As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least direct use to man in reference to his ordinary habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.
– Charles Darwin
While the origins of music may be shrouded in the mists of prehistory, music and beer have shared a stage since at least 1800 B.C., when a swingin’ Sumerian penned “Hymn to Ninkasi,” and started singing the praises of the ancient goddess of brewing.
Religious historian Mircea Eliade writes of “animating the drum”—a sacred ceremony wherein a shaman would sprinkle beer on the skin of his ritual instrument in order to bring it to life so it could tell stories.
In more recent and popular expressions, the magic of music and beer meet up in the rowdy drinking songs of Europe and the British Isles, then get translated to the New World, where country and blues become rock and roll.
Here in Georgia, as all over the U.S., the soundtrack of craft brewing is usually turned up to 11. Rock, reggae and hip-hop supply the beats for making beer, from the offices to the brewhouse, and down among the clanking and clatter of the bottling and packaging lines.
“It’s crazy,” says Brian “Spike” Bukowski, co-owner and brewmaster of Terrapin Beer in Athens “You can hear anything from Beethoven to Black Sabbath in our brewery.”
But it was the Grateful Dead album Terrapin Station that inspired the company name.
Buckowski, who says “Athens is a great little music town,” proclaims himself “a big Deadhead,” and illustrates that on the walls of his office, which are covered with photos and prints of Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan.
Moreover, Buckowski commissioned Virginia artist Richard Biffle, best known for his Grateful Dead album covers, to create many of Terrapin’s fanciful labels.
Starting with Rye Pale Ale, the very first Terrapin beer Buckowski ever produced, Biffle’s art has always featured the company’s logo—a far-out turtle that debuted playing the banjo.
Since then the Terrapin turtle has been variously portrayed, driving a hot rod, baking cookies and standing ready at a guillotine as the “Hopsecutioner.”
Because craft breweries are small businesses that thrive on word-of-mouth marketing and appeal to a young, tuned-in audience, parallels to the DIY music scene are evident on T-shirts, stickers and other swag, as well as at events of various shapes and sizes.
A perfect match
Both Terrapin and Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Co. have been among the craft breweries invited to pour beer at the annual Bonnaroo Music Festival in nearby Tennessee.
“Music is a big part of who are,” says Sweetwater’s Francesca Zeifman. “It’s engrained in our culture as a brewery. We host and sponsor several music-centric festivals throughout the Southeast, including our own Sweetwater 420 Festival, and events like Music Midtown.”
This spring’s 420 Festival lineup included Maceo Parker, Perpetual Groove, Donna the Buffalo, the Mickey Hart Band, Anders Osborne and the Lee Boys.
Sweetwater is raising the bar another notch this year, hosting its first-ever summer concert tour, June 20-24, with Railroad Earth headlining in Raleigh, Charlotte, Charleston, S.C. and Jacksonville.
“It’s a concert with a cause,” Zeifman says. “With proceeds going back to benefit local Waterkeeper Alliance members, raising awareness and funding for clean water throughout the Southeast—a cause near and dear to us.”
Of course, Sweetwater, Terrapin and other Georgia breweries, such as Red Brick and Red Hare, regularly host local bands performing during weekly onsite tours and tastings.
At tiny Jailhouse Brewing Co. in Hampton, owner/brewer Glenn Golden has a music business degree from Belmont University in Nashville. Assistant brewer John Pierce went to college on a vocal scholarship, and part-timer Ben Bishop plays guitar in local bands.
“Music is always an inspiration for us,” Golden says. “We all have strong ties to music. We named one of our beers after the song “Midnight Special”—it was a major inspiration for the beer and its label. There is no culture without a soundtrack in my humble opinion.
“Our music preferences are as diverse as our beer style preferences. At any point you will likely hear rock, metal, country, and a touch of hip-hop here.”
A second career
John Roberts, the brewmaster at Max Lager’s brewpub in Atlanta, has is a Berklee College of Music grad with a degree in Production and Engineering.
“I pretty much grew up playing music,” Roberts says. “My dad is an awesome guitarist and I learned from him when I was young. I played my first professional gig when I was 14. They had to sneak me into the club we played. Later, I took up keyboards and piano became my principle instrument when I was at Berklee.”
“While I was at Berklee and for the years after living in Boston, I played keys in a couple of original music bands. We played some cool shows opening for The Tubes, The Guess Who and other bands, and had a few record company showcases, but never quite made the jump. Then I discovered my love for craft beer and that I had some talent in making it. The rest is history.”
Vinyl as startup capital
Georgia’s newest and smallest craft brewery, Burnt Hickory Brewing in Kennesaw, was largely founded and funded from president/brewmaster Scott Hedeen’s rock obsessions.
Hadeen is a lifelong guitar slinger and retired Emmy Award-winning TV cameraman who’s collected all kinds of punk, grunge and hard-core music and memorabilia—including a Nirvana set list written by Kurt Cobain that was among the E-bay items sold to build the Burnt Hickory operation.
“Been a record collector since I was 10,” Hadeen says. “I’m 46 now and spent a good amount of time in my 20s playing guitar in my old rock band Red Weasel. I’m still hanging on to most of my records but have sold a bunch to help with the brewery. I made over $1,000 on my Melvins records, alone. Who’d have thunk?”
Burnt Hickory has gotten the most attention for Hadeen’s series of one-off beers brewed in tribute to some of his favorite bands like Germs, Jesus Lizard and Die Kreuzen. Recently, Mojo magazine celebrated the joys of Burnt Hickory’s Killdozer 12 Point Buck Ale.
“We make beer like a musician would craft a song or record an album,” Hadeen says. “We make seasonal beers for the punk/grunge bands I loved in the ’80s. I mean somebody has to, right?”
Taste the music
At Atlanta’s 5 Seasons Brewing, co-owner/brewer Crawford Moran takes a bit more mystical jazz approach to music and beer in what he calls the Serenade Series.
“Instead of simply using music or musicians as a branding or marketing idea, I actually incorporate music into the beer itself. Music has such a dramatic affect on human behavior. I thought that since yeast is a living organism, music might have the same impact on it.
“So I take some of my favorite music—Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Shakti, John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussein—and try to imagine what their sounds would taste like. I create recipes translating their sounds into flavors. Then I serenade the yeast with that music from brew day through fermentation and conditioning.”
And what’s the result of this grand experiment in music and beer?
“It works,” Moran declares.