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Real Ale In Rock & Metal (Issue 31)

 

Rock music has been associated with excess since its inception. Along with its companion activities, sex and drugs, the genre’s hallmark characteristics have been about going big, bold, and beyond societal expectations. But it’s made to be enjoyed by all, and much of it takes considerable technical ability, often discernable only to the trained ear. 

In many ways, American craft beer has followed a similar trajectory. Bucking the trend of the mass-produced lager, brewers began to question what they valued in a beer, and what it means to drink one. The result has been a revolution of significant cultural impact that is still unfolding, both an expansion and liberation of tastes.

No one wants a soulless product shoved down their throats. People crave authenticity, and they thirst for what truly speaks to them. Enter the artists to give voice to those who have not been heard, and to reanimate an integral part of life that has been bastardized and commoditized by those who value the dollar above all. Are we talking about brewers or musicians now? Are they really any different?

Music and beer come from living organisms, then take on a life of their own as vehicles of expression. Join us as we explore the symbiotic relationship between the two artforms with help from some of rock and metal’s “O.G.’s”.

 

The Number of the Yeast

Iron Maiden is to the metal genre what Sierra Nevada is to craft beer – others came before, but few have done more to define their respective areas of expertise, and both have done so on their terms, without alienating those who helped them etch their names in history.

This is a rare feat, given that both metal and craft beer fans can sniff out inauthenticity in the single-digit parts per million. The slightest hint of ‘selling out’ snuffs out loyalty that may have taken years to earn.

How do these megaliths still command respect from hardcore fans decades later? They make decisions that align with their values on both a personal and business level, and they retain full creative control over what they produce.

If you’re not familiar with Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson and his band’s collaborative effort with Robinsons Brewery, TROOPER, then you might assume it’s just a name slapped on a label. However, the collaboration was born from Dickinson’s passion for beer, specifically English cask ale.

 “I went to school in the countryside,” Dickinson said, “and we had loads of great beers in Northhamptonshire. I was brought up on beer when it was still made in wooden casks and gravity fed – low carbonation, but it was a subtle mix of flavors – flowers or nuts. Brewing is a gentle, organic process, and the flavors don’t need to be overamped.”

After turning down offers to associate with wine brands, Dickinson, who grew up sought out a brewery which would allow him to take part in the creative process.

“I had to audition for them,” said Dickinson, “which I thought was excellent, because they were as passionate about the quality of their beer as I would be if I were going to play with a new musician. You want to make sure that he or she can really cut the mustard.”

After successfully “auditioning” for Robinsons by identifying beers by brand and style in a blind taste test, Dickinson chose the hops and malts he wanted to use with Robinsons’ head brewer Martyn Weeks, who came back with two test brews. To Dickinson, the choice was clear – a subtle, sessionable beer that works in cask and keg and can.



“I don't drink to get drunk,” Dickinson says. “It might be a nice after-effect, but I drink because I love beer. So we tried to come up with an ‘everyman's beer’ that’s not bland – one that you could drink and say 'Hey, that's gonna be my beer. I'll take it any day, because it's like an old friend.’ You may wander, but you'll always come back to it. And that's actually a really difficult thing to do."

There’s a reason certain artists can maintain decades-long careers while others burn fast and bright. Those who live to express themselves value their creative journey above all else. For Dickinson, crafting beer is another creative pathway to explore, and a gateway to a yet-unconquered arena. With over 15 million pints sold, TROOPER may yet give Iron Maiden’s album sales a run for its money, but the real pride comes from building something from the ground up.

The TROOPER journey continues with the latest entry in the series, the just-announced “Hallowed”, a Belgian-inspired ale with a British twist due in October.

 

Breweries Sell… But Who’s Buying?

Megadeth and its outspoken frontman Dave Mustaine built an empire atop complicated, touchy subject matter like politics and religion, presenting it in an uncompromising fashion. By not backing down and caving in to the paradigms and powers that dictate the masses, the band amassed a dedicated following.

Handing over the reins to a third party for a big payout would spell imminent destruction. This is a huge, valuable lesson for craft brewers.


Mustaine and Unibroue Brewmaster Jerry Vietz became share a pint of À Tout Le Monde.


As a brewer, what is your ethos? Are you brewing to make it big, or are you brewing because you love making beer and the people around it? If you know from the start, you will never run the risk of leaving those who helped you succeed feeling betrayed.

In his own words, Mustaine is “just out of the gate” in the craft beer world. So you may be surprised to learn that his and Megadeth’s entrance into the beer market is a 4.5% ABV dry-hopped saison produced by Unibroue. À Tout Le Monde is a “Belgian style dry hopped golden saison with hoppy and spicy notes, topped with an unctuous head and a crisp, dry finish,” crafted according to Mustaine’s tastes by close friend and Unibroue Brewmaster Jerry Vietz.

The beer draws its title from the eponymous Megadeth song released in 1995, regarded as one of the band’s most personal, and translating to “to all the world” or “to everyone.”

Coupled together, the song and beer are a study in defying expectation. Both are structured surprisingly, and can be thought of as “power ballads,” – something crafted with a softer hand than previous experience would lead you to believe. Less can be more. Again, in music and beer, sometimes the sessionable ale says more than the syrupy stout with the ‘gain’ cranked to eleven.

For Mustaine, who also owns a vineyard, the journey into the beer and wine industry is one of personal significance, and the chance to pass on a lasting legacy for his family.

“When I was a teenager, my mom and I were very poor. We lived in an apartment and had food stamps, state assistance and so on. I’d come home from school, open the fridge and there was a six-pack of white cans with blue letters on them that said ‘Beer,’ and I would drink them. I didn’t realize as a kid how much you want that beer after work, how important it is after a long day.”

In À Tout Le Monde, Mustaine recognizes the sacrifices his family made to help him, and aims to pass them on to future generations.

“I love this business. I want to do it until I can hand it off to my grandkids, and they can hand it off to theirs.”

No matter what you think of Megadeth and Mustaine, keeping business independently owned is a hallmark of true craft beer, and a way to guarantee more jobs for more people, and more soul in your work.



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