The Ballad of Amos & Pearl
How Two Small-Town Characters Inspired A Beer Name
Editor’s Note: Our Creative Director, Dan Augustine, knows how to spin a tale. His story of the naming of a beer is, well, epic. The only thing better than reading his account is hearing him tell it … which you can do below! Otherwise, enjoy the transcript.
Here’s the assignment. We’re going on hour, I dunno, sixteen (?) of trying to come up with a name for a beer. There are four or five of us in the room. The scene has slowly but certainly devolved into shouting out mashed-up, vaguely-related-to-camping terms in hopes something actually sticks to the wall. But the wall is apparently coated in Teflon, and no one is drinking a beer named after the Latin term for tent.
(Aside: there is no Latin term for tent we could find, the closest was roof, and that’s “tectum”, which sounds like rectum, and no one is ordering a rectum ale. Moving right along…)
See, naming a beer is a lot like naming a bowling ball. And naming a bowling ball is pretty similar to naming your own child. Except the catch is, with beer and bowling balls the name cannot currently or ever have existed because of trade and copy laws. So, imagine you want to name your kid David—well, you can’t because there is already a David out there. You’ll either need to wait for the current David to die and name your child “untitled” until that happens, or you’ll have to pick something no one is using. Like Eustace. Because no one is named that. It’s like Highlander; there can be only one.
So we’re back to tectum, which is sounding better as each unbillable hour passes.
We were trying too hard. So caught up in that creative-process-ideation-bullshit we forgot one of my most cherished and important rules: be authentic. Authenticity happens to be intensely fertile soil. All kinds of stuff grows in it. So let’s go play in the dirt for a minute.
“Authenticity happens to be intensely fertile soil. All kinds of stuff grows in it.”
Eight years back, the same dude who makes the beer we’re trying to name mentioned one of his favorite spots in the State of Wisconsin for fly fishing, camping, hiking, and kayaking to me. The Kickapoo River Valley. The guy lives, breathes, sleeps, and eats outdoor adventure, so I’m not gonna take the recommendation lightly. I call some like-minded buddies, we put in for a long weekend, and off we go to a region affectionately referred to as The Driftless.
We pack light, everything neatly organized, and loaded into water-proof sacks. We rent four kayaks for the eight of us and plan to take one of the oldest river systems on the planet for two days, camping along the way. That leaves us with two more days to camp the mainland when we get off the water.
The first day is pure magic, sliding between sandstone rock formations, cliff diving, and drinking the way only late-twenty-somethings without a care in the whole wide world can.
It was this kinda hubris that undoubtedly angered what old river gods live in this place because by day two the sky turned black and we were forced to shore.
So there we were, eight dudes huddled tightly beneath a pop-up tent, clutching our warm, canned High-Lifes waiting for the angry, June storm to run its course.
It didn’t. What did run its course was our supply of booze. Not to mention all of our gear, dry clothes, and tents are soaking wet. Certainly it’s no cause for alarm that our campsite is little more than a mosh pit. But holy hell, we’ve drunk the last of Dr. McGillicudy’s Peppermint Schnapps! We abandon camp and head to the only bar in the area.
Rockton Bar is undeniably my favorite watering hole on the planet. It checks all the boxes. There’s a townie taking orders, a thousand-some-odd antlers mounted to the wall. Every table comes equipped with a well-worn, pre-sorted euchre deck, there’s a prime rib and salad bar special on Saturday night. And I have absolutely no doubt that at least— AT. LEAST.—one person in the place is probably named Earl or Bart or Arlo or Amos.
“You boys ain’t from around here, are you?”
You know how this goes, so sing it with me: We walk into the bar. Silverware drops. A glass breaks. A record scratches. Jukebox stops. All conversations cease. And every head in the place turns to the doorway where eight, sopping wet city slicker kids are now standing. Oh, hi. And after we order our Brandy Old Fashioneds, the cherry on top of the whole scene is the gal that comes up to us and says: “You boys ain’t from around here, are you?”
That happened. Scouts honor. Complete with a weird little folksy twang. It was great.
Her name is Pearl.
Now, should you find yourself in the Driftless, floating down the river system or wandering through LaFarge (population: 758) you’re bound to meet Pearl. She’s the plucky, enthusiastic self-appointed unofficial ambassador to the region. She’s also incredibly adept at making coyote skin hats, and she rightfully boasts that she has shipped one of her handmade hats to every continent on the globe. She has an incredible recipe for turtle soup. Her mother’s name is Jingles. I’ve seen her driver’s license. All of this is true. These people exist. I did not gobble up a fist full of psychotropic mushrooms and imagine any of this. It’s amazing. And it’s real.
Pearl is clearly enjoying teasing the city boys, and we’re just thrilled to meet someone our own age. Life at Rockton Bar is grand, and the drinks are cheap and strong and flowing like the mighty Kickapoo.
Two hours pass. The rain subsides.
Pearl informs us that a bunch of the locals are getting together to play some volleyball behind the bar where her pal Amos (I TOLD YOU!!!) lives. She invites us to join them. Who are we—four, or five…maybe six, probably six Old Fashioneds deep—to refuse?
We’re introduced to Amos.
Amos is a mountain man with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and rock n’ roll. He cranks The Devil Makes Three and goes on about seeing them on tour. He has mutton chops and a mustache like a grand Civil War general. He’s an expert hatchet thrower and wildly skilled at lumberjack games. He raises chickens for fun. He also has a recipe for turtle soup.
And it’s 2 a.m. and we’re drunk and playing townie-versus-tourist volleyball and it’s a full moon and this has to be what heaven looks like. Amos wants to break out the chainsaws, jump in some kayaks and clear the river of any trees the storm may have knocked down. He insists on no flashlights—only the moon to guide our way.
By this point, we’ve collectively drunk our body weight in alcohol. But we’re not so far gone that boats and chainsaws and booze and no flashlights sounds like anything close to a “good idea.” We thank all of them for their hospitality. We hug. We tell them where we’re camping and say goodnight.
The morning is hard—is the end of this paragraph.
But by midday we’ve got our strength back, and by the time the sun is starting to set we’re 100%. Pearl materializes at our campsite. She wastes no time whipping us into shape, insisting we only have a few moments to get to her super-secret, best-in-the-whole-state spot to watch the sunset. It’s a 15-minute hike along a barely-there deer trail through the woods. It’s not so much a path as a vertical ascent. High Life is oozing from our pores.
But the scene at the top is worth it. Straight outta the ol’ Wile E. Coyote cartoons. We’re standing on an extended slab of stable mica balanced atop a massive sandstone monument looking out over the whole Kickapoo River Valley. No one says a word. The sun goes down. This is sacred.
When the last sliver of sun drops below the horizon and it’s finally dark, we make our descent back to camp in total silence.
“No one says a word. The sun goes down. This is sacred.”
We heave a lumber yard full of wood onto the fire. It’s our last night. Amos shows up in his flatbed full of friends. They’ve brought chairs and beers and instruments. The locals put on the best impromptu bluegrass concert I’ve ever heard. They play well into the morning hours.
When it’s finally done, there’s more hugging. The hard goodbye. Hell, there were tears. We exchanged phone numbers and social media handles. We hug more. We promise to stay in touch and do this again as soon as possible. The wood is gone. The fire cracks and pops and finally gives out in a burp of smoke.
And then it’s over.
The drive home sucks and work on Tuesday morning sucks and everything that isn’t the Kickapoo River Valley and Amos and Pearl sucks.
This is the story—word for word—I recount to my coworkers that day while trying to name this beer.
“Why don’t we call it Amos & Pearl?”
“Why don’t we call it Amos & Pearl?”
“Yeah, we tell the whole story of the region in the promo video!”
“It works with the tag!”
“It rolls off the tongue! Yeah man, I’ll have another Amos and Pearl.”
“We could even do a promotion to win a trip to the Kickapoo!”
“We could have Amos and Pearl tap the first barrel at the brewery!”
“And give away one of Pearl’s hats!”