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Up Close with Musician and Beer Man Bruce Dickinson

Bruce Dickinson Beer
Up Close with Musician and Beer Man Bruce Dickinson, Photo Courtesy Flickr Campus Party Brasil

In the world of beer, it’s not uncommon to find folks from all backgrounds who are on their second or third careers. But few people can lay claim to as many titles as Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson: singer, songwriter, musician, author, beer man, broadcaster, fencer, entrepreneur and airline pilot, among others.

Though The Beer Connoisseur has covered Dickinson before, we’ve primarily focused on his foray into the craft beverage market with TROOPER, a brand of Iron Maiden-approved beers that Dickinson has personally helped craft alongside the team at Robinsons Brewery in the U.K.

This time, we will focus more on the man himself, and how his earlier days (which also include beer) shaped him into the hybrid rock star, business mogul and all-around polymath he has become.

For Dickinson, born Aug. 7, 1958, to working-class parents and initially raised by his grandparents, musical interest fomented in toddlerdom. An early memory consists of dancing to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” in his grandparents’ foyer. His first record came not too much later courtesy of The Beatles “She Loves You," which Dickinson credits with furthering his interest in music.

At age 13, Dickinson was enrolled in Oundle, a public boarding school, where he felt like an outsider. During this time, he focused his energies on military endeavors – co-founding a student war games society and rising to an elevated rank in the school's cadet force. These martial interests would later make themselves evident in Iron Maiden’s lyrical content and musical stylings.

It was during this period of his life that Dickinson first became acquainted with quality beer. In his words: “I was brought up on beer because I went to school in the countryside. We had loads of great beers in Northamptonshire, back when they still made it in wooden casks ‒ gravity fed, low carbonation, but the flavor was aromatic. It tasted of flowers, or nuts, but it was a subtle mix of flavors.” Today, in contrast, “There are some people doing some undrinkable beers because they're just trying to overamp the flavors in beers by squirting flavor in there,” he says. “Beer is an organic, living entity. You've gotta keep it happy.”


iron maiden's tour plane ed force one adorned with their mascot Ed
Dickinson was also a commercial pilot for former airline Astraeus, and he also pilots Iron Maiden's tour plane "Ed Force One."


While Dickinson was building a palate for subtle ales during his time at Oundle, he also had his first taste of hard rock: Deep Purple’s “Child in Time.” He purchased their album, which in turn led him to Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Dickinson’s rock preferences were further shaped by end-of-term performances at the school, the first of which was a band called Wild Turkey, featuring former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick.

After trying guitar at a young age, Dickinson experimented with bongos, performing “Let It Be” with his friend Mike Jordan at Oundle, where he discovered his operatic singing voice while encouraging Jordan to belt the high notes.

In true rock fashion, Dickinson’s time at the school ended in expulsion for a delightful prank involving his headmaster’s dinner. He next landed at King Edward VII School, where he joined his first band, “Paradox” and performed his first show at a tavern. The band made headlines when a steel worker ‒ who was not a fan of the sound ‒ groggily tried to smash the band's drum kit.

Upon graduation, Dickinson entered a period familiar to many of us: "I didn't really know what I wanted to do," he said of that period of his life. After six months in the Territorial Army, he applied to study history at Queen Mary College in London. Almost immediately upon enrolling, Dickinson found himself immersed in the arts and entertainment.

He joined the school's Entertainments Committee, where "one day you'd be a roadie for The Jam, the next you'd be putting up the Stonehenge backdrop for Hawkwind or whatever."

Dickinson founded or joined multiple bands during this time, each of which brought him one step closer to Iron Maiden. With his band Speed (named for their preferred tempo), he began writing his own material. Then followed Shots, with which Dickinson recorded his first studio track, and gave him valuable experience learning the art of crowd interaction as a frontman.

Portentously, the next step in his music career came in a pub called The Prince of Wales in Gravesend, Kent. Impressed with Dickinson's act, members of the band Samson invited him to join, which he agreed to upon his graduation, requiring him to finish six month of school essays in a fortnight.

Dickinson would perform with Samson from 1979 to 1981, a period during which he first saw Iron Maiden play – funnily enough – in support of Samson.


bruce dickinson gives a speech into a microphone
Dickinson is a successful public speaker on the topics of entrepreneurism, business and, of course, music and beer.
Photo Courtesy Flickr/Campus Party Brasil


"I was watching them, and they were good, really good, and at that moment, I remember thinking, 'I wanna sing for that band. In fact, I'm going to sing for that band! I know I'm going to sing for that band!' ... I just thought, 'This is really me. Not Samson.'"

Samson embodied the sex and drugs elements of rock 'n roll, but Dickinson wanted to focus on the music.

"In my naivety, I thought people who were in rock 'n roll bands were great artists, and it was a huge shock to the system to realize that they weren't, that they didn't even aspire to be, really. Some of them did, maybe, but some of them, like Samson, were very frightened of the idea."

Samson soon ran into financial trouble, and Dickinson was approached by Maiden manager Rod Smallwood to try out for the band. Iron Maiden's singer at the time was struggling with substance abuse, and his performance was suffering. Dickinson accepted.

At the audition, Dickinson was immediately impressed with Iron Maiden's professionalism, and their strictly regimented practice schedule, which matched his own discipline. Needless to say, he got the gig.

From 1981 to 1993, Iron Maiden would put out seven hit records that brought them worldwide acclaim, sending the group around the world on a rigorous touring schedule that would eventually lead to a six-year departure beginning in 1993.

This hiatus gave Dickinson a chance to explore other passions, such as piloting, which he first learned recreationally in the early 1990s. He also published his first novel, which would sell more than 40,000 copies.

Dickinson would eventually work for the airline Astraeus as a commercial pilot of Boeing 757s, and upon its closure, would found his own aircraft maintenance business, Cardiff Aviation. He even pilots Iron Maiden's personal charter jet, Ed Force One, during their world tours (Ed Force One is named after Eddie the Head, Iron Maiden’s cadaverous mascot, who makes appearances on all the band’s album covers).

During his leave from Iron Maiden, Dickinson also cultivated his interest in fencing, competing regularly, and made several keynote speeches on topics of business and entrepreneurship, further cementing his position as an international figurehead.

Dickinson’s life is a novel in itself, but 2013 marked a key point – the beginning of the Iron Maiden and Robinsons TROOPER collaboration series.

In all of his pursuits – including beer – he has sought substance and subtlety over hype, and the quality speaks for itself. The TROOPER beers represented some of the earliest success stories of music and beer collaborations, reaching a level that no other collaboration beer has matched.

According to a press release, since its launch in 2013, the original has sold over 20 million pints. These numbers have helped establish TROOPER as a top 40 U.K. beer brand, and it is becoming a leading player among exported British Ales, having been sold in 57 countries worldwide.

The majority of beers sold in Britain are 4 percent ABV or under, and when Robinsons debuted Trooper at 4.7 percent ABV it immediately began outselling older, more established brands with its richer flavor profile and “distinctive look” featuring the zombified Iron Maiden mascot, Eddie the Head, on its taps and label artwork. In many ways, it blended English tradition with the modern excitement that American craft beer has injected into the brewing world at large.

Dickinson is a critical component in the overall marketing strategy for Iron Maiden’s beer brands, playing a role only he could play – a larger-than-life envoy and living embodiment of the TROOPER brand. In his pursuit of so many different interests and world travel, Dickinson has also fashioned himself a global brand ambassador with a worldwide network of loyal fans who are happy to support his endeavors.


robinsons brewery trooper bottle with glassware

Dickinson is a critical component in the overall marketing strategy for Iron Maiden’s beer brands, playing a role only he could play – a larger-than-life envoy and living embodiment of the TROOPER brand.
Photo Courtesy Robinsons Brewery


Dickinson’s global travel and beer exploration also gave him an idea of what kind of beer might succeed internationally – something authentic and bold, but not overstated.

“It's not just ‘Eddie [the Head's] beer,” he says of TROOPER. “It's a serious brewing effort, and that effort is important to me. All of our beers are made to be interesting, and the byproduct is that make you feel cheerful and happy, but the focus is the rush of the flavor.”

Unsurprisingly, even in American beer shrines with hundreds of brews on tap, TROOPER gets noticed due to Iron Maiden’s massive worldwide reach via its social media following, and its iconic Eddie the Head tap handle.

“I’ve been working in the beverage industry for 18 years,” said David Bremner, Robinsons’ Director of Marketing. “Trooper is the only beer I’ve dealt with that actually puts people in pubs – we tell the fans where to find the beer on social media, and it drives people into that pub.”

With Iron Maiden and Robinsons’ networks combined, the brand is also able to find purchase in venues that other brands might not have access to, such as concert halls or sporting arenas, and events such as the Isle of Man TT, which Dickinson aptly describes as “the world's most dangerous roadrace.”

TROOPER sponsors a rider who happened to have won the year prior. “We sell more beer on that island on that weekend than any other brewery in the world!”

In the five years since its inception, TROOPER has won multiple gold medals at the prestigious British Bottlers’ Institute Awards, as well as placing at the World Beer Awards, Global Beer Masters and International Beer Challenge.

“I’m incredibly proud of the success that TROOPER has had, and long may it continue,” Dickinson said in a recent release. “To sell over 20 million pints in 5 years is something that we couldn’t have imagined when we started out with just the simple plan to make a great session ale that didn’t compromise on flavor, and the quality of the end product speaks for itself.”


TROOPER FAMILY OF BEER

TROOPER – 4.7% ABV

TROOPER is an ESB style beer inspired by Iron Maiden and handcrafted at Robinsons Brewery. Malt flavors and citrus notes from a unique blend of Bobek, Goldings and Cascade hops give this deep golden ale a subtle hint of lemon. BC judge Joseph Formanek’s review of TROOPER noted that “fresh woody and citrus hop character show up in the aroma, with a background of base and caramel malt along with woody and light floral ester fermentation notes. The color is golden amber, with fantastic clarity and a solid lacy small bubble white head that lingers quite impressively.”

TROOPER Light Brigade – 4.1% ABV

The newest beer in the Iron Maiden Beer lineup, LIGHT BRIGADE was developed in support of Help For Heroes, a British charity that helps the “thousands of servicemen and women who live with complex wounds and injuries – both physical and mental – and are looking to regain their purpose in life,” according to the beer’s label.

Dickinson and Robinsons Head Brewer Martyn Weeks crafted Light Brigade as a “unique interpretation of a sessionable golden ale.”

At 4.1% ABV and served in a 500-ml bottle, LIGHT BRIGADE is an easy-drinking ale that still packs a powerful flavor punch.

Help For Heroes met with Robinsons in the summer of 2017 to explore the possibility of launching a beer. Robinsons and Iron Maiden were immediately enthusiastic about the idea, as the origin of TROOPER’s name comes from the classic Iron Maiden song, ‘The Trooper.’ The song’s inspiration was the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava of 1854 in the Crimean War, a historic battle that ended badly for the British armed forces who bravely carried out their orders despite being outnumbered.

A nod to armed forces services of both past and present, Help For Heroes will receive a portion of the sales for each bottle of LIGHT BRIGADE purchased.

Though Dickinson lives a life larger than most, his sentiments remain humble. During his interview with BC on Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls tour, he shared a telling anecdote of where his priorities lie:

“I'm in Dallas at the moment, and I'm pretty much in hog heaven, because Dallas is absolutely rammed full of different breweries. Every night when we do the show I always request a little care package: ‘Just go out and find me some local beers.’ Half a dozen, put 'em in the fridge. I'll take 'em back after the show and have myself a mini beer festival. And I've found some really great beers that way.”

That constant curiosity and fearless exploration – backed by a commitment to excellence – have crafted a true legend of our time. Luckily for lovers of good beer, Dickinson’s zest for life has been channeled into crafting a legendary beer brand that will stand the test of time – along with Maiden’s music.

TROOPER Hallowed – 6.0% ABV – Limited Release

TROOPER 666 – 6.6% ABV – Limited Release

TROOPER Red 'n Black – 6.8% ABV – Limited Release


robinsons brewery trooper light brigade bottles
A nod to armed forces services of both past and present, Help For Heroes will receive a portion of the sales for each bottle of TROOPER LIGHT BRIGADE purchased.
Photo Courtesy Robinsons Brewery