Tuesday 21 February 2017

Genesis of a Band Beer

Well, OK – as far as I know there isn’t a Genesis-branded beer yet, but there are quite a few others. From Iron Maiden’s Trooper via Status Quo’s Piledriver to AC/DC Rock or Bust ‘premium lager’, it’s starting to look like any band serious about its merchandising has to have a fan-beer. Some also have branded ciders and even wines – how very rock’n’roll…

Guess which is cask?
So an invitation to the official launch of the new Motörhead beer made me curious: just how do these brews come about? And who’d want a lager flavoured with JD & coke anyway? Just joking – JD&C might have been Lemmy’s favourite tipple, but the new beer is actually an American Pale Ale named for the band’s eulogy to its eponymous Röad Crew.[1]

It’s brewed by Cameron’s, a 150-year-old family-run brewery in Hartlepool, and the brewery’s head of marketing Yousef Doubooni says it was the band’s management that approached them about a beer, not vice versa. And unlike some of those other band beers, where band members actually visited the brewery and discussed beer, in this case it was left to Cameron’s to suggest ideas, send over samples, and so on.

Of course, there’s the minor point here that since Lemmy’s death in 2015, Motörhead-the-band “isn’t touring”, as Yousef tactfully put it. So we are talking now about Motörhead-the-brand, which is still very strong, to judge by the number of inscribed t-shirts, leather jackets and so on at the beer launch. (Many of the wearers were there to see former Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell play with his new band The Bastard Sons[2]. Sadly, something went drastically wrong with the audio gear and they cancelled.)

Why an American Pale Ale? “We sell a lot of Trooper in our pubs, so it was important to have something different,” Yousef says. Camerons has also done seasonal APAs before, he adds, plus it has its crafty Head of Steam pub chain where it does quite a bit of ‘white label’ testing of new brews from its 10-barrel pilot brewery[3].

The bottled version is stronger
The first thing of interest is Röad Crew’s on offer in three different packages: cask and keg at 4.5%, and bottled at 5%. A higher ABV for a bottled version is pretty common now, Yousef says that as well as “maintaining the flavour better, it also suits the export market better – they prefer 5-plus.” The export market’s a key one for a beer that’s essentially a bottling of an international brand, with the initial targets being Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Serbia and Slovenia. And no, I’ve no idea why Motörhead should go down so well in the Balkans!

We got to try all three formats at the launch; sadly, the cask version was totally lacking in condition, but the keg and bottle versions were both fine and eminently quaffable. Röad Crew is a well-made albeit fairly typical APA – hints of orange on the nose, then lightly honeyed golden malt with a fruity bitterness.

The one thing it doesn't do, beyond the artwork on the labels and pumpclips, is say anything about Motörhead. I guess it’s a reminder of the extent to which music is a merchandising business now – and that relatively few musicians are actually interested in brewing!

[1] It’s just “(We are) The Road Crew” on the Ace of Spades track list, but some numpty has added the obligatory misplaced accent to the beer name, which would make it sound more like Roe-add Crew. Sigh. (Go Back)
[2] Bastard was Mötorhead’s original band name. (Go Back)
[3] Cameron's main brewery can do 300 barrel batches, but currently does a lot of half-length 150bbl batches. I get a distinct sense that 120-150bbl is a sweetspot in the UK brewing market right now – it seems to fit well with contract bottlers, pub chains, etc. (Go Back)