That would have been a bold statement a few years ago, but recently, as the masses have had time to reflect on the show, more and more people seem to be coming to that conclusion. Is it debatable? Good lord, yes. A statement like “X is the greatest X in history” is amongst the most debatable phrases you can utter. The Sopranos has its supporters. I think The Sopranos probably had more remarkable standalone episodes that were better than any single Wire episode. And, of course, head to head, Tony Soprano is a better realized, more complex, and more influential character than anyone on The Wire.*
*While The Sopranos revolved around Tony and his tribulations (most of them self-made), the Wire’s main character was the City of Baltimore itself.
But while The Sopranos was brilliant, it wasn’t as fully or completely realized as The Wire. The 60 episodes of The Wire told a remarkable story arc. It looked inwardly and outwardly at the same time…delving into the nitty-gritty details of Baltimore law and order, but also reflecting on the broader decay in our various American institutions. The Sopranos was more of a character study. A great one, no doubt, but focusing on the spiritual decay of one man is an easier task than focusing on the spiritual decay of an entire city (in my not-so-humble opinion).
Lost will get some support on these pages, but I think the real-world focus of The Wire trumps the fantasy, time-travel, and outright weirdness of Lost (also, there’s swearing and nudity in The Wire). The Simpsons will get some love too (from me, in particular), but while the Simpsons may be the most influential TV show of the past 30 years, it also hung around about a decade too long (and if you’re touting a sitcom as “best show ever”, I suspect Seinfeld would get just as many nods as The Simpsons).
For me, the combination of brilliant, complex characters, seasons that revolve around different aspects of a failing urban center, and a stunning ability to seamlessly interweave disparate storylines sets The Wire apart. It’s the greatest show in television history…simple as that.
So what does The Wire have to do with beer? Well…nothing. But I love them both, so I’m going to try to combine them anyway. The remainder of this post will consist of me trying to find a beer analogue for every major character in The Wire. This may be the most meaningless, but entertaining exercise I have ever undertaken for Aleheads.com. I hope it sparks some debate, but seeing as how the only people who will read this article are A) Wire lovers, B) Aleheads, and C) Fans of convoluted comparisons, I’m guessing roughly five people will actually read this. That’s fine with me. I don’t care if the post goes unread…the world needs to know what kind of brew Bubbles would be if he was a beer. And away we go:
WHAT BEER BEST REPRESENTS THE MAJOR CHARACTERS IN THE WIRE?
- McNulty – Moylan’s Hopsickle: One of the most hoppy, over-the-top, and aggressive beers I’ve ever had for the most dogged, over-the-top, unorthodox cop in the Balmer Police Department. Plus, it’s got an Irish name.
- Daniels – Chimay Blue: Cedric always exuded grace, class, and a barely restrained temper. Plus he was highly respected by most of his peers while being feared and occasionally loathed by those above him. Chimay Blue is pure class in bottle form, and it strains to hold back its voluminous “temper” (eg: its head). And while the Blue has the never-ending respect of Aleheads everywhere, it’s always under fire from critics claiming that its overrated. It isn’t…and neither is Daniels.
- Kima- Weihenstephaner HefeWeisse: Kima was the sole woman amongst the men of the Major Crimes Unit. She was tough, respected, and a refreshing presence in the Unit. The Weihenstephaner HefeWeiss belongs to a style of beer mostly associated with ladyfolks, but it’s so good that men can enjoy it unironically. Like Kima, the refreshing Weihenstephaner isn’t just “pretty good…for a chick beer.” It’s simply a good beer. Period.
- Bunk – Great Divide Yeti: Robust, jovial, with a huge personality and always filled to the brim with booze. That’s Bunk. And that’s the Yeti. It may not get the publicity of other more famous Imperial Stouts, but the Yeti is as good as it gets and it’ll get you hammered…just like Bunk down at Kavanagh’s.
- Lester – Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine: A gem amongst the chaff of the Balmer Police Department, Lester is strong, smooth, and 100% old school. Dogfish Head has a lot of chaff in its stable of brews, but the Olde School is a gem, its strong as hell, smooth as hell, and yeah, the name is pure Lester.
- Rawls – Stone Arrogant Bastard: Speaking of appropriate names. Major Rawls is a political animal who does whatever it takes to get to the top, but underneath the arrogant bastard, there lingers a kernel of a good cop. Stone’s Arrogant Bastard is actually a pretty good brew, but the beer itself is secondary to the marketing, “controversial” name, and the touting of wanna-be Aleheads who think it’s the end-all, be-all of craft brewing. Separating the beer/cop from the marketing/poltical machinations is nearly impossible at this point.
- Carver – Ommegang Hennepin: OK. Carver sold out. He sold out his commanding officer and put his Unit in jeopardy. Ommegang sold out too…to Duvel Moortgat. But you know what? Carver redeemed himself and became one of the best, smartest, and most reasonable cops on the force. Ommegang did the same thing…after much fretting from Aleheads about what the sale to Duvel meant, Ommegang started brewing some of their best brews yet. Selling out may have knocked them both down a peg, but they each rose above it.
- Herc – Colt 45: Big. Husky. Dumb. Constantly screwing up. Herc and Colt 45 were made for each other. Neither are particularly good at what they do, but they keep on doing it just the same.
- Stringer – Oskar Blues Ten FIDY: Stringer is smart, strong, fiercely aggressive, and smooth. But no matter how hard he tries, he can never escape the fact that he came from the streets and will always be perceived as a thug. Ten FIDY is smartly-made, very strong, fiercely aggressive, and silky smooth. But it’s still a canned beer and can never escape its plebeian vessel.
- Prez – Newcastle Nut Brown Ale: Prez has all the makings of a decent cop, but he has a fundamental flaw (an itchy trigger finger which makes him shoot too quickly)…and he eventually gets booted off the force entirely. Newcastle should be a decent beer, but thanks to its transparent container it has a fundamental flaw (it skunks too quickly) causing it to be booted off of many Aleheads “good beer” lists. However, shift the setting from bottle to draft (like Prez shifting to become a teacher), and Newcastle becomes great again.
- Omar – Russian River Pliny the Younger: One of the best beers on Earth for arguably the best character in The Wire. Pliny the Younger is crazy aggressive, very hard to find, and more myth than reality at this point. Omar is all of those things. Plus, he’s gay, and Russian River is made near San Francisco.
- Butchie – Russian River Blind Pig IPA: I know…seems like a cop-out. Butchie is blind…Blind Pig. Blah blah blah…but bear with me. Butchie is Omar’s bank. He holds down the fort while Omar is out shooting people and scaring the hell out of drug dealers. The Blind Pig IPA is Russian River’s bread and butter brew. It holds down the fort and makes bank for Russian River while Pliny the Younger is out crushing other beers in competitions and wreaking hell on Aleheads’ palates. Whatever…it made sense in my head.
- Burrell – Blue Moon Belgian White: Ervin Burrell is a complete sell-out. A pawn of City Hall. A terrible cop. Blue Moon is a complete sell-out (to Coors). A pawn of Big Brewing. A terrible beer. I’ll bet Burrell has an orange slice in his gun holster.
- Avon Barksdale – Westvleteren 12: The King of the Streets. The man every other dealer is trying to knock off. Westy is the King of Beers (screw you, Bud)…and every ale factory is trying to make something better. And like Avon going to jail, Westy was “imprisoned” at the monastery and can only be purchased on-site (kind of like a conjugal visit, but with alcohol).
- Pearlman – Cantillon Kriek: Demure and ladylike, but also fierce, brilliant, and with a shock of red hair, Pearlman was one of the good guys/girls of the series. Cantillon Kriek is a ladylike beer (a cherry lambic), but it’s also fiercely flavorful, brilliantly brewed, and quite red. Also, they’re both pretty damn good-looking.
- Bubbles – Sam Adams Noble Pils: Bubbles apparently had some promise early in his life before succumbing to drugs and failing in almost every way imaginable. But by the end of The Wire, his was a story of redemption. He had found his way again and was a true bright spot amongst the depressing backdrop of so many of the other characters. Sam Adams started off promisingly, but then succumbed to temptation (hello Sam Adams Light) before bursting back onto the scene with excellent creations like the Noble Pils. And while Sam and Bubbles still have some work to do, they’re clearly both back on track. Pilsners tend to have bad reputations thanks to horrendous pseudo-Pilsner brews like Bud, Miller, and Coors. So its hard to accept that there are good Pilsners out there. Bubbles is a noble man with a scarred, troubled history…so its hard for his sister to take him back in. But in the end, she does. Just like Aleheads have welcomed Sam back into their hearts.
- Johnny Weeks – Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic: On the flipside of Bubbles is Johnny. He lets the drugs crush him to the point that he’s found dead in an abandoned house in Hamsterdam. Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic is the flipside of the Noble Pils. A failed experiment by Sam Adams that Aleheads everywhere would love to find dead in an abandoned house so we can forget it ever existed and move on.
- Carcetti – New Belgium Fat Tire: Surrounded by talent, Carcetti gets all the pub and press. He’s not bad per se…he’s a good figurehead and has some decent ideas. But in the end, he’s kind of a jackhole. Fat Tire is the flagship of New Belgium, but it’s one of their worst beers. It’s surrounded by far more talented brews even though it gets all the press. And while it’s not a terrible brew, people that champion it are kind of jackholes. Also, apropos of nothing, Wifey McHops wanted me to point out that Carcetti had the weirdest accent on the show. Almost as strange as Bill’s in True Blood.
- Norman – New Belgium La Folie: Norman is Carcetti’s right-hand man and seems to be far wiser, but less charismatic than his boss. La Folie is a spectacular brew…much better than Fat Tire. But it doesn’t have the charisma and will always be perpetually in the background of its more famous flagship.
- Bodie – PBR: Bodie may be better than some of his peers, but in the end, he’s just a soldier. PBR may be better than some of its peers, but in the end, it’s just piss beer.
- Marlo – Founders KBS: Marlo doesn’t say much. He lays low. He’s calm, collected, smart, and complex. He’s also the baddest man on the street next to Omar and he runs the show when Barksdale goes to jail. Founders KBS has a low profile. It’s a relatively unknown brew, but its as complex, smooth, and carefully calibrated as Marlo. It’s also one of the best beers on Earth and could definitely hold the top spot if Barksdale/Westy were to disappear.
- Chris Partlow – Founders Dirty Bastard: Chris did Marlo’s dirty work. He was a violent killer underneath a calm, cool demeanor. The Dirty Bastard does the dirty work (eg: brings in the bucks) for Founders while the KBS gets all the Alehead love. It’s smooth and easy-drinking, but underneath it’s a strong, killer brew.
- Sydnor – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: Sydnor lingers in the background, but he’s stolid, steadfast, and always seems to be there helping on the case. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is easy to forget about, but it’s available everywhere, it’s a solid, never-disappointing brew, and you can enjoy it at a bar with dozens of good options (like Sydnor helping out the fully manned Major Crimes Unit in Season One) or at something like Applebee’s when it’s the only good beer available (like when Sydnor was one of the few cops left after Marimow took over the Unit).
- Bunny – Three Floyds Dark Lord: Bunny made bold decisions. He experimented, pushed the envelope, and would probably have been the best cop on the force if he wasn’t in such an impossible position. Three Floyds makes bold decisions. They experiment like crazy. And the Dark Lord may well be one of the best beers on Earth if it wasn’t so impossibly difficult to get your hands on.
- Beadie – Bell’s Amber Ale: Beadie was a good, fairly unassuming cop who was surrounded by much more aggressive cops once she got hooked up with Major Crimes. Bell’s Amber Ale is a wonderful, unassuming beer that’s surrounded by much more aggressive Bell’s brews (like the Two-Hearted, Expedition, and Kalamazoo). But despite those other beers, you often find yourself going back to the Amber because it’s so easy-drinking…just like how McNulty keeps going back to Beadie after being with much more aggressive women. And yes, I realize I just used two completely separate analogies.
- D’Angelo – Catamount Ale: Could have been something if he wasn’t snuffed out for not being strong enough. Catamount could have been a great brewery if they weren’t bought out for not being lucrative enough. I was sorry to see them both go.
- Snoop – Lindeman’s Gueuze: Snoop is complex, hard to understand (literally…she’s pretty mush-mouthed), wild, and an odd blend of a veteran street thug and a petite, young girl. Lindeman’s Gueuze is incredibly complex, hard to figure out (I still don’t know whether I like it or not), a wild ale (gueze’s are spontaneously fermented like lambics), and a blend of old and young brews. Seems appropriate.
- Michael – Harviestoun Old Engine Oil: Michael started off so strong. He avoided the streets. Avoided temptation. It seemed like he was going to make it. And then it all went wrong. He got sucked in. He became a killer. But at the end of the series, he had redeemed himself. He started getting back at the street thugs that had taken so much from him. Essentially, he became the new Omar. Harviestoun started off promisingly. They made great brews and were a nice craft beer story in Scotland. But then the big dogs came in to buy them out (Newcastle, then Heineken) and tried to ruin them. But they failed! Harviestoun escaped and became independent once again and continued churning out their beautiful, award-winning brews. Like Michael, they learned a lot from their experiences and are using their knowledge to take on their would-be former corrupters.
- Dukie – Redhook ESB: Like Michael, Dukie had promise. Maybe even moreso since Dukie seemed to be the academically brightest of the four boys from Season Four. But he couldn’t escape the downward spiral like Michael and he became just another junkie. Redhook could have been something special. Instead, they got bought out by Bud and now they just kind of suck.
- Cutty – Goose Island Bourbon County Stout: Speaking of being bought out by Bud…Goose Island is distributed by the Evil Empire these days. But despite that, they make incredibly delicious beers including the Bourbon County Stout which is a strong, balanced brew. Cutty was almost destroyed by the “Evil Empire” of the streets. He spent years in jail and when he emerged, he almost got sucked back in. But he made the right decisions and became a strong, balanced man who used his knowledge of the nature of the streets to convince kids to stay off of them. Just like Goose Island using their knowledge of craft brewing to keep kids from drinking Bud.
- The Greek – Stella Artois: The Greek is the big boss. The man who pulls the strings and makes the whole drug operation go. But he’s got a kindly face, and a disarming European demeanor. Stella Artois is one of the flagships of InBev, the largest brewing outfit in the world…and the one that essentially dictates the globe’s beer market. But Stella itself has a disarming European demeanor and is rarely associated with the evil corporation that it represents.
- Spiros – Hoegaarden: The Greek’s right-hand man, Spiros is a bit more thoughtful and complex than the old man, but he does what he’s told. Hoegaarden is owned by InBev too. It’s a little better and more complex than Stella, but ultimately, it serves at the whim of its more famous, more lucrative fellow InBev brew.
- Frank Sobotka – Bass Ale: Frank is a workaday guy who’s stuck in the past in a failing system (the docks of Baltimore). Bass is a workaday brew that’s stuck in the past and is being supplanted by newer, more aggressive IPAs. There’s nothing wrong with either Frank or Bass…there are just better docks and better IPAs out there.
- Gus – Anchor Steam: Gus is an old school newspaperman who often gets forgotten because of the flashy new guy (Templeton). His old school ways are endangered as the new economy threatens his industry. Anchor Steam is a venerable, old school brew that helped pave the way for the craft beer movement but is often forgotten because of the wave of flashy new beers that have arrived in more recent years. Anchor’s old school ways have been endangered by the new economy and have been threatened due to their recent buy-out by the marketers of Skyy Vodka.
- Templeton – Heineken: Easy one here. Templeton is the plagiarist…the phony newspaperman who pretends to be something he’s not. Heineken pretends to be a “craft” beer with its European pretensions and high-octane ad campaigns. But it’s essentially just the Budweiser of Europe. In the end, Templeton doesn’t get his comeuppance like he deserves. Instead, he gets a Pulitzer. And Heineken, which deserves to be shut down for being an insult to the world of brewing, rakes in millions upon millions of dollars a year. All is not right in the world.
- Clay Davis – Bud: Clay has no substance and no scruples. He’ll do anything for a buck. He’s all flash and style. Sound like any major brewery you know? Also, Bud tastes like sheeeeeeeeeeeeeit.
- Royce – Miller Lite: Mayor Royce proves himself to be something of a lightweight in Season 4 when he’s beaten out…a black mayor in Baltimore…by a white, inexperienced upstart. He has no fresh ideas, so he resorts to gimmickry and desperate maneuvers. Miller Lite is a definite lightweight (in terms of the actual beer…not the marketing heft behind it). It’s continuously beaten “in the polls” by Bud Light (although, comparing Bud to an inexperienced upstart is ridiculous, I’ll grant you). So what does Miller Lite do? It resorts to gimmickry. With new packaging, aluminum bottles, and lower carb beers. And the Miller Vortex Bottle? That’s akin to Royce shaving off his mustache.
- Levy – Rogue Shakespeare Stout: Levy is a snake…but he’s a damn good lawyer. He’s the “reputable”, “legit” face of Barksdale and Marlo’s criminal empires. Shakespeare Stout is a damn good beer. And it’s one of the few reputable, legitimately good beers in Rogue’s line-up. Rogue gets away with a lot of lousy beers because of the quality of the Shakespeare…just like all of the things Barksdale and Marlo got away with because of the quality of Levy’s legal work. Also, Levy has just a touch of the Merchant of Venice in him.
- Ziggy – Milwaukee’s Best: Goddamn, I hated Ziggy.
- Nick – MGD: Certainly better and classier than Ziggy. But not by much.
- Landsman – Guinness: I always liked Landsman. He looked like a heavyweight, but was actually mostly light comic relief. The show didn’t give him a whole lot of substance, but that’s OK. He was the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with for awhile…swapping stories and jokes. Guinness looks like the heaviest beer on Earth, but it’s actually remarkably light and drinkable. It doesn’t have much substance or character, but it’s the kind of beer you want to hang out with all evening…drinking and swapping stories and jokes. Guinness also famously uses just a touch of sour beer to give it its unique flavor profile. And Landsman certainly had a bit of sourness in him…particularly when there were red names up on the big board.
- Prop Joe – Saranac Imperial Stout: Prop Joe has his hands in everything, but keeps a very low profile. He’s a decent guy who’s done some very indecent things. But mostly he’s about business and making connections with everybody and everything. F.X. Matt…the brewery that makes Saranac, has its hands in everything. It’s one of the biggest brewers in the country, but you wouldn’t know that because most of what they do is contract brewing. Tons of big labels on the East Coast contract brew through F.X. Matt. The brewery has made some terrible beers in the name of business. But ultimately, they’re a decent brewery that can make some very good beers…like the Saranac Imperial Stout.
- Wee-Bey – Port Old Viscosity: Bey is a muscular killer. He’s loyal and seemingly brutal, but has a softer side (as you can see when it comes to his fish). Port Old Viscosity is a muscular killer. It’s seemingly brutal to drink (just read the name!), but it’s actually a softer, lighter, more drinkable brew than you suspect. But you still don’t want to underestimate Old Viscosity. And you definitely don’t want to underestimate Bey.
- Namond – Lost Abbey Lost & Found: Namond is the thoughtful, introspective offspring of Bey. Lost Abbey is a spin-off of Port that produces more thoughtful, introspective, Belgian style brews. Both Port and Lost Abbey are great breweries, but while Port makes bigger, bolder beers, Lost Abbey makes more subtle, complex concoctions. Bey and Namond are both great characters, but Bey is a Type A badass and Namond is much more vulnerable and complex. Lost & Found seems appropriate since Namond was lost to the streets before being found by Bunny.
- Poot – Yuengling: Poot’s just a soldier. Nothing special. Not too interesting. But somehow the ladies like him and he survives unscathed throughout the series. Yuengling isn’t anything special either. But ladies like it and it has survived unscathed forever. Yuengling and Poot will never die.
- Slim Charles – Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout: Tall, slim, dark, strong, and unassuming. That’s Slim Charles and that’s Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. I didn’t realize Slim was one of my favorite characters until very late in the show’s run. And I didn’t realize that Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout was one of my favorite beers until years after I’d been drinking it. They’re also both throwbacks. Slim’s incredibly loyal no matter how weak his crew’s position is…that’s old school. And Sam Smith’s brought back the Oatmeal Stout when the style was all but lost. That’s definitely old school.
- Cheese – Sweetwater 420: Mostly an excuse to connect Method Man with a beer called 420. But it’s also one of the weaker beers in the Sweetwater stable that masquerades as their flagship. Cheese is one of the weaker enforcers in the Barksdale/Marlo outfits, but he keeps rising through the ranks until he’s the face of the franchise. Oh, and then he’s shot by Slim Charles in one of the more satisfying moments of the series. That has no bearing on Sweetwater 420, but it was awesome.
- Randy – Nutfield Ale: Whatever happened to Randy? I liked him…he just kind of disappeared there. And whatever happened to the Nutfield Brewery? I liked them too. Where did they go?
- Brother Mouzone – North Coast Brother Thelonius: I know…the Brother/Brother connection is too obvious. But Brother Mouzone and Brother Thelonius are both cool, carefully calibrated, sure of what they are and what their purpose is, stylish in an old school way, and deceptively dangerous.
- Alma – Good People Brown Ale: She didn’t get a very meaty role, but I always liked Alma. She seemed like good people…someone fun to hang out with for an evening. Good People Brown Ale is an overlooked brew (because of its ‘Bama-based origins) that is made by good people and is very fun to hang out with for an evening.
- Kenard – Keystone Light: Little bastard killed Omar! You’re damn right I’m equating him to Keystone Light.
- Valchek – Pilsner Urquell: Valchek has an Eastern European heritage, is a complete douchebag, and yet somehow keeps rising and rising up the ranks. Pilsner Urquell has an Eastern European heritage, tastes like the contents of a douchebag, and yet somehow keeps selling and selling.
- Wallace – New Albion Pale Ale: Wallace could have done something with his life, but he was cut down before he ever had a chance. The New Albion Brewery is a legend that should have been something more…but it was shut down before it ever had a chance.
- Dennis Mello – Sam Adams Boston Lager: Mello, the mustachioed, good-natured cop who fills in when higher-ups get demoted or fired and who everyone seems to like, is true po-lice and a good soldier. Getting him involved may not solve the problem, but it’s always a good decision. Sam Adams Boston Lager may not have the character of a lot of other craft brews, but it’s been around the block a few times…it knows it’s place…and it’s always a good decision.
The Wire and beer…a match made in heaven. Got any additions, suggestions, or corrections? Let me know!