Published March 30, 2016
Contributed by Benjamin K. Roe
Do you think because you are virtuous, that there shall be no more cakes and ale?
-Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
During this Merrie Month of March we’ve taken note of all kinds of special events taking place to mark this first ever Early Music Month — festivals, commemorative concerts, educational initiatives, CD releases, and more. Sure enough, the Charlottesville, VA-based early music ensemble Three Notch’d Road has been a part of this breezy month’s activities, with a special draft – or more accurately draught – of their own: they could be the nation’s only early music band to have their own Beer of the Month: Alte Musik Ale.
The special brew is something especially, er, “mashed up” by their fellow artisans at the Three Notch’d Brewing Company, to commemorate the group, their music, and this month. The brewers describe it as “a classic German, bottom fermented ale dating back to the middle ages, long before lagers were invented. The German malts are going to give the beer a biscuity, toast, light caramel sweetness, nicely balanced by a noble hop bitterness. Called a ‘hybrid beer,’ it’s essentially an ale treated as a lager, giving it a crisp, clean, dry finish.”
Both the brewers and the band take their name from the historic Three Notch’d Road of Colonial times – a legendary thoroughfare that ran from Richmond westward to the Shenandoah Valley. Sometimes referred to as the “Three Chopt Road,” the name is believed to derive from the 18th-century practice of cutting three distinctive notches cut into the trees to blaze the original trail. (Hmm. Perhaps they should have a “battle of the early bands” with the Musicians of the Old Post Road?)
Their location has also inspired the Three Notch’d performers to explore America’s early musical history. Earlier this season they presented a program called “Bach Comes to America: Virginia’s Baroque Heritage,” an exploration of the musical personality of colonial Virginia with selections from the British Isles and Germany along with the early American music, such as the hymns “Liberty Tree” and “Behold a Lovely Vine.” This video from that performance pairs the old American hymn “Greenfields” (My Lord, if indeed I am thine) with the German Da Joseph sein’ Brüder ansah (When Joseph saw his brothers standing there in hunger).
Getting back to the Alte Musik Ale, it won’t flow much longer from the Three Notch’d taps, as our March of Early Music nears its final days. By user reviews, it’s a tasty brew – the beer-discovery site untappd.com rates it a 3.6 out of 5. No word on what will replace it – perhaps Mother Watkins Ale?