Ragnarok isn’t just part of the title of a Thor movie from the Marvel Comics empire. It’s also a complex crossover between a Scottish ale and a strong ale from Strange Roots Experimental Ales.
But well before it was either of these modern constructs, in Norse mythology Ragnarok is a series of events that lead to the apocalyptic end to many of the gods and all but two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir.
According to the myth, creeping white snow will swirl and eddy like a frozen dragon, devouring life and hope through once-green lands now barren and devoid of any life-sustaining vegetation. Ice will harden water and savagery will become the new law of the land as the survival of the fittest turns friends into foes and family members into embittered enemies.
The wolves named Skoll and Hati, who have long wanted to capture the sun and the moon, finally achieve their goal and gorge themselves on that pure light, plunging the world into terrifying darkness.
Mighty Yggdrasil, the tree of life, will quiver and shake from its three wizened roots that deeply plunge into different wells, the whole way to the top of the most heavenly of its branches that are topped with altitude-laden snow. This steadfast sentinel, the living yet mortal connection between the Norse worlds for time immemorial and the vehicle through which the great god Odin hanged himself as an offering to receive the powerful magic of runes, will tremble.
Mountains will collapse, tired with the weight of the ages and unable to withstand the end. All stars will wink out and disappear, that common thread of constellations tying present to past now gone.
Two of the three children of trickster-god Loki and the giantess Angrboda are Jormungand, a poison-spitting sea serpent, and Fenrir, a wolf. Stories say that in his youth, the strength of Fenrir was feared to be of such devastating consequence to the world that the gods raised him in an effort to mold and control him. When it was clear that wouldn’t be a successful long-term solution, they twice attempted to trick him into chains to prove his own strength. These chains were unable to secure him, and he broke free. The third set of chains, made by dwarves, stirred up suspicion in Fenrir and, wary of the gods’ intentions, he agreed to be chained only if one would put their hand into his mouth as collateral.
The chains indeed secured Fenrir, and thus Tyr, the god of justice and law, lost his arm to the massive teeth of a wolf destined to be turned loose again to eat all in his way during Ragnarok, including Odin himself.
All the world will become a nightmare of poison, fire, gnashing of teeth and devouring of flesh.
The horde will approach Asgard, home to the gods, and they won’t wait for an invitation. On that ground much blood will be shed, poison loosed and mortality realized.
All the land will settle back into the sea, the first womb, and all existence will have been not even a memory.
Some tales say Ragnarok isn’t the end, but rather a time for a fresh beginning. Lif and Lifthrasir, along with a handful of gods, repopulate and rule a new landscape under the heat and glow of a fresh, young sun.
It’s a stark story, especially if you read it in a way that there is no new beginning and the end is just that — the end. Perhaps that’s part of why the Vikings lived in a way such as St. Paul warned early followers of Jesus in Corinth not to live when he said “if the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Strange Roots Ragnarok
Gibsonia, Allegheny, is home to Strange Roots Experimental Ales and they’re brewing in a farmhouse style using such ingredients as pink Himalayan sea salt, prickly pear, turkey tail mushrooms and wild yeast. Ragnarok has a yearly wintertime release and the bottle I tried was from the 2018 batch.
Brewed with black currants, elderberries, red raspberries and black cherry juice, Strange Roots places this style somewhere between “strong ale, Scottish ale and Viking metal concert,” so I was already sold on it before even cracking open the bottle.
It poured a deep, rich brown from the bottle and had a light tan head with generous lacing. The aroma offered tart berries, sour cherry pie, sticky raspberries and elderberry syrup. While there were loads of berrylike fruits and gummy candy in the flavor, it was complex and mature with leather and tobacco richness stealing into a tart, crisp body. There was a rustic earthiness to Ragnarok that put me in mind of drinking it from a stone cup in the middle of a wild, dark forest.
Contact Amber DeGrace with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on Twitter at @amberdegrace.