Bespoke beer crafted by musicians is fast emerging as 2012’s most tantalizing trend. Following up Dogfish Head and Dan the Automator’s plans for a Deltron 3030 beer to launch in May, the London-based Signature Brew are making roads into the indie rock market by taking bands down the pub and getting them to come up with their own unique beer blend. With the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn’s personal tipple, the Clear Heart the latest in the line, Hive checked in with Signature Brew founders Sam McGregor and David Riley to get their views on the beer tastes of indie rock artists, the A.B.V. extremes Mastodon braved in creating a one-off concoction, and what sort of brew might best represent the Camden Underworld’s bogs.
Who were the first band you approached about making their own beer?
Sam McGregor: The Rifles were the first ones we worked with; their beer is called the General. We chatted to a few managers at first to see what sort of reaction we’d get and got a really good response, and it went from there.
How involved were the Rifles in the beer-making process?
SM: They were super involved. We did an extensive tasting session with the Rifles, took them to the brewery and met the master brewer; then all the artwork was approved by the band. We did three separate designs for the first beer.
David Riley: One thing we want to stress is that we always want the band to be making the beer. We don’t want to do something similar to what other artists do with brands and just slap a label on something. It’s very important that the beer is related to the band and it is their taste.
Were there any early teething problems with the first beer?
SM: One of the things was we wanted to get it available for the Rifles’ headline London show, and that was kinda stressful ’cause the beer industry is not used to the ASAP attitude of the way the music industry works. So when you’re talking to a bottler about getting your bottles labeled and all this sort of stuff, they’re not really in a hurry!
How did Craig Finn get involved with making his beer?
SM: They heard about what we were doing with the Rifles, got in touch, and we thought he’d be perfect for it. Then we had a few meetings in a pub.
Did Craig Finn’s beer, Clear Heart, come out tasting like the sort of beer you’d expect him to like?
SM: It was not what I expected he would make from listening to the music. He said he likes drinking but doesn’t necessarily want to be drunk, so he was very specific about the A.B.V. (Alcohol By Volume). He was a big fan of Brooklyn Lager so it’s got that kinda of maltiness to it. It’s based on the notes we took from the tasting session with him.
Which band would you most like to get to create their own beer?
SM: We always talk about this and the one band is the Foo Fighters. I’d love to have a beer with those guys. I reckon they’d be fun.
DR: We’ve been trying to talk to Mastodon to do a crazy beer with them, and also Mars Volta. I know they’ve got a real creative way of making music and thinking outside of the box, and we’d want them to be a bit creative with it. That’s kinda the goal with the beer — to prove to people that it’s not just lager.
You mentioned Craig Finn being concerned about the A.B.V. of his beer, but which band do you think would make a ridiculously strong beer?
SM: That’s kinda why we’re talking to Mastodon, because we think that they’d do like a 10% or 11% beer. There’s other breweries that do like 35% – you have to drink it out of a shot glass and it almost tastes like brandy. That’s further down the line though – we can’t go too mental at the beginning.
DR: It would have to be a heavy band.
SM: And we’re talking to a few electronic dance acts. Beer isn’t as popular in those areas as rock and indie, but that could be a wacky beer.
Do indie rock artists have different taste in beer from other genres?
SM: People joke that folk bands drink cider, and I think some of the stereotypes are a little bit true. One of the things we want to introduce is people having the choice of what to drink at gigs. I don’t know if it’s like this in the U.S., but you’ll go to a huge venue and you’re forced to drink Carlsberg out of a plastic cup and it’s £5 and it won’t be a very good experience, drinking wise. We want people to have more choices.
DR: One of the things with the tasting session is you’ll hear a band start out saying they only really drink Becks or Budweiser, and then we start going through beers and they’re like, “Oh, I’ve had this one!” When you open bands up to different beers it’s better. But indie bands, ’cause they’re touring, their riders usually just have lager on it, whereas if you went into dance or electronic music I don’t think that’s really the case.
The Signature Brew website mentions the “foul smelling toilets” at the Camden Underworld. If you had to make a beer for that venue, what would it taste like?
SM: Well they used to sell Lowenbrau, a German lager, but then the stopped selling it!
DR: It would be a black lager.
SM: They’re quite known. You use the same type of malts you use to make a stout at the start of the lager process, so it comes out and it’s dark. It’s a different flavor to a normal lager.
DR: Well anything would be better!
SM: I feel bad for attacking Camden Underworld, ’cause there’s quite a few other venues I could attack but won’t!