by Ross E. Lockhart
Merlin was a wizard, and until the inventions of Gandalf the Grey and Harry Potter, probably the best known wizard in Western literature. Nichol Williamson played Merlin in Excalibur, John Boorman’s bizarro take on Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (which featured armor, props, and set dressings originally intended for Boorman’s aborted post-Zardoz adaption of The Lord of the Rings). The Merlyn of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King lives backward in time, which gives White the opportunity to pepper his novel with clever anachronisms, to the bewilderment of other characters.
A merkin, on the other hand, is a pubic-hair wig. Dating to the early seventeenth century, merkins were used by women attempting to combat the dreaded Pthirus pubis, better known as the crab louse, or to mask signs of disease, or by male actors, playing female parts, when required to show off said “female parts” onstage. In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the American president played by Peter Sellers is named Merkin Muffley, and a recent American president, presumably in homage to Sellers comedic genius, habitually pronounced “American” as “merkin.”
For more insightful comment on merkins, I defer to The Young Punx, Amanda Palmer, and Peaches, and their merkin-tastic music video for “Map of Tasmania (club mix)”:
So now you’re probably asking, “What in the name of Merlin’s merkin does any of this have to do with beer?” Firestone Walker Brewing Company holds the answer to that question, with their Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout. Previously known as “Velvet Merkin,” Firestone Walker changed the name of this award-winning stout in 2010, as Firestone Walker began to bottle and widely distribute the brew. After all, you’re not going to find a velvet merkin on the shelves of your local Trader Joe’s.
Velvet Merlin pours near-black with a thin, tan head that fades quick to a ring of bubbles, and just enough viscosity that thin serpents of lacing scrape clean the glass’s surface between sips. Roast coffee and cocoa on the nose. Bittersweet chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (slightly overbaked) on the tongue, with aspects of roasted malt, vanilla, and a citrus zest. Bitter against the palate. Smooth mouthfeel, with a ton of carbonation, and a lightweight character closer to a coffee porter than an oatmeal stout. Lasting bitter coffee finish.
Literary pairings to go with your Velvet Merlin and velvet merkin:
Yarn, by Jon Armstrong. In this high-fashion dystopia, a velvet merkin might seem a little conservative, but then again, like the LBD, a classic never goes out of style.
Fantastic Orgy, by Carlton Mellick III. In the title story of this collection, tonight is “Share Your STD Night” at the Demon Seed Swingers Club, and what better place to wear a velvet merkin than to a fantastic orgy?
Jane Carver of Waar, by Nathan Long. Bigger, bolder, and a better hommage to the source material than a certain recent big-budget blockbuster, Jane’s not your granny’s idea of a space princess. Sure, Jane’s more apt to rock a chainmail bikini than a velvet merkin, but even brawling biker chicks can have their tender sides.
The Engines of Desire, by Livia Llewellyn. Beauty and cruelty, Thantos and Eros collide in this collection of ten short stories. Silken, sensual, and profoundly disturbing. Just like a velvet merkin.
Ross E. Lockhart is the managing editor of Night Shade Books. A lifelong fan of supernatural, fantastic, speculative, and weird fiction, he holds degrees in English from Sonoma State University (BA) and San Francisco State University (MA). He lives in an old church in Petaluma, CA, with his wife Jennifer, hundreds of books, and a small, ravenous dog that he believes may be one of the Elder Gods. In 2011, he edited the acclaimed anthology The Book of Cthulhu. Visit him online at www.haresrocklots.com.