It’s what many of us do after we pass through security and get inside the venue. We stand in line to buy a cold brew before settling in for the first set. Live music and good beer have always gone well together and, just as jam bands are known for lengthy improvisations of sonic exploration, their fans have also been known to push the limits of the beer world by enjoying the hoppier and headier brews. In recent years, there has been a growing partnership between musicians and the beer being poured at their shows. It is an interesting collaboration of two different art forms and it has been producing some delicious results.
In 2009, Sierra Nevada was a beer sponsor for Phish’s Festival 8 in Indio, CA. They decided to brew a small pilot batch of beer specifically for the festival. The beer was eventually named Foam after the Phish song of the same name. “I’m looking through, and it all would be, So crystal clear, If it wasn’t for the foam.”
The following year, in 2010, Sierra Nevada was contacted by Phish management with the idea to produce another batch of Foam to be served at the 2011 Super Ball IX in Watkins Glen, NY. For the 2011 festival, they brewed a finalized version of Foam Pilsner, a light but crisp German-style Pilsner that would be the perfect beer to sip on during a summer festival.
The beer was a huge hit, and Sierra Nevada continues to brew it each year to serve thirsty concertgoers. Amongst Phans, the beer has taken on a life of its own. Tee-shirts with the Foam logo started popping up in parking lots at shows, and the tap stickers, which mark the brand on draught handles, are a hot commodity when they’re distributed at beer tents.
Bill Manley of Sierra Nevada spoke to us about Foam’s success. “We’ve always had a connection with Phish and their fans, they’re a popular band around here at the brewery! Music has always been a big part of what we do at Sierra Nevada. We’re fans. We love brewing beer and supporting our favorite bands as they perform each summer. Music inspires us to do what we do and for us, there are few things better than a cold pint of Pale Ale at a live show.”
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company lives up to this message. Their new brewery in Mills River, NC features an outdoor amphitheater and they will be opening an indoor venue in 2016, taking the average brewery touring experience to a whole other level.
Another recent and exciting brewing venture involved Umphrey’s McGee and the release of their Nothing Too Fancy Pale Ale. The brew bears the same name as their new record label and the frequently performed song in UM’s repertoire. This project, in particular, was highly anticipated, as the band members played a larger role in developing the beer itself.
The idea for Nothing Too Fancy Pale Ale originated from Rock Brothers Brewing Company. Rock Brothers works to pair some of their favorite bands with great breweries in order to create unique conceptual beers. This sounds like an amazing job, but coordinating between bands, multiple breweries and distributors, across different regions of the country, must be quite a challenge. So far, however, Rock Brothers seems to be pulling it off.
In the fall of 2014, Umphrey’s McGee met with Wayne Wambles from Cigar City Brewing and David Zuckerman from Boulder Beer at the Bear Creek Music Festival in Florida. They sat down to taste some different styles of beer to see what the band enjoyed in order to develop a recipe for Nothing Too Fancy Pale Ale.
Tess McFadden of Boulder Beer spoke about the new brew, saying, “The general consensus was to brew a highly drinkable yet full flavored ale that you could drink all day every day (ha!), or at least put back a few while enjoying a great show.”
Once they had a general idea of where they were headed, the brew masters set to work. By March of 2015, test batches were ready to go. Boulder Beer drove the brews down to Aspen, where the band was performing at the Belly Up Aspen, so that the band members could sample the beers. Brewers and band members alike unanimously agreed on the beer that became Nothing Too Fancy Pale Ale, and, afterwards, everyone stuck around for the expectedly amazing performance from the band.
Two months later, the beer was first introduced to the general public at the Summer Camp Music Festival. Later that summer, just before Umphrey’s was set to play back-to-back nights at the Boulder Theater and Red Rocks, the beer was officially launched at the brewery. At that time, the band was able to throw some hops in the brew house and toast the final product. It is not widely available as of now, but Nothing Too Fancy Pale Ale will be pouring at the Fillmore in Denver for all four nights of Umphrey’s McGee’s New Year’s run.
Nothing Too Fancy Pale Ale was not Boulder Beer’s first musical collaboration. Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident frequently works with the brewery to come up with new and innovative brewing projects.
“Kyle was one of the first musicians who opened the door to bringing great music and craft beer together with his collaborations. And our collaboration with him – Hoopla Pale Ale – was one of the earliest releases of this nature. Since then there’s been a lot of sparked interest in joining creative forces in this way. Go Kyle!,” said Boulder Beer’s McFadden. “Great music and beer bring people together to create shared experiences. We share a similar passion for delectable brews and harmonious grooves.”
Colorado has long been a hotbed for live music and craft brewing, so it is no surprise that the state is leading leading the way in beers of this type. Leftover Salmon recently worked with Breckenridge Brewery to create an India Pale Lager called Silver Salmon. The band also preformed at the brewery’s 25th anniversary party and sales of Silver Salmon IPL included an album consisting of 25 live-recordings.
Music themed brews don’t necessarily need to be complex collaborations that involve multiple breweries, bands, festivals and special releases. They can also just be a simple nod to a favorite band. Barrier Brewing Company in Oceanside, NY makes an Icculus Kolsch and a farmhouse style ale called Axilla. When asked to comment on why he decided to name the beer Icculus, founder and brew master Evan Klein responded by saying, “It’s our homage to one of our favorite bands. There’s not a ton of deep meaning in connection to the beer and the song, other than the recipe was formulated while listening to the song and us thinking that Icculus would make a great name for a Kölsch, it just sounded like a perfect match.” Brewing great beer while jamming out to Phish sounds like a pretty good day.
Creating music and brewing beer share some similarities. Musicians and brewers work in their respective mediums and, when it sounds or tastes good, they know that they’re onto something positive. In both cases, the end result of all the hard work is a product that makes people happy. The current trend of collaboration is one that is mutually beneficial. It is a good marketing tool and provides exposure to beer and band alike. Most importantly, it seems like everyone involved is having a good time working together and fans of good music and good beer should have a lot to look forward to in the future.