Emily Hutto's picture

Where There's Beer, There's Music

Mashing In
Beer Music

Stillwater Artisanal Beer Connoisseur MusicOver my many years of reporting about the craft beer industry, countless brewers have told me that critical to a successful brew day is the soundtrack playing in the background. Many of these brewers have given their breweries musical themes (like Ska Brewing Company), and many more have collaborated on beers with musicians (think Kyle Hollingsworth) or sponsored music festivals (Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza and HopString Fest, for example). A handful of these brewers even have former careers in the music industry.

So what gives? Why are music and craft beer so harmonious?

In a recent Brewbound interview, the legendary Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery offers an explanation. “‘I think the overlap between the craft beer community and the music community is huge... because both of them really started as these kind of niche, marginal kind of genres in a world dominated by a few more homogenous giant kinds of music,’” he said, among some other gems. It’s a great interview— you should read it here.

Music is an integral part of the brewing process at DC Brau Brewing Company in Washington DC co-owner and former drum and bass DJ Brandon Skall told me. “The first step of the day is plugging that iPod into that sound system,” he said, “and it unfolds from there. Any part of the creative process [such as composing music],  you can liken it to what happens in the brewery... writing music is a lot of copying and pasting. What might seem mundane is part of that creative process, part of the greater goal.”

Another brewer who’s also a former DJ agrees that composing music is much akin to brewing beer. Brian Strumke, the founder of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, likens crafting a beer recipe to creating an electronic song, in which malt sweetness is the baseline and hop aroma hits a high treble note. “I started for creative release,” he said. “The medium of the art switched from music to beer, but the business concept pretty much stayed the same.”Ninkasi Beer Connoisseur Music

At Ninkasi Brewing Company in Eugene, Oregon, the business model actually includes an in-house recording studio where VP of Marketing James Book produces music under his record label Top Secret Records. Book started at the brewery after twenty years as a touring musician out of Southern California. He played bass and co-wrote songs for The Flys, an alterna-rock 90’s band known for the top-five hit Got You (Where I Want You). Now he’s in large part responsible for fostering some of Eugene’s up-and-coming bands, two music compilations of local artists and the Last Band Standing competition for musicians in the Northwest.

“People have an emotional connection to songs,” Book said. “You remember that tune on the radio the summer you got out of college, for example. Beers are that way, too... they tell stories.”