a football around and looking just shy of fat? Nothing. They bored me. If it was going to be beer, I needed to learn something.

Going through books, I came across Utopia. Sam Adams. The number one beer in the world. Having always been a fan of start at the top, I called my local beer store. “I’d like to order a Utopia, please.” Thinking this would be easy.

“No Way,” Keith said. “We never get that!”
ok. I called Bounty Hunter. They have everything. That’s where I bought my Justice Series: Blind Justice, Frontier Justice, Poetic Justice. Great red wines.

“No, ma’am, we don’t sell beer.”

Utopia is only on a special allotment to Canada, where it is sold as a “Special Brew.” If I could just get to Canada, I could find my Utopia. But, dadgummit, the tsa would take it from me, claiming it was over three ounces. I’d be doggone if I would provide that group with Utopia. Never. Never. No Canada for me.

Samuel Adams’s Utopia is only brewed every other year. There will be a batch coming out this year, but it goes really quickly. There are folk who work at the Sam Adams Brewery just to be able to smell it, and I have heard, though I doubt that it’s true, that you are strip-searched when you leave work during Utopia season. Once, they say, someone belched and was immediately arrested.

Utopia is incredibly special, is the number one beer in the world because the aroma alone is worth the price. Can a beer be “chewy” while at the same time smooth as silk? Can a beer make you feel like a queen while bringing out your libido, making you want to howl? Indeed it can. Utopia makes you want a Swan for your Leda. A Lancelot for your Guinevere. A boiled pig foot for your low-down blues. Special? Are your first pair of stockings special? Is the first time your Mom let you wear lipstick special? Is your first kiss special? It’s Utopia.

But here is the happy part. I am a poet. I occasionally get invited to speak at Important Government Agencies. I was thrilled. Sure, someone will say: Why would you, a poet, a rebel, you who hate the tsa and think railroads should make a big comeback, you who think modern wars are stupid and unworthy—why would you speak for an Important Government Agency? Well, for one thing, I am an American. So government, whether I like it or not, R Me. For another thing, I know they have the world’s best computers. I was charming. I was funny. I was very nice and a good citizen. I wanted an illegal favor.

“Please, sir,” said I, “can you find Utopia?”

“Of course, little lady,” said the Director. “It’s in your heart and mind.” He smiled a lovely smile and patted me on my shoulder. Not wanting to appear to correct him, I smiled the smile of the defeated. And waited for him to leave. I asked his assistant.
“I think,” he pontificated, “it is in your soul. Search deep and you will find it.”

I knew I needed someone of color. Finally an older man, grey hair cut short, came by. “Please excuse me,” I said, “I’m trying to find Utopia. Can you help?”

“Why sure,” he said “as soon as I can find a safe computer.” We moved into another room and he made me stand way away from him so that I could not see the screen. He pulled up a website. “Here you go.” And he was right. “I can’t buy it as it’s against the rules, but get someone else to go to this site. I hear it’s a great beer. At $350 a pint, it ought to be.”

And now that I’ve found Utopia, I am at peace. I have Utopia, and if I were Egyptian I would be buried with it. I use it to start conversations and make friends. It is not for mortals. Or Americans. Utopia is for the gods.

The above piece was included in her latest collection of poems,
also entitled Chasing Utopia, published in 2013.