When Port Richey homebrewer Rob Chalmers and his wife Deidra decided to make a beer inspired by the music of metal band GWAR, they were surprised to receive authorization from the band itself to use official imagery on the label. Even more surprising was the subsequent request to make two more cases of beer for the band to take on tour.
When Chalmers was later asked to make even more beer for the band — this time for the annual GWAR-B-Q festival in Richmond, Va. — he knew it was a job far too big for his back yard.
"I could not supply them with what they needed, so I contacted Joey Redner at Cigar City Brewing and he was interested," said Chalmers. An unlikely meeting between Chalmers, Redner and members of GWAR was set up, and GWAR Beer, a hop-forward pale ale brewed by Chalmers and Cigar City brewer Josh Brengle, was born.
Cigar City is no stranger to collaboration beers; over the past few years, it has collaborated with commercial breweries, homebrewers, local business, and, most recently, bands, to create beers with cross-market appeal and fresh inspiration from a variety of sources.
Earlier this year, the brewery teamed up with Tampa's Rock Brothers Brewing, a project formed by Kevin Lilly and Tony Casoria to bring together bands and breweries. The first beer in the Rock Brothers line was a collaboration with Cigar City and Bradenton rock band Have Gun, Will Travel called High Road Ale, named after a single from the band.
It's "very much like a band writes a song," said Lilly, referring to the collaborative process. "We literally all sit in the conference room and listen to music, taste beers, and discuss the recipe together. The band and the brewers sit down and write the recipe. It's truly a very fun and creative process."
High Road Ale was launched with a performance by Have Gun, Will Travel at St. Pete Beach's Postcard Inn back in April and soon proved to be more than a novelty affair by winning first place in the U.S. Beer Tasting Championship's Summer 2013 competition for the Pale Ale category.
While the band and beer collaborations are a relatively new development, there are a few breweries like Cigar City that are leading the way. Texas' Real Ale Brewing recently released a collaboration beer with Austin metal band The Sword, and Dogfish Head teamed up with hip-hop producer Dan the Automator last year to develop its Positive Contact Ale. Even the band Hanson has joined the movement with its Mmmhops Pale Ale, a collaboration with Oklahoma's Mustang Brewing.
But the vanguard of band and brew collaborations is undoubtedly Indiana's Three Floyds Brewing. Long associated with using heavy metal imagery for its beers, Three Floyds has teamed up with an impressive list of extreme metal and grindcore bands over the years, including Pelican, Pig Destroyer, Lair of the Minotaur, Eyehategod and Municipal Waste.
Pig Destroyer and Municipal Waste happen to be two of the bands performing at this year's GWAR-B-Q, where Chalmers' brew will be served by the gallon. But while GWAR's local supporters will have to wait until Aug. 17 to get their hands on GWAR Beer, Tampa Bay fans can try it this Saturday, at the Brutal GWAR-B-Q & Brew at Crowbar in Ybor City. The concert will feature free samples of the beer, as well as performances by Doom Wolf, Black Tides Roll, American Wolf, and cover act GWAR Attack.
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GWAR frontman Oderus Urungus will also be on hand, which — for those familiar with the band — is sure to be a spectacle of its own.
"I will be making an appearance there and getting people used to the idea that that is the only beer they're allowed to drink for the rest of their lives," Urungus said.
"A lot of bands are starting to do their own beer, lots of bands have done their own wines, there's even some bands that have done their own liquors, and of course you know that GWAR is always motivated by wanting to be cool. But basically, what we get out of it is all the free beer we can drink forever — not that that wasn't the case before."
As the collaboration trend continues, more and more industry outsiders will have an opportunity to see their vision represented in professionally brewed beers. It's great cross-promotion for bands and breweries, and in cases like GWAR Impaled Ale, it gives homebrewers a chance to brew on a scale that they would normally never have access to, as well as a considerably larger audience.
Chalmers, who started brewing just three years ago, is looking forward to his beer's release this weekend.
"This is the first time I have had a chance for my beers to get into the hands of so many people," he explains. "It's really exciting and honestly a bit scary."