“It almost seems stereotypical, a bunch of guys who like heavy metal and beer,” Tony Bellis, co-founder of the Kings County Brewers Collective (KCBC) in Brooklyn, tells me.
Bellis and his co-founders, Pete Lengyel and Zack Kinney, just finished a brew day for the second run of their schwarzbier, Morbid Hour. It’s a collaboration with Saint Vitus, a metal bar in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, and the “Six Most Metal Breweries,” a craft beer and metal TV series currently in pre-production.
“I wouldn’t say we’re a metal brewery as much a brewery with a lot of metalheads,” Bellis says. “It’s not by design — for a lot of people it’s just this other aspect of their personal life that bleeds into it.” He estimates three-quarters of KCBC’s staff is into heavy metal.
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They’re not alone. Craft beer and metal music go together like long hair and leather jackets: both great on their own, yet better together.
There is an undeniable, symbiotic relationship between headbanger bands and beers that defies definitions, challenges norms, and is fueled by passionate individuals who reject the status quo. The metal movement has an outsider ethos and no-holds-barred authenticity that appeals to many brewers. The results are collaborations and crossover hits of epic proportions.
Three Floyds Brewing in Munster, Ind., brews Dark Lord beer, “a demonic Russian-Style Imperial Stout,” and hosts Dark Lord Day, a part beer-release day, part metal festival. The brewery has collaborated with about a dozen breweries over the last decade, starting with Pelican in 2007 and continuing with Pig Destroyer, Exodus, and others.
TRVE Brewing in Denver bills itself as a metal brewery staffed with “style blasphemers and category agnostics.” Its head brewer, Zach Coleman, is also the drummer of Khemmis.
Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Motorhead, and Kiss also have beers made in their honor. There’s even a book about metal beers, the “Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers: An All-Excess Pass to Brewing’s Outer Limits,” by Adem Tepedelen. Modeled after Tepedelen’s Decibel column of the same name, the book includes more than 100 “hardcore” beers from around the world.
“[Metal] people are really expressive of their opinions,” Bellis says. “There’s nothing subtle about it — it’s big and in your face and complex and challenging, and I think that’s a lot of what I like in beer, too.”
Adam Zuniga, creator of the Six Most Metal Breweries, became aware of the relationship between beer and metal at Abigaile, a restaurant and brewery in Hermosa Beach, Calif. The aptly named Brian Brewer, who at the time worked at Abigaile, “was an absolute metalhead,” Zuniga says. “Long hair, tattoos, a little bit of that California hardcore look.” Zuniga started volunteering at the brewery. “He was blasting Meshuggah and Tool, and playing around with Slayer names for his beers,” Zuniga recalls. “These were my people.”
Zuniga is now regional sales manager for Lord Hobo Brewing and an Advanced Cicerone. He sees shared values between brewers and metalheads, including commitment to quality, authenticity, and independence. “Those are literally the hallmarks of craft beer by definition,” he says.
“Just as I am attracted to the heaviest guitar riff or fastest drum beat, I’m taken with the idea of discovering the most interesting, flavorful beer,” Albert Mudrian, Decibel’s editor-in-chief, told CraftBeer.com in April of last year. “Whether that means that highest ABV that goes to 11 [percent], or the lightest, tartest sour, I’m thirsting for the opposite of boring and predictable.”
Indeed, “metal” beers can be expressed in many ways: in extremes, like Three Weavers’ palate-wrecking Blood Junkie Imperial Red Ale (brewed in collaboration with Prosthetic Records co-owner E.J. Johantgen and named after a song by the former Lamb of God); or in subtleties, as in the fruited sours of TRVE.
“If anything…metal [is] a counter argument to certain styles of music. I think that the style of beer that we’re brewing counters the direction of craft beer in general,” TRVE Brewing owner Nick Nunn told Food and Wine. “What we’re doing is very metal in its ethos.”
At KCBC, where beer and metal go quite literally hand in hand, metal meant dark and drinkable — “something you can drink a lot of while at a show,” Bellis says. Morbid Hour, a black pilsner, fittingly falls at 4.666 percent ABV.
After all, going to shows is what led Bellis and many brewers to beer in the first place. “Beer is part of the show,” Bellis says. “I think about how many Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and Brooklyn Lagers I’ve drank at music venues in New York City…it just got stuck in my head. That was a big influence on me getting into beer.”
“No fear, test limits, break boundaries,” Zuniga says. “It’s a way of life.”