YBOR CITY — Kevin Lilly popped the top on a can of 311 I’ll Be Here Awhile Honey Apricot Ale.
“You’ve got to see the color on this thing, man,” he said, pouring the beer into a snifter. “It’s golden, orange, cloudy and beautiful.”
“Oh, yeah,” said 311 bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills.
“Lovely,” said vocalist and turntablist Doug “SA” Martinez.
They lifted their drinks and took a sip. I’ll Be Here Awhile, named for an old 311 single, is the third beer Lilly’s Rock Brothers Brewing has produced for the multiplatinum alt-rockers, following 2017’s Beautiful Disaster Imperial IPA and 2015’s 311 Amber Ale.
Since 2013, Rock Brothers, based in Ybor City, has created signature beers for bands like Hootie and the Blowfish, Umphrey’s McGee and Rebelution in collaboration with local breweries like Cigar City and 81Bay. But the Omaha, Neb., natives, known for hit singles Amber and Down, might be their most fruitful partnership.
“We can throw ideas at each other really, really easily,” said Wills. “This I’ll Be Here Awhile Ale, I swear it’s been like nine months, 12 months in the making, from ‘Hey, we should do this,’ to it’s in a can and we’re talking about it. And it came out fantastic.”
Over the past 30 years, 311 has cultivated a huge following by curating their own festivals, cruises and experiences, including “311 Day” on March 11. (Get it?) This year’s highlight: a one-night-only screening of Enlarged to Show Detail 3, the band’s third documentary (and first since 2001) in theaters nationwide.
“This thing has been in the works for 17 years,” Martinez said of the film. “The fans are repped big-time in it. They float the whole boat. They make all this possible.”
311 was in town last week between gigs in Orlando and their annual 311 Cruise, which left Tampa for Belize and Mexico on Feb. 28. As the band’s resident craft beer experts, Wills and Martinez were happy to talk about it over drinks at Rock Brothers.
SA, this is your recipe, right?
Martinez: Well, an idea. We gave them a path, and then Eric (Wannemacher, Rock Brothers’ head brewer) went with it.
What notes did you give?
Martinez: I have a couple apricot trees, and my wife will make apricot jam. I love it. And then being a beer drinker, I like wheat beer. After I’m working outside or doing a workout, what I look forward to is having a beer immediately after. The white ales or the wheat beers are what I go for immediately after I clean up. Something like this wasn’t in our small little lineup, so I thought it’d be a perfect lane. I love a little bit of fruit in my beer. I used to squeeze grapefruit juice into my beers after a show.
Do you guys make your own beer?
Wills: No, but I’ve got a kit sitting in my garage that my wife gave me. Right next to the winemaking kit that I gave her.
Are you both super craft beer-heads?
Wills: Yeah. We had a brewery in Omaha called Jones Street Brewing that I was dating a girl at, so I was privy to tasting things as they were making it on the spot. You’re talking 1991, 1992 in Omaha, Neb. And it was just a crash course in what can be done with good ingredients, and how far you can spread the recipes. I liked bitters and pales from the get-go.
That’s a different craft beer landscape, in the early ’90s.
Wills: Yeah. It was back in the “imported” or “domestic” days.
You’d get real wild and maybe have a Heineken.
Wills: I remember stealing beers illegally as kids and drinking Milwaukee’s Best and being like, This is horrible. What is the big deal? Isn’t that funny?
Martinez: I remember my dad asking me to grab him a beer, so I’d grab a beer, and then I’m like, Maybe I’ll go ahead and crack this sucker. He didn’t say I shouldn’t do that. We put that in Gap.
Wills: There’s a lyrical reference to drinking plain-label beer. It was real high-class.
Was there a brewery that changed your perception of craft beer?
Wills: I think it was a slow climb, just learning more. I remember Red Hook being one of those breweries that I found at an Italian restaurant in L.A. in the early ’90s. Even Newcastle was an eye-opener for me, just knowing you could have that as a go-to instead of the p- - - that was going around.
Martinez: It took me a minute to develop a palate for imperials. But once I did, it was like, Oh my god, it’s so good! And then stouts were right after. Especially this past winter, I was drinking a stout per night.
Are you able to break away on tour and go to local breweries?
Martinez: People bring us beers all the time.
Wills: That’s what we have on our rider, is local IPAs in cans.
P-Nut, can I get your review of the new beer?
Wills: It’s fantastic. My thing is, when I go to a restaurant, and whoever’s deciding the beverage list has decided that it’s going to be light and refreshing — which is against my will — and I run into lighter-side beers, every time, I enjoy it with food. I don’t walk through that door willingly, but when I’m there, I’m in a happy place. And this does that so easily. I would really like to eat and have a can or two.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.