Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Top of the Hops: Beer and Music

Photo: Elena Norbiato (CCL)
Lennon & McCartney. Slash and Axl Rose. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love… Music’s history is full of dynamic and turbulent relationships. Relationships that aren’t always healthy, but nonetheless are integral to success and productivity. There is no smoke without fire. There is no Liam without Noel. There are no Stones without Jagger!

And one of the most dynamic duos in the music industry is the relationship between music and alcohol, and in particular, beer. This is an unstable history; alcohol has been the downfall of many a musician who can’t control their addictive personalities, but in (fairly) moderate amounts alcohol can heighten the experience of music; for the audience, the musicians and everyone working with it.

Beer creates bravado, loosens inhibitions, boosts confidence and can be responsible for wild and wacky ideas, brilliant solos and terrible Middle-8’s. It can also devastate lives if we're talking about the many musicians that have succumbed to alcoholism, but I'm just talking about drinking socially and in moderation.

One of the most exciting partnerships in the brewing industry at the moment is the number of musicians and bands brewing their own beer in collaboration with breweries. Artists are realizing that beer can be a great merchandising venture, and that a beer can be created to reflect a band's personality and music style. It can also provide a great alternative revenue stream in an industry constantly looking to make up for the loss of royalties without having to tour incessantly.

People who are educated in music are often educated in what they drink, and there is a real ‘stand up and fight’ attitude to tasteless corporation lagers emerging. These are the faceless brew conglomerates that sponsor major events that you are ultimately forced to drink due to lack of variety. If you were given the option to drink your favourite bands’ beer at their concert, you would, wouldn’t you?

Bands and artists that have released their own beer include Frank Turner, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Elbow, Professor Green, Status Quo, Mastadon, and the list is ever-growing. But are they any good? Which one is top of the hops? Which bands’ beer has the X Factor? Sorry, enough of the puns.

Folk artist Frank Turners ‘Believe is more a modern pale ale than classic wheat beer as advertised. It’s fresh with medium bitterness and some residual yeast. It’s pleasant, with a little wheat sweetness and some, but not too much zesty orange. 7/10

Charge’ by Elbow is the bands’ second beer. Much like a disappointing second album, this one fails to live up to its predecessor ‘Build A Rocket Boys’. It’s a fairly uneventful, amber-coloured ale with bittersweet, biscuity malt. 4/10
Elbow's Charge beer is available at ClassicAles for £17.99 per dozen

Arguably the best thing they’ve ever released, Status Quo’s ‘Piledriver is a rich English Best-Bitter. It’s got some treacle and dark fruit flavours, and is quite floral on the nose. 6.5/10
Piledriver is also available at Classic Ales for £17.99 per dozen

As subtle as a wall of noise, Mastodon’s ‘Black Tongue’ is an invasive double Black IPA. Unapologetic and ruthless, this is a beer that reflects its bands’ style. Big, sweet and bold tropical fruit flavours with a burst of bitterness. Absolutely relentless, but pretty good. 8/10

It’s no surprise that KISS, the masters of band merch, have a beer. Destroyeris a pale ‘pils’ style lager. It tastes of very little, with the corny sweetness common in cheap lagers. 2/10
Available at Uvinum for £2.67 per bottle

British rapper Professor Green’s ‘Remedy is an excellent late-hopped West-Coast pale ale. Refreshingly clean and bitter, with very ‘green’ aromas of grapefruit zest and British hops. Clear winner. 9/10
Available at Signature Brew for £8.99 per case of four

Like musicians are doing, concert promoters and venues should look at ways to indulge their audiences. They should take pride in their events, and that means that the entire experience should justify the ticket price. Audiences are fed up of the tasteless and faceless lager giants who have monopolised festivals and concerts for the past 20 years. People want variety. Imagine a beer festival at Glastonbury. Imagine that!

Luckily, we’re seeing the first signs of change. Iron Maiden’s beer Trooper was the official beer of Sonisphere 2014. The show was the last on their world tour, having played to 2 ½ million fans. Robinsons, the UK brewery responsible for Trooper, has already brewed over 5 million pints, and half of that is to fulfil export orders. This is true testament to the avid following of one of the world’s biggest metal bands, and shows that audiences really do care about what they drink and that they do have a choice.

I’m very open to music in the same way I’m open to trying new beers. Not every one will be a winner, some are definitely better than others, but there is a definite correlation between brewing and the music industry. On one side you have the massive corporate machines churning out boy bands to the uneducated masses (the equivalent of Coors Light or Carlsberg) and then you have the underground indie and house artists without the enormous marketing budgets (your cool, unashamedly hip Craft Beers).

For me it’s the perfect musical duo. Beer doesn’t argue and storm off stage. It is never late to a gig. Beer will never argue with you about who gets mechanical royalties, or break up with you due to ‘musical differences’.

As Frank Zappa once said ‘you can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline’. Musicians are out for world domination. Watch out for Iron Maiden Airways…

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