Comic Shots #46 with Josh Christie: Pilgrim’s Dole and ‘The Rime of the Modern Mariner’

Each week the iFanStaff passes along a tasty drink recipe and an even tastier comic book recommendation. The cocktail (or beer, or wine, or booze) and the comic can both be enjoyed independently, but they have a common theme and when served together they can make for the perfect reading experience.

After nearly 52 weeks of comic recommendations pairs with beer, wine, and cocktails (and occasionally something else), we’re barreling towards the holiday break here at iFanboy. This is my last Comic Shots of 2012, and Ryan and Ali will post their last pairings before the Christmas break.

In the spirit of the year end lists that are popping up here and around the web, I’m tackling my pairing a bit differently this week. The comic and drink in this week’s Comic Shots don’t share any common DNA beyond the fact that they’re the best ones that I had this year. It’s maybe a bit of a stretch to say they fit our self-prescribed criteria of a “common theme,” but they’re a book and a beer so good that I didn’t want to let the year end without singing their praises.

For my money, New Holland’s Pilgrim’s Dole Wheatwine is the best beer I had this year. And Nick Hayes’ Rime of the Modern Mariner is one of my new favorite comics.

New Holland Pilgrim’s Dole

The Pilgrim’s Dole, a wheat wine brewed by Michigan’s New Holland Brewing Company, is named for the rations of bread and ale given to nourish wayfarers on holy pilgrimages in the 14th century. It’s a high-wire act of delicately balancing wheat, barley and bourbon flavors, and the end result is a creamy, complex ale with a caramel finish.

We’re lucky that this beer exists at all — the wheat wine is a style of beer that was invented almost completely by accident. Writing in Imbibe magazine, Josh Bernstein notes that the first wheat wine was created when a recipe for barley wine (a drink brewed with grain but as strong as wine) got screwed up. Too much wheat went into the pot, the brewers plowed ahead and drank their mistake – as brewers are wont to do — and a new strong, smooth style of beer was created.

Since that mistake in the 80s, dozens have breweries have started brewing wheat wines on a seasonal or regular basis. The body of the beer, lighter than a barley wine, lends itself to experimentation. Breweries can add blueberries, ferment with wild yeast, or blend with other beers. In the case of Pilgrim’s Dole, the ale is aged in bourbon barrels.

Historical preamble aside, the point I’m trying to get at is that Pilgrim’s Dole is a really phenomenal beer. With a toffee nose and a caramel finish, it’s a dry, sweet beer that lends itself to sipping. The wheat wine is nearly 12% alcohol, which means it’s not a drink you’d want to chug, but the combination of alcohol warmth and bourbon flavor makes it an excellent warming beverage as we near the longest, coldest days of the year here in New England. New Holland recommends their wheat wine as “an excellent accent to nutty dishes, fruit crisps or creme brulee,” but it’s plenty tasty all on it’s own.

 New Holland’s distribution area is fairly limited, but with the rising popularity of wheat wines you should be able to track down a reasonable facsimile in your neck of the woods.

The Rime of the Modern Mariner

Written and drawn by Nick Hayes
Published by Viking Adult

I’ve mentioned before that I have an almost instinctual distaste for adaptations, especially when it comes to comics. Licensed books and “official comic of movie x” were, for years, uninspired works that seemed like nothing but a transparent cash grab. Lately, I’ve had to rethink these feelings. Adaptations of Oz, Parker and the literary canon, and licensed books like Buffy and even My Little Pony are washing the stink off these books.

The latest example is The Rime of the Modern Mariner, a graphic novel published by London’s Jonathan Cape in 2011 and gorgeously reproduced in the US this year. A worthy update of a well-known tale, the stunning hardcover has stuck with me more than any other book I read this year.

As Josh wrote in iFanboy’s Holiday Gift Guide, Nick Hayes’ Rime is an updated take on Samuel Coleridge’s classic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The allegorical poem, largely concerned with a mariner’s impulsive crime against nature and the misfortune that falls upon him afterwards, is one of those classics that has seeped deeply into popular culture. Even if you’ve never read Coleridge’s original poem, you’re likely at least familiar with a few famous lines (“Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink”) and the phrase “albatross around your neck.”

As in the original, the story is bookended by the wizened mariner telling a man the story of his trials — a tale within a tale. In Nick Hayes’ version, the eponymous mariner warns a litterbug of the folly of trifling with nature. The yarn he spins is similar to the original (man kills bird, bad omens befall crew, spiritual and ghostly visions), and Hayes even retains the meter of Coleridge’s original. The language and setting are updated to give the story a more explicitly environmentalist bent; the ship is stranded near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the spiritual warnings passed to the mariner expand in scope to the health of the planet. “Don’t litter, don’t pollute, save the planet” is a drum that’s been beat for decades now, but I found it particularly affecting in Rime of the Modern Mariner. Rarely does a book (comic or prose) leave me as discomfited as this one, and I’ve been thinking about it since I read it months ago.

I don’t possess the vocabulary to talk about art as eloquently as some other iFanboy staffers, but I think I’ve nailed down what I loved about Hayes’ style. It kept reminding me of something I studied in my art history classes — wood cuts. Bold, deep lines swimming in black ink. Spirals upon spirals upon spirals (look at the beard on the cover, for example). Lines are more often waves and curves than straight, and you can feel the wind whistling through the pages. The lettering also deserves special mention, hand-done and incorporated beautifully into the text without a single caption box or word bubble.

Drink this beer. Read this book. Tell us the best book and best drink you’ve had this year.

Josh Christie loves you all. Especially you. Follow him on Twitter for plenty of talk about beer, books, bookselling, and even comics.

Please obey the law and only drink if you are of age. Drink responsibly and never drink and drive. Buy the comics that make you happy. Smile more.


  1. Well, Modern Mariner just got added to the Christmas list. I wish they had that beer here on the West Coast, it sounds awesome. I may have to go pick up the Mikkeller listed in that link.

    • Glad you liked the review(s)! I haven’t had the Mikkeller, but they rarely steer me wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bruery, Lost Abbey, or Widmer did a wheat wine, which should be easier to find out west.

  2. How would you compare Pilgrim’s Dole to Brooklyn Monster?

    • I think they’re both great, but in different ways. I get a lot more dark fruit – raisins, plum – from the Monster, where I get sweeter tastes like caramel and vanilla (from the bourbon, mostly) in the Pilgrim’s Dole. Monster is a bit more English in terms of hops, too, with a more grassy flavor than the citrus of New Holland’s beer.

  3. Well done! Especially since RIME isn’t exactly cheap, even with the discount. Good luck tracking down a wheat wine.

    And thanks for the kind words! We really do love making these pairings.