I don't believe in fate, destiny, or any other hippy dippy baloney. I do, however, feel the infinite power of heavy metal combined with devilish intervention created a brewery on the very site that I used to skateboard while blasting Metallica on my Sony Walkman across the street from my boyhood house in my hometown of Perkasie (Per-Crazy), PA.
Behold its Creation! Free Will Brewing Company founded in 2010 by Dominic Capece and John Stemler, two local homebrewers who turned professional. These two brave pioneers finally made Perkasie a respectable town. Thank you, gentlemen!
I’ve been to Free Will Brewing on several occasions over the years whenever I visit my family in Perkasie. On my last trip in June 2016, I went with my longest tenured friend in the world, Jason. We wanted to have a beer at Free Will and buy some bottles to go and then - BAM! There it was—a bottle of a Belgian dark strong ale called Brew and Destroy. At first sight, it’s obvious to any self-respecting metalhead that this beer is a tribute to Metallica’s song "Seek & Destroy" off the band’s debut album Kill ‘Em All, released in 1983. The beer label cleverly riffs on the album cover—just replace the bloody hammer with a bloody brewer’s mash paddle. It’s brilliantly simple and simply brilliant. Brew and Destroy is also a collaboration with Hof ten Dormaal from Tildonk, Belgium.
Brew and Destroy is an 8% ABV Belgian dark strong ale aged in oak barrels, with blueberries, wild yeasts, and bacteria. Yeah, it’s got a lot going on. It’s complex. It tastes slightly more like wine than beer, which is a compliment. It’s not easy to make something from barley malt to taste like it’s made from grapes.
Brewing with such creativity didn’t happen overnight. I watched Free Will grow over the years from a cramped warehouse basement operation to a sizable production brewery distributing all the way to Massachusetts. They still have that basement space, but now it’s like a mad scientist laboratory down there with wood foeders, aging barrels, and flux capacitors. I’m convinced they are creating nuclear fusion down there.
Free Will’s journey to making this collaboration metal beer is a long strange trip. It’s best told by Free Will’s head brewer John Stemler.
BREWHEADS: How did the collaboration with Hof ten Dormaal come about? Are they metalheads?
John Stemler: We were selected to brew with Hof ten Dormaal through the annual Philly Beer Week raffle to brew the official beer for that year. It rotates local and European brewery pairing from year to year. I consider myself very lucky to have been paired with them as I consider them very close to me and my family. We still keep in touch regularly, and when I go to Europe, I always spend a few days on their family farm. Jef [Janssens – founder and brewer] is most definitely a metalhead.
BH: Brew and Destroy is an obvious tribute to Metallica's Kill 'Em All album and the song "Seek and Destroy". How did you decide to brew a metal beer tribute to Metallica and why this particular album/song?
JS: It didn't exactly arrive that way. When Jef and I brewed together in Belgium, we almost exclusively listened to Metallica while we were brewing the original base beer. That beer was named by several members of the Philadelphia beer community and was called "Leuven on a Prayer" after the closest major city to where we were brewing. That beer, unfortunately, did not make its trip across the Atlantic. Jef did come here to brew with me some months later, though. We re-brewed the beer we created in Belgium, then put it into sour barrels with local New Jersey blueberries and let it mature for one year in the oak. The resulting creation was far different from the original beer and therefore needed a new identity. Being fans of the simplistic art of the Kill ‘Em All cover, we felt it was appropriate to go back to that cold brew day in Belgium and use it for the bottle label, with some modifications. The name also needed to be Metallica in origin and Brew and Destroy really just fit this beer.
BH: Was the Dormaal brew team at Free Will during brew day?
JS: Jef and his girlfriend Stephanie came over for the brew and Philly Beer Week that year.
BH: Did you play Metallica Kill 'Em All on brew day?
JS: Pretty much all old Metallica and other metal all day. Brew day was 16 hours in the cold, as the brewery building had been damaged extensively by fire the month before—and it was February.
BH: So how did you end up pairing Metallica with a barrel-aged sour Belgian strong ale?
JH: Truly fitting to match the hardships of the brew in Belgium. It was a hardcore day in the cold with a system that did not want to cooperate due to the fire damages.
BH: Do you typically play music while brewing? Who usually is the DJ and are there rules to what is played or maybe more importantly, what is NOT played? What have you been playing recently?
JH: Back when it was just me doing all of the brewing, I would range from hardcore rap to heavy metal. Now with Jeff (not the same Jef I mentioned before), it is predominantly rap with some classic rock mixed in. During the brew, there are no limits to what is allowed.
BH: I assume there is at least one metalhead at Free Will Brewing. Who is it and are there more?
JS: Oh man, there are a bunch of us. Metal is the best way to calm anyone down. Didn't you know that?
BH: Has FWB brewed any other heavy metal inspired beers or are there plans for more?
JS: Not really. Inspiration comes in many forms. I'm sure there will be more metal in our future.
BH: Did you ferment Brew and Destroy in a fermenter or a barrel or both? What was aged in the oak barrels before you filled it with beer?
JS: Primary fermentation in stainless with beer yeast and then secondary fermentation was in the barrels with blueberries and wild yeast/bacteria. We do not know the age of the barrels as the wineries try and keep those details confidential when using a broker to sell their barrels off.
BH: What procedure or technique did you use to introduce wild yeast into the wort and what type of bacteria did you inoculate with?
JS: We pulled a small quantity from another barrel and pushed it into the stainless [steel fermenter] and allowed it to take hold for a few weeks before racking to the barrels with blueberries. This particular mixed culture has three different brettanomyces [wild yeast] strains, one lactobacillus, and one pediococcus [sour producing bacteria] strains. The culture itself has been resident here since 2012 and came from another brewery where it began.
BH: This is a delicious and very complex beer. Did the beer turn-out as you envisioned?
JS: Yes, unfortunately, as I am not the biggest fan of fermented blueberries. I would have rather left them out.
BH: Are there plans to make Brew and Destroy again?
JS: Maybe, but without blueberries.
BH: The beer bottle label is brilliant--replacing the bloody hammer with a brewer’s mash paddle. Who conceptualized and designed the label?
JS: My partner Dom had the clear and brilliant idea.
BH: Metallica is notoriously litigious. Did you have any initial reservations about being sued by the band or getting a cease and desist letter?
JS: No. It's intended to be a one-off. If they sent us a Cease & Desist, it would be glorious.
Glorious it would be!
Brew and Destroy is yet another beer I took on vacation with me in the forests of northern Pennsylvania (no I didn’t run into any black metal bands lost into the woods). The bottle I brought with me was date stamped on 4 April 2016. The color was a deep brown with a slight blue-purple hue without much head retention. The smell is very complex. I definitely get sour smell with hints of cherry and wine grape must. The added blueberries smell more like cherries to me and a bit more like wine then beer, which is a creative feat unto itself. With three different sour yeast strains and two different sour bacteria strains, I was expecting this beer to literally destroy my sense of taste—but it didn’t. As you would expect, it’s dry and sour but with a strong fruit character. The hops are not much of a factor—as it should be. If I had to guess, I would say Brew and Destroy was aged in a barrel that had red wine made from Chambourcin grapes that are local to the mid-Atlantic area. That’s my inner wine nerd coming out. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. I’m a fan of this sour beer. Those of you who know my beer preferences well…yes, I like this sour beer!
If you want to get your hands on Brew and Destroy, I implore you to rush to Perkasie, PA (the only time I ever will say that) and visit Free Will Brewing at 410 Walnut St. Perkasie, PA.
In the meantime, check out Metallica playing "Seek and Destroy" live way back in 1983.
“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let sip the Brewheads” - Quote attributed to William Makesbeere