The earliest known musical instruments (aside from the human voice) is the flute, the earliest examples of which are approximately 43,000 years old. Which means that music has been around for a long, long time. It has only been properly appreciated, though, for the last 15,000 years, when prehistoric man first made some tasty beer to go along with the tunes his neighbor was blasting out on his lyre.
Music and beer have been associated since beer was first developed. The good feelings and social interactions associated with music are enhanced with the consumption of alcohol, and, well, beer just seems to get along with music. Some of the best documented folk music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are drinking songs from the German Beer Halls and the British pubs, and the Viking Halls rang with the sounds of the sagas being sung while mead spilled from the pillaged chalices of medieval Christendom*.
Popular music repeatedly features situations and characters who have imbibed, over imbibed or have just plain wigged out on the hooch. Colonial England had all manner of sea shanties lamenting the plight of the Drunken Sailor. There are a number of examples of booze fueled music from throughout the twentieth century that can still be heard today. No less of a musical icon than Irving Berlin in 1919 penned a little number called “The Near Future” that became much better known by a few lines of its chorus:
How dry I am, how dry I am
Nobody knows, hoowww dryyee Ieee ayum!
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill penned “Alabama Song” in 1927. It also is better known by its lyrics, rather than the title it was given by its composer:
Show us the way to the next whiskey bar
Oh, don’t ask why!
Country music has always worn its love of the bottle on its sleeve, from ”Big Rock Candy Mountain” recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928 (which contains the line, “And the little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks”) to the great Bob Wills’ “Bubbles In My Beer” recorded in 1947. From Tex Ritter’s “Rye Whiskey” to Hank Williams’ “There’s a Tear in My Beer”. Modern day country artists have continued this fine tradition with boozy country songs from the sixties onward too numerous to name – but there’s enough of them to have several “Top 100 Country Drinking Songs” lists out there on the web.
Blues and, later, its bastard child rock and roll fully embraced the mutually beneficial relationship that alcohol and music enjoy. Black bluesmen were in no danger of having any crossover success with affluent white audiences, and therefore did not need to curry favor with the tea-totaling crowd; their songs were about the everyday struggles of their existence, and those struggles included (sometimes as a relief, sometimes as a cause) drinking. Big Bill Broonzy recorded “Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down” in 1935 and Robert Johnson recorded “Malted Milk” and “Drunken Hearted Man” in 1936.
By the time Rock and Roll came around in the 1950’s, references to drinking and booze had become common place in popular music, and indeed, all genres. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” by Amos Millburn and His Aladdin Chickenshackers (the group being named after one of his early hit songs, “The Chicken Shack Boogie”) showed the continuing influence booze and drinking had on the bluesmen, but songs showed that it had become acceptable across other genres, as well.
Rock music has always worn it’s affinity for a tipple on its sleeve, from the very earliest days. The Champs recorded their ode “Tequila” in 1958, and things have progressed from there; the sixties saw songs like “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” and “Bottle of Wine” (originally by Tom Paxton, but this is the better-known Fireballs version) have serious chart success. Songs like “Spill the Wine” by WAR and “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet could not be escaped in the 1970’s.
Punk rock and it’s rebellious spirit also had a fair number of songs about drinking, whether Black Flag’s “Six Pack”, Gang Green’s “Alcohol” (or almost any Gang Green song for that matter), or something like the Minutemen’s “Corona” (this song is now better known as the “Jackass Theme” for better or worse). There was a complete anti-drinking reaction to the proliferation of booze influenced songs emerging from the punk scene that was known as “Straight Edge”, but as this blog is already too long, and that branch of the musical family tree has nothing to do with drinking, I’ll save them for another website.
In any event, music has always loved alcohol, and now, with emergence of a rebellious group of microbrewers getting started in business without corporate overlords to homogenize their product, beer is getting the chance to return that love. There have been a number of beers introduced recently with names either inspired by musicians or which outright name-check songs.
Dogfish Head has a number of musical beers, including “Hellhound on My Ale”, a tribute to Robert Johnson that has a distinctive lemon-y component, and “Bitches Brew” named after the landmark Miles Davis record. North Coast Brewery has a Belgian style ale named “Brother Thelonious” (as in jazz pianist Monk…Monks make Belgian Ales…get it?). Lagunitas has a “Lumpy Gravy” inspired by Frank Zappa, and Old Dominion has a beer called “Smell the Glove”, a nod to the boys in Spinal Tap.
I managed to get a hold of a few of these musically inspired beers, and here’s how they played:
Boulevard Brewing Company
Let me state that I am not a Grateful Dead fan. I know, I know, the Deadheads are some of the fiercest and most loyal fans of any group of the last fifty years, and I must be weird or just closed minded for not listening to them. I understand I run the risk of alienating people, and I am sorry. I just don’t get it. But to prove there are no hard feelings, I did pick up this beer from Boulevard, named after one of their better known songs.
The beer pours an orange/yellow color, forming a thick off-white head. The nose has a slightly citrus acidity to it, with notes of the yeast as well. The flavor has a sweet citrusness, with a smooth, creamy finish. It reminds me, a bit, of a creamcicle. This beer finishes with a quick hit of yeast as it dies on the palate. It is a very nice beer – I may have to go find a copy of Terrapin Station, have one or two of these (but not more than that – at 9.0% ABV I would be in a mind-altering funk!), and rethink my whole anti-Dead position. This is a good beer!
4.5 out of 5.0
Somerville Brewing Company
“The House of the Rising Sun” was a traditional folk song, happily living it’s life with other folks songs of the South and Appalachia until it was recorded in 1937 by folklorist Alan Lomax – from there, this little ditty about a New Orleans brothel and the troubles gambling and that city can bring onto a man has been recorded by hundreds of people. Everyone from Nina Simone to Bob Dylan to Roy Acuff to Dolly Parton to Frijid Pink has taken a crack at this song. The definitive version, though, would be recorded by an English band, The Animals.
This beer is inspired by a lesser known German style called “dampfbier”. The style name literally means “steam beer”; this is an all barely style that gets its name from the vigorous bubbling that occurs during its quick fermentation – giving the impression that the ferment is boiling. It was once a fairly common style of beer, brewed primarily in summer, that is now somewhat rare. This version from Somerville Brewing pours a rusty brown color – the beer is raisony in color and nose (“House of the Raison Sun”, maybe?). The flavor continues with some raison-ness and caramel in the flavor profile. The finish is slightly bitter, but the standout here for me was the mouth feel; it was smooth and refreshing, with an extra fine carbonation. This is perfect for late summer, when one can smell the rain, and with it pain, but one does not yet want to head on one’s way.
4.0 out of 5.0
Cambridge Brewing Company
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is, of course, one of the definitive albums from one of the definitive bands of the rock and roll era, The Beatles. Although there is not much of an alcohol connection (other than the “bottle of wine” mentioned in “When I’m Sixty-Four” – I wonder what Lucy In The Sky drinks?), this album makes perfect sense to be chosen as the namesake of a beer that has a certain spiciness.
This farmhouse ale has a medium dark yellow color that forms a two finger white head when poured into a glass. The nose is very peppery, which makes sense, since this is brewed, as the website notes, with “Four fab peppercorns…” This is a sweet beer with a distinctive pepper kick – there is an element of heat, like a cayenne pepper – in the finish. It has a nice, mellow burn going down; definitely a unique flavor, but this was very good, an experiment that worked.
4.0 out of 5.0
Evil Eddie C
Contact me at: Ed.Charbonnier@gmail.com