The Beers of Spenser

The Beerhunter?

For a while there, it really seemed like Robert B. Parker’s Spenser had a quest. No, not some knightly search for some old cup that’s been kicking around for a couple of millennium, or something so shop-worn as a lady fair or even honesty, beauty or true love. Nope, Spenser’s quest was for… the ultimate beer?

I don’t recall  one private eye ever sampling so many fine brews — or making a point of naming them. Spenser was probably the most brand-conscious suds-slurpers of all the knights errant, cheerfully dropping names as only a quasi-yuppie gumshoe can. But he wasn’t an idiot about it. Like he says, “Any beer in the fridge when the beerstore’s closed is good beer.”

In fact, one of the things that convinced me that Ace Atkins was the man for the job of continuing the Spenser series was that he had Spenser once more drinking beer.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but here’s a book-by-book beer diary…


  • The Godwulf Manuscript (1973)
    It seems Spenser was on a bourbon kick back in those days. It comes up several times, with Wild Turkey specifically mentioned once. And he keeps a bottle of the cheap stuff in his office desk drawer. Other than that, he drinks wine or champagne (!) with meals, a LOT of coffee, even sips a bit of brandy and (gasp!) milk! No beer mentioned by brand, but in the pub with Terry Orchard, Spenser winds up ordering two corned beef sandwiches and four beers (cross-reference this to the “inflation” column by noting that he left five dollars, including tip). Our man later has a few cans of beer while preparing Coquilles St. Jacques. Those are the only references, and I am not surprised that they are just “beer.” In this first novel he seems to be afraid of pinning down anything, including a “restaurant…on top of an insurance building.”
  • God Save the Child (1974)
    And so it begins… Spenser cites Amstel (from the Netherlands, I believe) as his favorite beer. Narragansett, in sixteen ounce cans, which Spenser finds somewhat “gassy,” makes an appearance, and Miller Draft.
    Otherwise, again it is bourbon (on the rocks with a dash of bitters), wine, champagne, Calvados brandy, more coffee, and even a vodka gimlet with Susan. But the dude that lets him work on his horse farm is drinking eating salami and cheese and drinking Pickwick Ale.
  • Mortal Stakes (1975)
    Amstel, Miller High Life, Labatt 50, Heineken, Harp
    Also: Wild Turkey; cognac (Remy Martin); lots more bourbon, wine
  • Promised Land (1976)
    Heineken (Spenser laments that Amstel is getting scarce), Harp, Utica Club Cream Ale, Schlitz on tap
    Also: more wine, vodka gimlets, and… cream soda?
  • The Judas Goat (1978)
    Labatt 50, Amstel, Carlsberg, Utica Club, O’Keefe, and Coors (“okay for a domestic beer, I guess.”)
    Also; wine, champagne
  • Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)
    Heineken (draft), Beck’s, Molson
    Also: wine, champagne, Irish whiskey (in coffee), Spenser confesses he prefers beer to hard liquor; in fact, he claims he doesn’t really like hard liquor; doesn’t like martinis
  • A Savage Place (1981)
    Kirin, Dos Equis, Coors, Carta Blanca
    Also: Cognac (Remy Martin), wine
  • Early Autumn (1981)
    Schlitz, Beck’s, Budweiser, Heineken, Carta Blanca,
    Also: champagne
  • Ceremony (1982)
    Pilsner Urquell, Rolling Rock Extra Pale, Schlitz, Molson Golden
    Also: champagne, and Susan and Spenser split a bottle of Norman cider at the Bookstore Cafe.
  • The Widening Gyre (1983)
    Rolling Rock Extra Pale (which he claims is his new favorite since Amstel is no longer being imported), Carta Blanca
    Also: he’s now keeping Murphy’s Irish Whisky in his desk drawer; drinking more hard booze; wine; brandy; resolving to cut back on coffee (right!)
  • Valediction (1984)
    Rolling Rock Extra Pale, Carta Blanca, Old India Pale Ale
    Also: champagne; Irish whiskey (Bushmill Black Label); it is here that he is introduced to Scotch by Linda while on “hiatus” from Susan. And he’s still “cutting back” on coffee (snicker)
  • A Catskill Eagle (1985)
    Steinlager (from New Zealand), Anchor Steam, Heineken
    Also: champagne; now he likes vodka martinis (on the rocks with a twist), but not gin martinis; Scotch (Glenfiddich)
  • Taming a Seahorse (1986)
    Fisher, Heineken, Tsingtao
    Also: champagne, Irish whiskey (Bushmill Black), Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • Pale Kings and Princes (1987)
    Spenser claims to be on an “American beer binge,” working his way through Killian Red Ale, Samuel Adams and the ubitquious Bud.
    Also: scotch; margaritas
  • Crimson Joy (1988)
    Still on the America First plan: Samuel Adams
    Also: champagne with Midori splash, wine, scotch (Laphroig)
  • Playmates (1989)
    Still buying American: Sam Adams, Lone Star
    Also: vodka martini; gimlets, scotch (Glenfiddich), champagne, wine (Gewürztraminer)
  • Stardust (1990)
    Sam Adams, Corona
    Also: brandy, Scotch (Laphroig, Glenfiddich), vodka martini
  • Pastime (1991)
    Spenser’s brand of choice seems to be Catamount Golden Lager, with occasional Sam Adams, but in a shocking turn of events, our man seems to have switched to drinking Scotch (Glenfiddich)!
    Also: champagne (Krug)
  • Double Deuce (1992)
    Catamount Golden Lager
    Also: wine, Irish whiskey, champagne, scotch (Glenfiddich, under front seat), vodka martini
  • Paper Doll (1993)
    Spenser pledges allegiance to Catamount Golden Lager, although he–GASP!–claims he is “experimenting with intake modification.” Say it ain’t so, Joe! He also has a “draft” or two.
    Also: vodka martini, wine (Gewürztraminer)
  • Walking Shadow (1994)
    Rolling Rock
  • Thin Air (1995)
    Rolling Rock, Pilsner Urquell
  • Chance (1996)
    New Amsterdam Black and Tan, Bud
  • Small Vices (1997)
    Saranac Black & Tan, White Buffalo (chosen from among a selection of White Buffalo, Red Hook Ale, and Saranac Black & Tan), some nameless draft beer, Rolling Rock
  • Sudden Mischief (1998)
    Fosters, Blue Moon Belgian White Ale
  • Hush Money (1999)
    Brooklyn Lager, New Amsterdam Black and Tan, Sam Adams’ White Ale
  • Hugger Mugger (2000)
    This one’s a puzzler. Spenser definitely drinks beer in this one (a draft beer at the Bath House Bar and Grill, a  beer at Walter Clive’s wake, and at least one draft again at the Paddock Tavern), but he doesn’t seem to name any of them. He also confesses he doesn’t like iced tea.
  • Pot Shot (2001)
    Coors, Blue Moon Belgian White Ale
  • Widow’s Walk (2002)
    What a disappointment! It takes our man almost 100 pages to have a beer, and then he doesn’t name it. We find out a few pages later he’s trying Heineken again, which he refers to as a “blast from the past.”
  • Back Story (2003)
    Settles for Budweiser and Miller High Life, but states a preference (again) for good ol’ Blue Moon Belgian White Ale. I’m gonna have to try that one.
  • Bad Business (2004)
    “Sound of muscle and pure of mind,” he has a “tall can of Budweiser to replenish (his) electrolytes,” and later, in a “faux Irish pub,” he orders Bud again, admitting that, authenticity aside, he can’t stand Guinness. He keeps Stella Artois in his office refrigerator and allows that non-beerdrinker Susan keeping a supply of Blue Moon Belgian White Ale in her home fridge is “strong evidence” of her love.
  • Cold Service (2004)
    There’s definitely beer being drunk here, but Parker’s a little stingy with brands. He and Hawk have a few cans in Spenser’s office, and later on Spenser tilts a few at the Boston Harbor Hotel, and at the bar in the Ritz.
  • School Days (2005)
    Sadly, Spenser seems to have abandoned beer all together. Still, he seems to be doing all right — with both Hawk and Susan off elsewhere, he swills Johnny Walker Blue, a very pricey Scotch.
  • The Hundred Dollar Baby (2006)
    Spenser’s distressinghabit of not naming his beer continues. Then again, he only has a few — with a Cuban sandwich.
  • Now and Then (2007)
    After a dry patch, Spenser returns to suds, meeting a contact in a place “where they had approximately four hundred billion beers on draft. Reasoning that I couldn’t try them all, I settled for my favorite, Blue Moon Belgian White Ale.”
  • The Professional (2009)
    Well, at least he’s drinking beer again, but he’s not naming names, except one instance when he admits that he’s partial to Sam Adams Winter Ale, which Susan kindly keeps in her fridge. But then, who isn’t?
  • Painted Ladies (2010)
    Once again, Spenser indulges, but doesn’t tell.
  • Sixkill (2011)
    The final REAL Spenser novel found our hero hitting the Scotch, and only finding time for a couple of bottles of Blue Moon with his new buddy Sixkill. They pilch a couple of bottles each from Henry’s office fridge after a sparring session.


As I’ve said before, I found myself properly sucker-punched by Ace Atkins continuation of the Spenser novels so soon after Parker’s death. I was all prepared to hate them, but I was pleasantly surprised — Atlins turned out to be the exact right man for the job.

  • Lullaby (2012; by Ace Atkins)
    One of the great things about Atkins’ surprisingly nuanced and respectful take on Spenser was his decision to make Spenser a beer guy again. As he explained when I interviewed him for Mystery Scene, “To me, Spenser is a beer man first and foremost, and maybe bourbon when needed. That’s pretty much what I enjoy, too. And I wanted Lullaby to feel more like the books Bob did years ago. So I went back to a steady beer menu. I thought the return appropriate.”
    And so Spenser drinks Sam Adams, Sam Adams with a Bushmill chaser, a Sam Adams Noble Pils and a cold Budweiser at Fenway Park.

  • Wonderland (2013; by Ace Atkins)
    One of the beeriest Spenser novels in decades. Spenser works his way through Avery White Rascal Ale, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Amstel, a cold Budweiser (with a whiskey chaser “finely aged a good six months”), Tsingtao and even — brace yourself — Bud Light.
  • Silent Night (2013; by Robert B. Parker & Helen Brann)
    Amstel Light and Sam Adams Winter Lager. Brann, apparently, is no Atkins.
  • Cheap Shot (2014; by Ace Atkins)
    Bohemia, Amstel Draft, Harpoon Maple Wheat Ale, Sam Adams, and “something” from  the Avery Brewing Company.
  • Kickback (2015; by Ace Atkins)
    Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sam Adams Winter Lager, Harpoon Ale, and Beck’s.
  • Slow Burn (2016; by Ace Atkins)
    Harpoon IPA, Guinness, a “special bath” from the Ipswich Brewing Company, Sam Adams, and Lagunitas IPA.
  • Little White Lies (2017; by Ace Atkins)
    Sam Adams Oktoberfest, Sam Adams Oatmeal Stout, Blue Moon, Atlanta Brewing Company Ale, Harpoon Ale, and Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale.
  • Old Black Magic (2018; by Ace Atkins)
    Ghost River, Ipswich Ale, Allagash White, Sam Adams and Pabst Blue Ribbon (when informed the bar doesn’t carry Sam Adams).
  • Angel Eyes (2019)
  • Bye Bye Baby (2022)
    Blue Moon Ale, a “German-style ale made in Framingham,” Sam Adams, Allagash White Ale
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

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