Photo of a bottle of Emperor Norton in front of a page from The Sandman featuring the real Norton

Emperor Norton

One of my favorite oddballs in history is Emperor Norton, neither a real emperor nor Ralph Kramden’s neighbor. His full title was Norton I, Emperor of the United State and Protector of Mexico, and his domain was the streets of San Fransisco, from 1859 until his death in January 1880. The Wikipedia article on Emperor Norton is a beautiful piece of work for an encyclopedia, much richer and expressive than other entries. To write about Norton is to share in a bit of his mania.

My introduction to Emperor Norton was through Neil Gaiman’s masterwork, The Sandman, a 70-issue graphic novel. Norton is featured in one issue where his madness is shown to be his protection from Despair. Notice the capitalization. Despair is an actual character in the novel, and Norton’s protection from her is literal. Reading that issue, I fell in love with Norton. Although The Sandman is obviously fantasy, Gaiman took many of the quirks and stories directly from the actions of the real Norton. I really encourage everyone to read more about Norton. He’s thoroughly a wonderful American, despite what amounts to his sedition and treason.

Emperor Norton

  • Tropical fruit with a touch of apricot
  • That Belgian maltiness with apricot and floral notes
  • Spicy dry-hop kick

A limited release

I’m not the only person to find Norton someone to memorialize. The folks at Almanac Beer Co. released a beer, Emperor Norton, a blend of a Belgian Triple with apricots and then dry hopped. Almanac describes it as an eccentric beer honoring Emperor Norton and suggests that we “enjoy in the company of unconventional friends,” to which I heartily agree.

A bottle of Emperor Norton

Photo courtesy of Almanac Beer Co

But there are two sad notes about sharing Emperor Norton with unconventional friends. First, I finished my bottle in one sitting during a dinner where the other diners did not drink beer. Second, I may not be able to find another bottle, because Emperor Norton is a limited release, part of Almanac’s Fresh Beer Limited Series. For those who cannot find the beer, let me rub salt into the wound by saying the beer was excellent. The dry hops added just the right amount of floral spice to complement the peachy, apricot flavor, itself a great addition to the base of the Tripel, and the whole of the beer was deliciously unique.

I wouldn’t call the real Emperor Norton delicious, but he was unique. The beer Emperor Norton follows in its namesake’s eccentricities, putting a smile on my face and a desire to dive into more.