The light is dim and short. Winter Solstice is not a favored time of year for artists, the day can barely breathe before it gives way to night. The room in Arles hung thick with darkness, depression and absinthe. Van Gogh was drinking heavily, trying to banish his demons of guilt, remorse and failure. The approach of Christmas in only two short days was an acute reminder of his self-imposed exile from his family and ancestral home in The Netherlands. The artist colony he hoped to establish here in Arles, with southern France’s perfect light and peasant purity, was a noble aim. That Gauguin now threatened to walk away from it after such a short time was more than he could bear. He sought solace in absinthe. The bitter, disorienting nectar was a perfect analogy for his own disorienting life and bitter failures. So he sat drinking and contemplating, straight razor in hand. Gauguin’s was the final betrayal. Van Gogh watched him leaving the building, then fortified by absinthe he gave pursuit. Gauguin heard his approaching footsteps and turned to face his would-be attacker. As Gauguin’s gaze met Van Gogh’s own he knew that harming another was not in his nature. The only person he wanted to harm was himself. He lowered his head and pivoted, turning back towards the house to further drown himself in wormwood elixir. As the “Green Fairy” began to overwhelm his better senses he saw the razor from the corner of his eye. Though no one else was in the room it seemed to Van Gogh as though the razor were being wielded by another. As it descended upon his own face so too did his faculties descend into total darkness.
When Van Gogh next saw light it was accompanied by harsh, cold wetness. “Vincent, wake up man!” came Gauguin’s alarm. It would seem a glass of some beverage or another had been thrown rather rudely into his face as he slept. “What is this Paul!” shouted Van Gogh. “Vincent, what the fuck are you doing!?”. “Until you so rudely threw beer in my face, I was trying to sleep off an absinthe bender, my friend!” As these last words were uttered by Van Gogh several drops of the until-now mystery beverage fell surreptitiously into his mouth. It was the one-in-a-million moment in time of which history is made. Van Gogh’s eyes closed and when he reopened them he saw on the table a glass containing a very small amount of a liquid so pure in its golden hue it appeared almost orange as it reflected the sun’s early winter rays. Van Gogh, ignoring the clamor in the room, reached for the glass and drank the rest of the sun-gold treasure it held. As the nectar enveloped his mouth in velvet caresses of fermented perfection Van Gogh began to shout “Dat is Het! Dat is Het!” (English: “This is It!”). Van Gogh had been searching the very ends of the Earth itself in a never-ending quest for “It“. The culmination of all that is right and beautiful. The nexus of beauty, art and nature. At last his quest was fulfilled. As Van Gogh shouted “Dat is Het!” for the 10th time at the now-empty glass Gauguin, flummoxed, said “Vincent, you CUT YOUR FUCKING EAR OFF BRO!” “Never mind that useless tit fucking ear! What did that ear ever do for anyone anyway? I’m Van Gogh, I’m an artist. I’m not Frederic Fucking Chopin. Tell me when I cut out my eye or slice off my hand, and we’ll talk. Now where in God’s kingdom did you find this elixir, and what is it called man?!” Exasperated, Gauguin replied “Um Vincent, your ear is on the floor. Our apartment is covered in blood. We don’t own this apartment. I haven’t even gone Christmas shopping yet, and it is tomorrow. Not sure that beer is high on the priority list right now.” “The beer the beer the beer tell me the name of the fucking beer and where I can find more!”. “You’re off your fucking meds, bro. It is from Rockmill Brewery, Lancaster Ohio, U.S.A. It is called ‘Super Saison’. What the fuck are you on about?” Van Gogh stared back confusedly as he worked something out in his manic brain. “I recall reading about Lancaster once in some journals from America. If memory serves the general, W.T. Sherman, he who torched the South and stormed through Atlanta like a frat guy through a drunken sorority house, hailed from Lancaster. Why in blue blazes would they be brewing Belgian beer in such a place?” Gauguin responded “No one knows Vincent, no one knows. Some scientific horseshit about having identical water to Wallonia, Belgium. It is perplexing, for sure. I bought the beer from the bar wench downstairs. I thought I’d have a roader for the trip home. Then I walk in and your ear is kaput. I threw it in your face. Didn’t really think much, just seemed right at the time….” Van Gogh was already out the door and on the stairs. He charged into the tiny bar on the ground floor and shouted at the startled barmaid, “Pour me a draught of Rockmill Super Saison!” She gasped, “Monsieur Van Gogh! You’ve cut off your fucking ear!” Van Gogh shot back, “Never mind the fucking ear, wench! Rockmill. Super. Saison. NOW!” Not wanting to test the patience of a man who just sliced off his own ear, the barmaid poured with trembling hands a glass of Rockmill Super Saison. Van Gogh watched as the honey-gold liquid poured into the glass. He stood mesmerized as the clouds of bubbles united to become one beautiful beer of uncanny aesthetic perfection. He took hold of the glass as if receiving the Eucharist and inhaled deeply its herbaceous, floral scent. Senses reeling Van Gogh then drank the contents within. He closed his eyes and tried to capture as though a landscape the many pleasures which assaulted his palette. It was rich and round and slightly creamy. Like the name predicted it was a saison, but fuller and richer, with a depth of flavor not usually associated with a simple farmhouse ale. Though possessing a full-bodied richness and high ABV (10%), it was not overpowering or cocky. It struck the perfect balance of flavor density and smoothness. Alas Van Gogh opened his eyes with newfound clarity and yelled anew “Das is Het!” The barmaid looked in Gauguin’s direction who in turn rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders as if to indicate, “The fuck if I know”.
Thus began a new and fulfilling epoch in Van Gogh’s art. Rejuvenated by his discovery of Rockmill Super Saison he began to look at the world around him through a different lens. Rockmill Super Saison replaced absinthe as Van Gogh’s drink of choice. Inspired by its aesthetic beauty, creamy texture and divine taste, he began to draw and paint with fresh perspective and frenetic energy. Where once landscapes appeared dull and muddled, through the honey-orange lens of Rockmill Super Saison they now were radiating an energizing light and full of colorful clarity. When creativity ground to a halt, Van Gogh drank a Rockmill Super Saison and after basking in the warming glow of its herbal effervescence he would put paint to canvas with renewed vigor. He forsook the bitter melancholy and dark storms of absinthe for the sunny optimism and rich fulfillment of Super Saison. To find the penultimate of his own art Van Gogh first had to encounter the perfection of another’s; beer making. The rest is history.