Brewets: Brewery-Musician Collaborations

By Brian Yaeger

Brewers are musicians who compose songs made of beer.

Many bands are comprised of a guitar, bass, drums and a singer. Beer is made from hops, malted barley, water and yeast. The similarities between those four instruments and ingredients truly rock!

Think of a beer’s malt bill as the bass, providing the foundation by laying down the rhythm. Hops are analogous to guitars, as top notes keep everything in harmony and are usually flashier. Tempo is the crucial element of any given piece—yet rarely gets the glory—so water plays the role of drums. Finally, what’s a song without a melody, so think of the voice as yeast. Coincidence?

Of course, there are more than just four instruments in music and more than four ingredients available to brewers. Picking not just what you work with, but who you collaborate with is all part of the jam session. Maybe you want to introduce some chunky, funky, tuba-esque oatmeal, or brighten things up with lemon zest the way a viola would?

Lately, with collaboration beers becoming more popular, brewers are discovering new partnerships to add flavor and melody to their beers. Forget the gimmicky brands from the likes of Kid Rock, Jimmy Buffett and Hanson; here are some well-crafted brewets.

New Belgium Brewing | G. Love

A staple of G. Love & Special Sauce’s bus while on tour are a couple cases of local craft beer. So when G. Love helped New Belgium Brewing’s (Fort Collins, Colo.) assistant brewmaster Grady Hull design a beer to taste “like how I imagined my music would taste,” he pitched doing a “Bluesberry” ale to fit his heavily blues-inflected music.

However, after riffing on the flavors of the Mississippi Delta and Delta Blues, they concocted a beer with grits, biscuit malt, molasses and fresh peaches called Peach Porch Lounger. A fan of Belgian beers since a fortuitous tour through Belgium, G. Love requested that Hull pitch Brettanomyces yeast along with lemon peel, which keeps the saison-style beer from being too sweet, and adds the right amount of funkiness.

Incidentally, this was Hull’s second musical collaboration after the release of New Belgium’s Clutch, a sour stout named for the band that instigated it.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales| Dan the Automator

positivecontactDogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales (Milton, De.) is no stranger to brewing musician-inspired beers. Jazz great Miles Davis (Bitches Brew), legendary bluesman Robert Johnson (Hellhound on My Ale), and grunge icons Pearl Jam (Faithful Ale) have all been honored with tribute beers by Dogfish.Their latest collab, Positive Contact, an ale brewed with apple cider and spiced, marks the first time the artist has served as Dogfish Head’s co-conspirator.

Electronic and hip hop mogul Dan the Automator is no stranger to musical collaborations, including the intriguing batch of musicians he brought together to compose Deltron 3030, whose eponymous album included the track “Positive Contact.”

Twelve years later, on the verge of releasing the supergroup’s follow-up, Dan the Automator reached out to Dogfish Head for an ambitious project that includes a package set of Positive Contact, the beer, and a vinyl single by Deltron 3030. The beer is a result of Dan the Automator sampling every concoction in the Dogfish arsenal and then tailor-suiting to his personal taste with the addition of Fuji apples, cayenne peppers, roasted faro and cilantro. It’s quite a mash up!

Boulder Beer | Kyle Hollingsworth

Boulder Beer (Boulder, Colo.) and The String Cheese Incident’s keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth—local institutions each—co-created Hoopla Pale Ale to give fest-goers a better alternative to more generic beers.

“When I wasn’t rehearsing or practicing piano,” says Hollingsworth, “I was thinking about making yummy beers.” He picked the right career path in music, but brewing remains his other greatest passion. He’s since brewed at several breweries in the Rocky Mountain craft beer empire.

Being in a touring band, Hollingsworth can’t wait to brew back on the road again. He has helped SweetWater Brewing Company (Atlanta, Ga.) make a cask-conditioned IPA with rum-soaked oak chips and mango to tap aboard JamCruise. He’s made beers for several music festivals, most notably his own Kyle’s Brewfest. He recently brewed an exclusive fest ale with Mitch Steele and the crew at Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, Calif.) using herbs from Stone Farm, which is just a few miles from the brewery.

Music Festival Exclusives

Brewing exclusive beers for music festivals is a growing phenomenon. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, Calif.) kicks out a solo brew for popular fests such as High Sierra, Telluride Blues and Brews and Bonnaroo. Ninkasi Brewing Company (Eugene, Ore.) “composed” a proprietary light summer ale for this year’s Northwest String Summit, which they also sponsored.

The Malt Ball

The Malt Ball, held earlier this year in Portland, Ore., hit an ultimate high note for brewery/band collaborations as a dozen local bands and breweries jammed together, literally.


“Each band was paired with a brewer for an exclusive beer inspired directly by the band,” said Ned Lannamann, music editor of the Portland Mercury, who co-organized the festival with the Oregon Brewers Guild. He continued, “Some musicians actually helped with the brewing process; while others served as an inspiration for the style or name of the beer. In all cases though, the bond between brewer and band has never been stronger.”

One rockin’ example from the Malt Ball was the effort by Portland U-Brew (Portland, Ore.) and heavy metal band Lord Dying. Brewer Aaron Gilham said the band members “came down to brew the beer and we jammed their CD during the boil.” The beer the duo ended up with was a Cascadian dark ale (CDA). “I picked a dark, in-your-face CDA to match the bands style. We wanted it to be big, dark and heavy, just like their music.”

Learn more about the CDA style in, Cascadian Dark Ale: A Rose By Any Other Name.

Finally, perhaps the most synergistic joint came from the duo of Gilgamesh Brewing (Salem, Ore.) and The Builders and The Butchers. Justin Bier, one the band’s two drummers, just happens to be the assistant brewer at Gilgamesh. Riffing off of their popular song “Devil Town,” Bier (his real name) and head brewer Mike Radtke created Devil Brown. The brown ale was brewed with smoked malts and Ancho, Guajillo, and California dried peppers to provide some fiery heat.

What brewer-musician collaborations have you had the chance to try?

Brian Yaeger is the author of Oregon Breweries and Red, White, and Brew. He earned a Master in Professional Writing (with a thesis on beer) from the University of Southern California. He runs Inn Beervana Bed & Beer in Portland, Oregon along with his wife Half Pint, son IPYae, and dog Dunkel.

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