BREWHEADS: Hopped in Half

BREAKING NEWS: 2015, Munster, IN: 3 Floyds Brewing Company Creates Time Machine, Travels to 1990 in Search of Death Metal Pairing for Pilsner.

1990 was a phenomenal year for heavy metal—especially death metal. Older metal heads like me bore witness to releases by Cannibal Corpse, Demolition Hammer, Death, Deicide, Entombed, Morgoth, and Obituary’s sophomore album Cause of Death. And I bought them all. Sadly, that same year decent American craft beer barely existed. Two and a half decades later, the beer is exponentially better, and death metal still sounds as pristine as it did in 1990. Finally, 2015 was the year to fire up the time machine, the flux capacitor, the amps, and the brew house. 3 Floyds Brewing teamed up with Florida death metal legends Obituary to brew an official beer for the band — Hopped In Half: “A crisp pilsner for those who like to rot slow, live large and drink their beer quickly. Very quickly. Brewed with our friends in the band Obituary.”

Full disclosure: I’m a huge Obituary fan dating back to their first album Slowly We Rot released in May 1989. I have a photo of my maternal grandmother (R.I.P.) wearing my Obituary hat. I bought an Obituary onesie at their Baltimore show in 2008 way before I even thought of having kids. So I was more than delighted they named their official beer Hopped In Half after the song “Chopped In Half” off Cause of Death—my favorite Obituary song and album.

Hopped In Half is a 5.3% ABV pilsner, a lager beer style first brewed in the city of Pilsen (now in the Czech Republic) back in 1842. As the name suggests, Hopped In Half is brewed with about half the suggested hops for the pilsner style. Hops add bitterness to beer, and at 35 international bitterness units (IBUs), this beer is right in the middle of the suggested range of 25-45.

I know a lot of you may be thinking does 3 Floyds make lower-alcohol pilsners? Is a pilsner an appropriate metal beer? Can the official beer of a legendary death metal band be a pilsner? Yes, Yes, and Gates to Hell Yes!

3 Floyds is known for their big hoppy ales so it may seem anathema to the casual fan for them to brew a medium-hopped pilsner. As a brewer, I respect the hell out of a good pilsner. It takes a lot of skill and patience to make a clean, crisp pilsner. There is no room for error because there isn’t an overabundance of malt or hops to hide off-flavors or technical mistakes. Great brewers and cellarmen make great pilsners just like great bands with producers and sound engineers make great albums. Hopped In Half benefitted from all of the above.

Who better to give you the inside scoop about Hopped In Half than Obituary’s own front man, John Tardy. He was kind enough to answer a few questions by e-mail after he returned home from their extensive Battle of the Bays Europe Tour late last year.

BrewHeads: How did the collaboration on Hopped In Half come about? Did it result from Obituary playing 3 Floyd’s annual Dark Lord Day in 2015?

John Tardy: Yes it did. We had no idea about the festival or the brewery before we played it and it was a blast! Those guys are totally cool and love their beer and their metal! I would do it again anytime.

BH: How did you decide to make a Pilsner and how much input did the band have in finalizing the beer style and the recipe?

JT: We were straight up with them about if they make some crazy triple hop, maple and orange crazy ass beer we were not gonna be down with it. They were into making what we like and did a great job with it.

BH: Who came up with the name Hopped In Half?

JT: Actually, I think my brother’s [drummer Donald Tardy] girlfriend came up it!

BH: Before you collaborated with 3 Floyds, did you guys previously talk about wanting an official Obituary beer? Do you know of any breweries that make an unofficial Obituary tribute beer—especially in Florida?

JT: We have a good friend out in Holland who works at a brewery, Praught is their beer. We talked with him about doing one but just never got it done. So many people brewing beer now a days...it’s crazy!

BH: Does Obituary have any particular beers on its riders?

JT: Budweiser and Heineken. I know it makes a lot of beer lovers cringe, but I am a simple man who loves drinking my Buds! But we are very fortunate to travel all over the world, and we get all kinds of beer. So many good ones that we get to try and it is awesome how beer brings people together! I think more world leaders need to sit down with a beer for sure! The world would be a better place!

BH: What are some of your favorite metal albums from 2016?

JT: We have so many friends out there with some great albums. Our friends in Dust Bolt have a great new album.

Thanks, John and Obituary!

3 Floyds only distributes their beer to Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. Therefore I rely on on-line beer stores or the kindness of Twitter friends to fuel my beerlust for 3 Floyds’ metal beers. I have to give a huge thanks to Marc (@Postmarc) in Milwaukee, WI for sending me three bottles of Hopped In Half. Cheers, Marc!

Hopped In Half released in February 2016 and I drank one bottle a month starting in April: I drank my fist bottle having dinner with my little metal head minions; I brought a bottle to Maryland Death Fest XIV in May and shared it with my co-conspirators on Metal Heads Podcast, and I took my time and enjoyed my last bottle in June vacationing in Pennsylvania’s forests while reading Choosing Death.

Hopped In Half has a beautiful golden straw color and a thick white head. It reminds me of a Belgian golden ale with just a slight haze. It has a mild biscuit taste and aroma layered with a mix of earthy noble and citrusy hops. I can definitely tell it’s a lager—it has that distinct lager smell and taste from the yeast. What sets this pilsner apart from the rest—in my opinion—is the full-bodied mouthfeel, which I find common in 3 Floyds beers. It’s not very dry like traditional pilsners, but rather juicy. Maybe the brewers mashed-in the malts at a higher temperature, which leaves behind more residual sugar after it’s done fermenting. Perhaps they fermented at a slightly higher temperature putting Hopped In Half between a traditional pilsner and a Californian Common beer. I can’t quite put my finger on it—but I like it. I get a slight citrusy aftertaste, which becomes more pronounces as the beer warms up. It’s very drinkable as the beer label proudly proclaims. Hopped In Half’s approachable taste won’t turn you inside out and put you in a body bag, but it will quench your thirst and make you beg for more. Most importantly, 3 Floyds brewed a great beer to Obituary’s specifications, and everyone nailed it. Don’t just take my word for it; it has an 87 score on Beer Advocate, which is very good.

Obituary threw a kegger in August at the Brass Mug in Tampa, FL (naturally) to release Hopped In Half and they played “Chopped in Half” live during the encore (naturally). The song is a classic example of Obituary’s sparse song lyrics common in their early discography—just five short lines repeated twice:

Chopped in half
Feel the blood spill from your mouth.
With rotting ways comes destiny.
Feel the soul taking over.
Bleed.

I was curious to see whether John Tardy would honor their new beer by changing the lyrics sung at the Brass Mug show to something like this:

Hopped In Half
Feel the suds spill from your mouth.
With lagering ways comes destiny.
Feel the buzz taking over.
Drink.

To John’s credit, and probably to the relief of the fans, he stuck with the original lyrics. Maybe when I see Obituary on the final stop of the Decibel Magazine Tour in Philadelphia on 15 April, he will sing the alternative verse while chugging bottles of Hopped In Half beer quickly. Very quickly. An old fan boy can dream.

I don’t know if 3 Floyds has plans to brew Hopped In Half again. But it would be great to have the beer available when Obituary pummels Chicago, Indianapolis, and Cleveland in early April on the Midwest leg of the Decibel Tour. Fire up the time machine, flux capacitor, amps, and the brew house again!

Obituary’s new self-titled album releases on 17 March 2017. Buy it. If you can’t find some Hopped In Half, honor John Tardy and grab a Bud or Heineken (in a can) and watch their hilarious cartoon video for their song “Violence”.

Cheers!

“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let sip the Brewheads” - Quote attributed to William Makesbeere

@BrewMetalWill

BREWHEADS: Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter

Who knew a tweet could send you on your personal mission in life? My friend Metal Chris retweeted a photo from Grill ‘Em All — a Los Angeles-based heavy metal-themed burger and beer bar — showing a bottle of Iron Maiden’s new beer Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter. Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter is the third official Iron Maiden beer brewed by Robinsons Brewery in Cheshire, England. Since coincidentally I was two hours away from LA while deployed with the Marine Corps, I decided I had to make it my mission in life to eat at Grill ‘Em All and drink metal beer.

First chance I got, I made a B-line for Grill ‘Em All. I devoured my Napalm Death Burger, Overkill fries, and drank the new Megadeth beer A Tout Le Monde on draft. Yeah, I decided not to get the Red ‘N’ Black since I bought several bottles the day before at a beer store in Palm Springs. Score! To round-out my heavy metal inspired trip to LA, I hung out and drank beer with my buddy Matt who is the lead singer of Yesterday’s Saints.

Ok, let’s get back to the beer.

I thought it was appropriate to drink my first bottle of Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter on Veterans Day. Iron Maiden often writes songs about military history and warfare. Their Trooper line of beers—including Trooper extra special bitter (ESB) and Trooper 666—are named after Iron Maiden’s song “The Trooper” from the bands 1983 album Piece of Mind. The song retells the British military’s disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 against Russian troops during the Crimean War. The battle inspired Lord Tennyson to pen the poem by the same name just six weeks later.

The beer also got its name from its transforming color. As you would expect in a porter, the color is very dark brown verging on black. But when you hold it up to the light, it appears crimson red. Iron Maiden's lead singer and beer maestro Bruce Dickenson noticed this color transformation during the tasting panel, “The colour? It’s not just black. . . it’s red too. The Red & the Black! Or Red ‘N’ Black as I would say!” The name was a perfect fit since Iron Maiden has an epically long song “The Red and the Black” on their latest—and highly debated—album The Book of Souls.

I respect the hell out of Robinsons and Iron Maiden for doing this heavy metal and beer collaboration right. Bruce Dickenson was involved with developing the recipe. There is a video showing the tasting panel where Bruce and Robinson’s head brewer chose the final version of Red ‘N’ Black out of several pilot batches. Iron Maiden simply could have slapped their name on a mass-produced light lager the way AC/DC, Motorhead, and Metallica did. Personally, I’ve brewed several beers with metal bands in the Washington D.C. area, and I always made sure the bands were heavily involved. If they didn’t want to be intimately involved, I wouldn’t have brewed the beer. If they are not happy with the final batch, we won’t serve the beer. Robinsons and Iron Maiden apparently take the same approach. Much respect!

Bruce Dickinson explains the process of creating a dark Trooper beer: "I like tasting outside the box. Stouts and porters were virgin territory for me, so I just went by feel. Martyn [Weeks, Robinsons’ head brewer] and I hope we have created a new take on a classic beer and one which I hope will tickle the taste buds of ale fans in a pleasantly unexpected way."

The back of the Red ‘N’ Black bottle label provides more details:

Trooper Red ‘N’ Black Porter is the first dark beer in the Trooper ranks and a modern take on a recipe dating back centuries. The red and black colour comes from the blend of chocolate and crystal malts which gives this full bodied beer a roasted malt and caramel backbone. The Robinsons’ yeast provides hints of both liquorice and honey character to create a delicious warming brew.

Designed yet again by Iron Maiden vocalist and ale aficionado Bruce Dickenson and the Head Brewer at Robinsons brewery, Red ‘N’ Black take its inspiration from an original Robinsons’ recipe from the 1850s, at a time when porter style beer was becoming increasingly popular in Britain.

Ok. It’s time to drink. Red ‘N’ Black unsurprisingly smells a lot like Trooper ESB and Trooper 666—a 6.66% ABV version of Trooper ESB. I suspect they all use the same Ringwood English ale yeast, which has a very distinct musty smell and slightly buttery taste. The big difference, obviously is the porter gives off whiffs of caramel, toffee and burnt toast. When I tasted Red ‘N’ Black, the first thing I noticed is that I needed to let this beer warm up. The Brits tend to drink their beer warmer than us Yanks.

WARNING - Beer Nerd Rant: We ‘Muricas like our beer frost brewed, cold filtered (all beer is cold filtered), and so cold the can turns blue. Right? What a bunch of marketing horseshit. Just in case for some crazy reason, you didn’t know; there is no such thing as frost brewed. When you brew, you literally boil the shit out of the wort for at least an hour to sanitize it, condense the sugars, isomerize the hops and drive off volatile compounds. Every step of brewing in the brewhouse is hot as hell. Frost brewed my ass.

Anyway. . . Red ‘N’ Black has a somewhat thin mouthfeel for a 6.8% ABV brew. It tastes nearly exactly has it smells. There are subtle hints of the caramel and toffee and that distinct musty flavor from the yeast. Robinsons says they have been using the same yeast strain since 1942. The yeast flavor is most pronounced in Trooper 666 where it has a stronger buttery taste stemming from diacetyl.

BEER NERD ALERT: Diacetyl is a natural by-product of beer fermentation. It is one of two major Vicinal Diketones (VDKs) produced during fermentation, the other being Pentainedione. Diacetyl tastes like butter or butterscotch. Pentainedione provides a honey-like flavor. Both can be detrimental to the finished beer and are considered off flavors if too much is present. English ales are known for having higher levels of detectable diacetyl.

My two cents: I know a lot of American metalheads and beer nerds have been a little disappointed by the Iron Maiden Trooper line of beers. They say the beers are boring, too low in alcohol, and taste “different”. I can understand their disappointment. What you have to understand is that these are true English-style beers made in a historical brewery located in England. Their beers traditionally are more subtle and balanced than most American brewed beers, which like to push the boundaries for the sake of it. I suspect if the same Robinson beers didn’t have Iron Maiden’s name on them, they wouldn’t sell well in the United States. But that does not mean they are not high quality, or by any means bad. They are well made in my opinion—just different than what we’re used to drinking.

I thoroughly enjoyed Trooper Red ‘N’ Black. In the meantime, watch young French guitar goddess Tina S. cover The Trooper and have a beer.

Cheers!

“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let sip the Brewheads” - Quote attributed to William Makesbeere

@BrewMetalWill

BREWHEADS: Brew and Destroy

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

@BrewMetalWill

BREWHEADS: Permanent Funeral

GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, drinking Permanent Funeral will annihilate your taste buds and leave lesser beers to be poured down the sewer where the roaches listen to Kanye West. (2) Consumption of Permanent Funeral beverage impairs your ability to podcast but will cause happiness, double hop rainbows, and unicorn-filled mosh pits.

Yeah, it’s that good. Permanent Funeral Pale Ale is masterfully brewed by 3 Floyds Brewing Company in Munster, Indiana. This beer is so good that it won a Silver Medal in the Imperial India Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2013 – beating out 147 other beers. To put it in context, in the beer world it’s like winning the Nobel Peace Prize and an Olympic Metal—but cooler. To top it all off, it’s a collaboration metal beer with Grindcore legends Pig Destroyer! It just may be the ultimate metal/medal beer. Period.

3 Floyds arguably is the most well-known brewery making Heavy Metal themed-beers on planet Earth. They’ve brewed official collaboration beers for Pelican, Municipal Waste, High on Fire, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse (read my review here), Amon Amarth, and At The Gates to name a few. First brewed in 2013, their Pig Destroyer “Permanent Funeral” beer is named after the last song on the band’s 2012 album Book Burner. It’s the longest song on the album clocking in at an epic 4:08 minutes, which is long for Pig Destroyer.

3 Floyds officially calls this beer a Pale Ale, but it’s an Imperial India Pale Ale at 10.5% alcohol by volume and 100 international bitterness units. It’s big and bitter like Satan on a bad day but in a good way. BEER NERD ALERT: India Pale Ales (IPAs) originally were brewed in Britain in the 1800s to export to India. They were hoppier pale ales with slightly higher alcohol—both act as preservatives—which helped the beer taste better and stay fresher on the long journey to India.

Heavy metal and craft beer collided in March 2013 when they released Permanent Funeral at a Pig Destroyer show at the Back Cat in Washington DC. The timing was perfect because it conveniently coincided with the annual Craft Brewer Conference. I swear half of the nation’s brewers are metal heads, so the place was packed. As a professional brewer and metalhead, I made damn well sure to be at the show, but sadly I arrived too late to try the beer that night. But I did get to see Pig Destroyer tear it up. I’m pretty sure this was the first time they played the song Permanent Funeral live.

Most 3 Floyd’s metal collaboration beers are one-offs and never to be brewed again. Permanent Funeral is an exception. Whether it’s due to the popularity of Pig Destroyer or the fact it won a medal at Great American Beer Festival, they’ve brewed it a few times including earlier in 2016; which leads me to my much-anticipated acquisition of Permanent Funeral for this article.

DC Brau Brewing Company in DC celebrated its 5th Anniversary Party in mid-April with an epic outdoor metal show headlined by The Sword. My friend Metal Chris covertly busted out several bottles of Permanent Funeral at the brewery that he acquired from Blake Harrison, the electronics and sample master in Pig Destroyer since 2006. During the party/concert/beerfest, I conspired with Blake to meet five days later at the Amon Amarth show—along with George and John—to drink some beers and deliver two bottles of Permanent Funeral for this BREWHEADS installment. If you listen to the podcast, that’s the show when the vicious parking garage gate attacked me!

The two bottles Blake gave me, however, were not my first. Way back—before BREWHEADS was a twinkle in my eye—I enjoyed a bottle of Permanent Funeral the day after it won the medal in October 2013. I commemorated the beer and metal collusion by capturing a photo of my daughter Evelyn throwing her horns at the Permanent Funeral bottle when she was 2 ½ hears old – three days before her brother was born. It now is firmly rooted in both their DNA. But for now, I needed a resupply and Blake delivered.

As usual, I wanted to learn and share more background on the collaboration between the brewers and the band. Blake provided great insight as well as prompting me to seek out Dave Witte, drummer for Municipal Waste, Brain Tentacles, and tons of projects. He’s also affectionately become the craft beer ambassador to the heavy metal world.

BREWHEADS: Did 3 Floyds approach Pig Destroyer about doing a beer or vice versa?

Blake Harrison: Dave [Witte] from Municipal Waste hooked it up. He really liked 3 Floyd's beer, and they worked with Municipal Waste, so when 3 Floyds were looking for more bands, Dave suggested us.

Dave Witte: Great people need to know one another. For a while I was kind of a metal beer rep in a sense, devoted to spreading the love of great beer within the metal scene. The Floyds at the time (Barnaby, Chris & Nick) and Todd Haug (the reason for Surly's great beers and success) would load me up with beer to drink while on tour, and then I would share and give it to friends/bands who loved beer across the country. It was kinda like underground tape trading at that point. I had a small network of music people into beer, and we'd just share everything possible. I made a lot of great friends and the volley between bands and brewers was amazing. We were total fans of one another. Barnaby and Chris [from 3 Floyds] were big Pig Destroyer fans and Scott Hull [Pig Destroyer guitarist], and I talked about beer and shared quite a bit of it over the years. Yup, we were beer nerds. Haha. The connection was easy to make when Barnaby asked about Pig Destroyer. Basically, in a nutshell, Sanford Parker [prolific metal musician] introduced me to Barnaby, we became fast friends; he introduced me to brewers, and I introduced him to bands. It was true love. Hahaha

BH: How did you decide on the beer style? How much input did the guys in Pig Destroyer have in the beer style and the recipe?

Blake: We did have input. Not to be too basic, but I think that Scott [Hull - guitarist] told them to take Zombie Dust and kinda amp it up a little.

BH: Were any members of Pig Destroyer at 3 Floyds during the brew day or when they released it?

Blake: No, but we did do a release show at the Black Cat for the Craft Brewers’ Conference, which was a lot of fun.

BH: How did you hear the news that Permanent Funeral won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival? What was your reaction?

Blake: I think the 3 Floyds people told us and we were immensely flattered. We still get a lot of kudos on the beer from various websites.

BH: Before Pig Destroyer collaborated with 3 Floyds, did you guys previously talk about wanting to have an official beer? Do you know of any breweries that make a Pig Destroyer tribute (unofficial) beer?

Blake: We had discussed it, but never seriously. I think for the most part we just didn't know how to go about it. We've worked with Surly Brewery, and someone in Denver made a small release for our Denver Black Skies show. If there are Pig Destroyer tribute beers, I'm not sure that we know about it, which would be cool if we did, as we could probably get some free beer out of it.

BH: Would you consider doing another official collaboration with another brewery?

Blake: Most definitely. Like I've said, we've collaborated with Surly before, but I'm not positive that was an "official" release. But yeah it'd be cool to get a different style beer for the band.

BH: What are each Pig Destroyer member’s favorite beer and/or style?

Blake: I'm basically into stouts and shitty mainstream pilsners. I'm really digging the DC Brau’s Brau Pils and the Flying Dog’s Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout (when they make it). Adam [Jarvis – drums], Scott and John [Jarvis – bass] are into craft beer, mostly the hopper stuff. J.R. [Hayes – vocals] doesn't drink beer too much. He's mostly a Jack Daniels guy.

I finally took the time during vacation this summer to give Permanent Funeral the true BREWHEADS treatment— block out all distractions, really pay attention, and take notes. During vacation, I also was reading the book Choosing Death, which features Grindcore and Pig Destroyer quite a bit.

Permanent Funeral pours a hazy golden orange color and has a substantial off-white head with lacing for days. Initially, this beer comes across as dank smelling from the hops, but the citrus aromas linger underneath. When I tasted it, the first thing I notice is that it has a full-bodied mouth feel like most 3 Floyds beers. Permanent Funeral tasted a bit tangy—like a tangerine—in the aftertaste. Hops clearly are prominent, but there is a decent malt backbone. The 10.5% alcohol by volume is not overtly noticeable but holy shit if you can’t feel it halfway through the bottle. Just ask how I felt (and sounded) after drinking a bottle on an empty stomach while recording Metalheads episode #49! Deservingly so, Permanent Funeral has a 98 rating on beer advocate. So don’t just take my word for it—judges at the Great America Beer Festival and hundreds of beer nerds all agree that this is a world-class metal beer.

Perhaps Dave Witte summed it up best: “A real hop monster. A sick balance of hops & just the right amount of malt to not overpower the hops. Citrus & pine assault with a cloaked, clobbering ABV.”

Just like album art is important to convey the band’s message, beer label art is also important. I’ve bought tons of beers and albums back in the day (before you could preview them on-line) solely based on the artwork. Permanent Funeral label art is colorful, brutal, and beautiful all at the same time. The artwork was done by Orion Landau, who has done work for YOB, Red Fang, Inter Arma and dozens more. The creature on the label looks a little like a cross between a wolf and Oderus Urungus with a sword through its head—with lots and lots of blood. I have a white Pig Destroyer t-shirt with this same design on it. The beer description on the side of the label says, “The wolf inside this pale ale is trying to walk upright. This bright and aromatic beer was brewed with our friends in the band Pig Destroyer.” 3 Floyds lifted the same lyrics from the first line of the song Permanent Funeral to intertwine with its description.

Deep inside I’m just a wolf trying to walk upright. The moth flew into the white light. The girl takes the flag from the gravesite. Unrequited love kills. Spawns black blood cells. The dark cradles mystery. The light ruins everything. You know it's true.

Hopefully, 3 Floyds will keep brewing Permanent Funeral so hopheads and metalheads can continue enjoying its blissful hoppy brutality. Just don’t do so on an empty stomach! In the meantime, check out Pig Destroyer at the release party in DC and at Hardywood Park Brewery in Richmond.

Pig Destroyer live at the Black Cat in Washington DC performing the song Permanent Funeral during the release show for the beer.

Pig Destroyer Live at Hardywood Park Brewery in Richmond, VA.

BREWHEADS: Master of Pumpkins and Blizzard of Hops

I went on vacation in the mountains of Pennsylvania during the 4th of July and brought along a bunch of metal beers to review while reading Choosing Death and watching black bears and rattlesnakes all day. It was a damn fine vacation!

I am here to tell you about Tröegs Brewing Company in Hershey, PA, and their sometimes obscure schizophrenic tribute metal beers they brew once a year. Yeah, I know. It’s confusing. After exhaustive in-depth research (using the Google machine and drinking beer) I will bring clarity to chaos.

In recent years, Tröegs began brewing two potential Metal Beers: Master of Pumpkins and Blizzard of Hops released in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Keep reading and you will know why I used the word “potential.”

Let’s rewind. Two years ago I saw a new Tröegs beer called Blizzard of Hops — a winter IPA—which sounds a lot like Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo album Blizzard of Ozz. The official beer description and label art gave no indication it was a tribute beer to the Prince of Darkness—just the name. I was suspicious of the potential metal beer connection. So I hit Tröegs up via Twitter to ask whether or not this was a tribute to Ozzy. No response – radio silence. So I was left unconvinced and skeptical. At the time, I did not know Tröegs to be a metal brewery. However, I assume nearly every brewery has been infiltrated by at least one foaming-at-the-mouth crazed metalhead playing air guitar and mumbling lyrics to Cannibal Corpse as they toil in the heat with their horns in the air! A year later when I saw their beer called Master of Pumpkins in the fall of 2015, I thought there was no way this was a coincidence.

As the name suggests, Master of Pumpkins is a pumpkin beer—with a twist. The first twist is that it uses a Saison yeast strain and is bottle condition. The second twist is that it was a metal beer tribute to Metallica’s song Master of Puppets, then it wasn’t, and now I’m not sure anymore. More on the confusion in a bit.

Beer Nerd Alert: Bottle conditioning is a technique where the beer is slightly refermented in the bottle by mixing priming sugar and usually yeast into the beer before bottling it. The yeast then eats the sugar, reproduces, and releases carbon dioxide – thus naturally carbonating the beer inside the bottle. This process increases the beer’s shelf-life by reducing dissolved oxygen at the same time enhancing the flavor.

Looking at the beer’s description from 2013 and 2014 labels reveals that Master of Pumpkins was indeed a tribute to Metallica. Yay, I found another Metal Beer!

Brewed with native Pennsylvania neck pumpkins harvested just a few miles from our brewery, Master of Pumpkins conjures the spirit of autumn by combining traditional pie spices with French saison yeast to illicit notes of vanilla, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and honey. Taste it you will see, more is all you need.

Did you read that? The last sentence in the beer description. There. Right, There! Taste it you will see, more is all you need. Those words clearly are lifted from the Master of Puppets lyrics. Read for yourself.

Needlework the way, never you betray
Life of death becoming clearer
Pain monopoly, ritual misery
Chop your breakfast on a mirror
Taste me you will see
More is all you need

You’re dedicated to
How I’m killing you

When Tröegs released Master of Pumpkins in 2015, the last line of the beer’s description that referenced the lyrics vanished. Maybe they got a cease-and-desist from the infamously litigious Metallica, or maybe they dropped it after hearing any of their music from 1991 to 2008. Who knows? I am disappointed they removed the reference from the label and website. Chris Trogner, co-owner of the brewery, even talked about the naming of the beer in a November 2013 YouTube video (when the song reference was still on the label) but he did not mention Master of Puppets, Metallica, heavy metal, or even music.

Regardless of its metal beer identity, I really like this beer. It has a relatively low rating on Beer Advocate of 80, which I will attribute to the “love them or hate them” opinions people have of pumpkin beers. I also can be bipolar with pumpkin beers. Some years I love them. Some years I don’t touch them. I drank this one in early July (definitely not pumpkin season) and still really like it.
• 30 IBUs (International Bitterness Units)
• 7.5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume)
• Munich, Pilsner and Special B malts
• German Northern Brewer Hops
• French Saison Yeast

The bottle I popped open was dated 9/30/2015. It was nine months old, and its ABV was just below the threshold to age well. I got nervous that I held onto this bottle too long. When I noticed it was a bottle conditioned beer, I smiled. It would still taste good.

Master of Pumpkins has a beautiful reddish-copper color. Initially, it poured relatively clear. But once the yeast from the bottom of the bottle—a result of bottle conditioning—mixes in your chalice of choice, the beer becomes hazy.

This beer smells and tastes exactly like pumpkin pie. There is no better way to describe it. You can smell and taste the cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. It’s highly carbonated—another result of bottle conditioning. I did perceive a bit more hop bitterness as the beer warmed up, but it was pleasant.

Overall, this was one of my favorite pumpkin beers despite its on-again-off-again metal beer identity. Also, I always pick up several six-packs of Blizzard of Hops every winter. Both beers are brewed very well, which people come to expect from Tröegs.

I have to assume the subtleness to Tröegs’ metal beer tribute(s) may be due in part to the litigious nature of both Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne. Music artists with that much money and lawyers would make nearly any sane independent craft brewer shy away from making overt tribute beers to these guys. Ozzy (i.e. Sharron Osbourne I assume) in 2014 sent a cease-and-desist letter to The Brewer’s Art based in Baltimore, MD for their “Ozzy” Belgian-style pale ale, which they later renamed “Beazly.” And of course, we all know about Metallica vs. Napster vs. tribute cover bands, vs. anyone daring not to pay financial tribute to them.

This fall when Tröegs releases Master of Pumpkins, I encourage you to drink it with some pumpkin pie and watch these guys shed the banjo covering Master of Puppets!

BREWHEADS: Bloody Roots – Bourbon Barrel Aged

Roots Bloody Roots! “You like beer? You like Bloody Marys?? You’ll love this beer!” claims the label and I could not agree more. Bloody Roots is an intense and unique 8.8% ABV imperial brown ale aged in bourbon barrels and spiced to taste like a Bloody Mary. It’s a collaboration brew between Adroit Theory Brewing in Purcellville, VA and Three Notch’d Brewing in Charlottesville, VA. Both are great breweries with metalheads in charge. These two breweries teamed up to brew Bloody Roots at Three Notch’d in 2015.

Below is the verbatim description printed on the bottle:

GET BACK TO YOUR ROOTS, YOUR BLOODY ROOTS. EMBRACE WHERE YOU CAME FROM; WHAT YOU CAME FROM. NO NEED TO FAKE IT, NO NEED TO CHANGE. ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTE. TRUST ME, IT WILL MAKE YOU STRONGER. YOU LIKE BEER? YOU LIKE BLOODY MARYS?? YOU’LL LOVE THIS BEER! IT’S AN IMPERIAL BROWN WITH HONEY, HABANERO PEPPERS, CRUSHED TOMATOES, CELERY SALT, AND HORSERADISH. A COLLABORATION BETWEEN DAVE WARWICK OF THREE NOTCH'D AND GREG SKOTZKO OF ADROIT THEORY.

If it wasn’t already obvious, Bloody Roots is a heavy metal tribute beer to Sepultura and the title track “Roots Bloody Roots” from the band’s acclaimed yet controversial 1996 album Roots. If you compare the beer’s bottle description with “Roots Bloody Roots” lyrics, you will see the obvious connection. The album Roots marked the beginning of the end in many ways for Sepultura. Lead singer Max Cavalera left the band at the end of 1996 and Roots had a metric fuck-ton of Nu-Metal influences, which marked a slight shift away from Sepultura’s straight thrash/death metal roots (excuse the pun).

I am a big Sepultura fan. The first Sepultura album I bought way back in 1989 was Beneath the Remains. I quickly bought Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia and every release after that. I even picked up a couple of albums after Max left. I enjoyed some of them, but post-Max Sepultura just wasn’t quite the same.

Let’s get back to the beer. I asked the fine gents at Three Notch’d and Adroit Theory Brewing about the beer and the collaboration process. Adroit Theory head brewer Greg Skotzko and owner/founder Mark Osborne as well as Three Notch’d head brewer Dave Warwick were kind enough to answer a few quick questions about Bloody Roots.

Q. How did the idea for the collaboration between Adroit and Three Notch'd come about and was the idea always to make a heavy metal tribute beer?

Greg Skotzko: We always enjoyed talking with Dave [Warwick, head brewer at Three Notch’d] and when we were at Craft Brewers’ Conference in Denver two years ago we met up with him again and proposed the idea of doing a collaboration. Little did we know we'd kick it into an annual brew. We ended up brewing year two of the beer within weeks of anniversary date.

Q. How did you decide on Sepultura’s “Roots Bloody Roots”? Did you first decide to make a Bloody Mary-style beer or did the name come first and the style follow?

Greg: The name for the beer came after the idea for the beer. We proposed a Bloody Mary-inspired Imperial Brown ale based off of how Mark likes to make Bloody Marys - we would always add some India Brown Ale to the mix.

Mark Osborne: As far as the Sepultura tie-in, it clearly is an abbreviated nod to the band, and arguably their most famous track.

Q. Are you guys fans of Sepultura and are you still fans of the band with its current line-up and music since the Cavalera brothers left?

Dave Warwick: I was huge into thrash metal. I knew every song on every album by Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Anthrax. The Sepultura tie-in was Mark’s idea. I liked Sepultura and used to watch their videos on MTV’s Headbangers Ball back in the day.

Greg: We definitely enjoy Sepultura.

Mark: We’re big fans, and yes to include Soulfly—please don't judge. Sepultura album artwork is always top notch, and something that serves as baseline inspiration for some of our "hidden imagery". Bloody Roots is also a direct reference to the Ian Christie show SOUND OF THE BEAST [on SirisXM Liquid Metal]. I'm still surprised nobody picked up on that yet.

Q. Did you brew this at both Three Notch'd and Adroit Theory? Who was present on brew day? Did Greg and Dave brew it together? Are there plans to brew it again?

Greg: We brewed the beer the first two times at Three Notch'd. This year we'll be brewing it at Adroit Theory on our new brewhouse on June 15th. Dave and I brewed it together the first year along with Levi Erickson [brewer at Three Notch’d] the second year. This year Dave, at least, will be up here, and possibly Levi. Bryan & Tyler [brewers at Adroit Theory] will also be present on our side.

Q. Did you blast Sepultura on brew day?

Greg: Sadly I don't think Sepultura was blasted on brew day. I think Levi got the control of the sound system, and we ended up playing rock.

I want to give a big thanks to Kyle Stewart and Bryan “Doctor M” Younger from Adroit Theory for delivering to me a growler of Bloody Roots so I could enjoy it and profile the beer for BREWHEADS. Cheers gentlemen!

Tasting Notes:
Bloody Roots is extremely dark brown, almost black with an off-white head. If you look from the top of glass, it appears dark brown, however if you look from the side, it’s black. It’s like there is evil black magic at work!

The black magic grows stronger when you smell it. The nose has an insane combination of hot pepper heat, sweet maple syrup, chocolate, toffee, caramel, and bourbon. It sounds like a mess, but I can assure you it works well – really well. Damn, black magic is powerful!

Do you want to drink this beer? Lock ‘n load! I took my first sip, and I immediately noticed the heat from the habanero peppers. It burned a bit in the back of my throat – but I liked the burn. Once I embraced the burn, I tasted a lot of chocolate, caramel and bourbon flavors. I swear I also could detect some of the additional Bloody Mary ingredients like tomato, celery salt, and horseradish, which the brewers added to the mash tun. In case you are wondering, they added the honey at the end of the boil and habanero peppers during the whirlpool process after the boil.

Bloody Roots is a very complex beer. There’s a lot going on. Between the heat, bourbon, malty sweetness, spices, black magic – it all works. They made it work. Well done gents. Horns up to you all! Sometimes I think Adroit Theory and Three Notch’d make beers just for me.

There is a non-barrel aged variant which I also drank during an epic metal beer bottle share with Metal Chris from DCHeavyMetal.com. Thanks, Chris!

Adroit and Three Notch’d always have great bottle and can artwork. Bloody Roots has a lot of symbolism on the label. Mark Osborne said, “As far as artwork, we had to make sure Three Notch'd was on board, so we dialed things back a bit. We decided on a tree to showcase their logo, but then make a visual representation of bloody roots (hence the red/white). In this case the use of a murder of crows flying out of the roots. This is a recurring theme on many of our labels.”

So after all this, do you want some Bloody Roots? According to Adroit Theory, they sold their last kegs in mid-March. However, as they stated earlier, they plan to brew a 10 or 20 bbl batch (310 or 620 gallons) on Adroit’s new brewhouse this June with Dave. They also plan on aging the beer in more barrels this year—like hot sauce and other exotic concoctions—than last year, which was only bourbon.

Do you want more metal beers by these guys? You got it! Dave brewed an Iron Maiden tribute beer called Hallowed Be They Ale in collaboration with another metal head brewer Kevin Bills at Corcoran Brewing, which also is located in Purcellville, VA. I went out of my way last year to ensure I drank a pint of Hallowed Be Thy Ale with Dave when they released the beer in northern Virginia. I even a bought a t-shirt! Dave said they probably will brew it again in the future. The metal beer madness does not stop there. Dave brewed a Metal Church tribute beer—a dark English mild ale—called Method to Your Madness named after the song “Method to My Madness” on the band’s debut album The Dark.

Last month even I got in on the collaboration metal beer mania. I went out to Adroit Theory and brewed a black rye IPA with Greg and Bryan dubbed Metal As Fvck! It’s not an official tribute to a particular band, but rather the pure awesomeness of heavy metal. I was, however, wearing my Black Fast t-shirt and subsequently got Mark hooked on the band. Maybe next time we can make it an official tribute to Black Fast . . . hint, hint.

You can buy Three Notch’d beers in Virginia and Washington DC. Adroit Theory distributes their brews throughout Virginia and Maryland as well as their on-line store that ships to Virginia and Ohio.

I highly recommend visiting both breweries if you are ever in Virginia: Three Notch’d Brewing - 946 Grady Ave Charlottesville, VA; Adroit Theory Brewing - 404 Browning Ct. Unit C Purcellville, Virginia.

Make it your mission in life to find Bloody Roots and listen to this interesting clip of Roots Bloody Roots featuring Luciano Pavarrotti! Cheers!

BREWHEADS: Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale

“LET ME SEE YOUR HORNS!” cried Santa as he guided his reindeer toward the Slayer concert. Well, at least, that’s how I interpret the label for Ninkasi Brewing Company’s Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale.

So I’m running way behind on my installments of BREWHEADS, but a belated Happy New Beer’s Day to you all! I started this review back on New Year’s Day 2016, but there is a good reason for the delay. I was waiting to hear from Ninkasi about their Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale. It was worth the wait; they gave me some great insights into their tribute beer to SLAYER!

Some of you may wonder what the hell an Alt Ale is since they are not that common in the United States. Alts, or Altbiers, technically are ales that you brew like lagers by fermenting at a lower temperature and cold-conditioning the beer for up to two months. There is a genuine art to brewing Altbier and its German cousin Kolsch ale. Altbier translates from German as Old Beer. I’m not going to get too beer-nerd-scientific or historical on you, but here is the German Beer Institute’s blurb about Altbier found on their website:

One of only a handful of traditional German ales. Altbier is Copper-colored, cool-fermented, cold-conditioned, clean-tasting, with an aromatic hop presence, a firm creamy head, a medium body, and a dry finish. It is indigenous to the Rheinland, which is part of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the northwestern part of Germany, near the Dutch border. The best-known Altbiers come from the Düsseldorf, the state capital.

I reached out to the good folks at Ninkasi Brewing Company based in Eugene, Oregon to find out more about Sleigh’r. Ali AAsum, Ninkasi’s Communications Director, and Jamie Floyd, the founding brewer, were gracious enough to answer my questions that I want to share with you. Thanks, guys, and cheers!

Q: Ninkasi has several heavy metal-themed beers. Who is the driving force behind these beers? Is it a particular brewer, owner, or the collective brewery staff?

A: Ali AAsum — “To us, drinking beer and metal go hand-in-hand. Our love for metal is deep-rooted at Ninkasi. One of the first beers Jamie [Floyd – founding brewer] brewed professionally was a Rush-themed beer at Steelhead Brewing. Even though we do reference metal on some of our labels, music as a whole is a big part of what we do. We opened our own in-house recording studio in 2014 to support artists throughout all areas where our beer is sold. Check out our Ninkasi Studios page here”: http://www.ninkasibrewing.com/about/ninkasi-studios/

Q: Aside from the one photo floating around the internet, has the band Slayer ever contacted the brewery about the beer? Has the band unofficially endorsed the beer? Has there been any interaction between Slayer and Ninkasi?

A. Jamie Floyd — “Much like we expected, Slayer fans and the band were totally down. The first time we saw him [Kerry King, Slayer guitarist] with a beer in his hand, while it wasn’t an official endorsement, it felt very much like one. I was honored to hear that Kerry King visited a bar in Portland and requested our beer. There’s nothing more powerful than a Ninkasi-loving Sleigh’r/Slayer fan – they love the beer, they love the band with the same passion we do. We are not trying to overdo our homage to them, but if their fans enjoy the beer, then it’s a great mix of all things great. For us – we love music, we love beer, and we’re happy when the bands we work with or reference feel the same way.”

Q: On a separate note, was Ninkasi forced to change the font of the Maiden the Shade [Iron Maiden tribute beer]? What is the reasoning behind the change?

A: Jamie Floyd — “When Trooper was imported to the U.S., the organization that represents Iron Maiden sent us a cease & desist. Because of that, we ultimately had to change the font. We’re not about holding grudges though and are hoping to have some special Maiden the Shade on tap in Vegas when Iron Maiden performs later this month.”

I poured some Sleigh’r into my battered Slayer mug that I’ve had for years. The bottle was dated 042016, which I assume means drink by April 2016. The beer poured a deep brown color and had excellent clarity. This clarity partly results from the long lagering process, which allows the yeast, hops, etc. to drop out of suspension as the beer hangs out in a cold and pressurized fermenter. That is your nerdy beer science factoid for the day.

Sleigh’r Ale’s aroma is dominated by roasted malt and its distinct German Ale yeast strain, which can produce a faint Sulfur smell in Altbier and Kolsch. This beer drinks very crisp with a nice malt backbone. I get some bitterness up front by way of the 50 IBUs from Nugget hops, but it quickly fades into malt sweetness and then it finishes dry, which again accentuates the hop bitterness.

Ironically, Sleigh’r is a nuanced and balanced beer that has subtle characteristics, which Slayer does not. This beer is not in your face, brutal, or controversial. It’s not slaying your pallet with hops or alcohol – 7.2% ABV. Instead, Sleigh’r is an easy drinking approachable beer that is perfectly balanced. Well done Ninkasi! It is difficult beer to review because no single ingredient dominates. It’s a well made Altbier worthy of a Slayer tribute.

Do yourself a favor and check out Aaron Mediola’s review of Sleigh’r on his website www.beermetaldude.com. While you’re at it, read the Sleigh’r feature in the Holy Metal Beer Bible AKA The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers by the Metal Beer Guru Adem Tepedelem. If you like craft beer and heavy metal, you should get to know these two fine gentlemen.

I have to give props to Ninkasi for flying the metal beer flag. Aside from Sleigh’r, they also brew Imperial Sleigh’r, Imperial Pumpkin Sleigh’r, Maiden the Shade (Iron Maiden Tribute), Helles Belles (AC/DC tribute) as well as Dawn of the Red whose label features the signature “horns” used by metal heads around the world. Keep ‘em coming, Ninkasi!

Sleigh’r probably is the most famous Slayer tribute beer in the United States. However, there are others. Off the top of my head, I can think of: South of Eleven by Hoof Hearted Brewing; Rain in Blood by Dark Horse Brewing; and Hop Slayer by Wild Onion Brewing. Even Fair Winds Brewing Company—where I brew—makes a session IPA called Sessions in the Abyss. I’m sure there are dozens more.

I recently found out Slayer last year commissioned Nils Oscar Brewing in Sweden to brew an official Slayer 666 Red Ale. Unfortunately, it’s only available in Europe. RANT ALERT: Slayer is an American band, and there are more than 4,000 breweries here—many of which are run by metal heads. Couldn’t Slayer find a single American brewery to make their beer? Why not Ninkasi? I venture to say the demand for an American-made Slayer beer would be insane. Call me criminally insane! Nonetheless, I want to try the beer and add it to my collection. Slayer also commissioned Reign in Blood Wine made in California but only sold in Europe – sigh.

If you are lucky enough to still find Sleigh’r in the market, buy it now, drink it now while watching these guys shred their banjos to Raining Blood! Cheers!

BREWHEADS: Snow Blind Doppelbock Lager

It's late January here in the Washington D.C. metro area, and we finally got snow. Holy hell we got a lot—at least two feet and counting! Good thing I bought some Snow Blind Doppelbock Lager by Starr Hill Brewing based in Crozet, VA. This may be the most appropriate and timely BREWHEADS column yet. If you find yourself shut-in by a blinding snowstorm, your survival kit must include a hearty beer and heavy metal. Go stock up on Snow Blind and play Black Sabbath!

Snow Blind Doppelbock clearly is a tribute to Black Sabbath and their song "Snowblind" from their 1972 album Black Sabbath Vol. 4. Need proof? Check out this Twitter exchange I had with Starr Hill in November last year.

Snow Blind is a winter seasonal brew available from November to January. So buy a six-pack as soon as you're done reading this because supplies are dwindling.

Doppelbocks are traditional German beers first brewed in the 1600s by monks to drink during Lent. According to the German Beer Institute web page:

Doppelbock (literally "double bock") is a stronger and usually darker version of the Bavarian Bockbier. It is exceptionally malty, with very little bitterness. Standard Doppelbocks may have as much as 7% alcohol by volume. In the strongest versions (around 10 to 13%), you can actually taste the alcohol.

I cracked open my last bottle of Snow Blind on 23 January in the middle of Snowmageddon 2016. My bottle was dated 10/28/15, which is three months old. However, since this is a low-hopped 7.7% ABV lager beer, it still tasted awesome.

Snow Blind pours a beautiful mahogany reddish-brown color and has great clarity. You can easily see your "Hand of Doom" through the glass when held up to the light. It has a sweet malty smell with a bit of raisin. The first thing that I noticed as I drank it was the sweetness and pronounced caramel flavor. There also is a slight roast taste. This has a pretty robust yet smooth mouthfeel with a very clean aftertaste. Starr Hill just barely bitters Snow Blind with Perle hops at 13 IBUs (international bitterness units). It seems the hops give it a faint minty taste. This is a very drinkable beer, and I love it! I have looked forward to Snow Blind each year since Starr Hill first released it in November 2013.

Starr Hill changed Snow Blind's label between for 2015. In fact, it appears they changed all their beer labels in mid-2015. I like the old label much better, which you can see here compliments of my brother-in-metal-beer Aaron Mendiola. Check out his review of Snow Blind he wrote a few weeks ago on his website www.beermetaldude.com. Thanks and cheers Aaron!

If you look at the new label's artwork for clues as to whether this is a tribute beer to Black Sabbath, you would be hard pressed. The only things I found, aside from the obvious name, is snow falling in a nighttime setting, which correlates with the song's lyrics.

Snow Blind is not Starr Hill's first Black Sabbath tribute beer. They also brewed Sabbath Black IPA that debuted in August 2014. Sabbath was a one-off beer, but Starr Hill did tell me via Twitter they may brew it again later this year! If so, stay tuned for my review. Snow Blind debuted a year before Sabbath, but it wasn't until they released Sabbath—with its obvious nod to Black Sabbath—that I realized Snow Blind also was a heavy metal tribute beer.

If you find yourself in central Virginia, visit Starr Hill Brewery at 5391 Three Notched Road - Crozet, Virginia 22932. According to Starr Hill's website, they distribute their beers to Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.

So after you're done shoveling out from Snowmageddon 2016, drink some Snow Blind Doppelbock Lager and watch this video gem of Black Sabbath performing live in front of rainbows and flowers at the 1974 California Jam. Damn the 1970's were weird!

BREWHEADS: Madness Old Stock Ale

Can I brew with Madness?

This installment of BREWHEADS marked my first real field research in my quest to conquer all heavy metal beers in the galaxy. Yeah, twist my arm to go to a brewery, talk with fellow brewers about beer and metal, and drink their beer. It's a rough job.

I have to give huge thanks to the great Dr. Allison "Lola" Lange, a brewer at 3 Stars Brewing Company, for snagging me a bottle of their Madness Old Stock Ale and alerting me to the beer's serious heavy metal roots. Cheers Allison!

Based on the beer's simplistic name and official description, Madness Old Stock Ale is not immediately obvious as a heavy metal beer—thus my rationale to get some background from the source. I drove to northern Washington, D.C. the afternoon of January 6th to sit down with 3 Stars Brewing Company's founders Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey as well as brewers Nathan Rice and Allison to get the inside scoop on Madness. We gathered in the brewery's newly renovated taproom, drank glasses of Madness, listened to Iron Maiden and got down to business. Yeah, rough job.

Madness was originally called Winter Madness. It was 3 Stars' first seasonal beer released in the winter of 2012-2013. They wanted a big malty "brew that gets you through the holidays". That could mean sharing it with friends at a holiday party or selfishly consuming it to numb your soul as you endure family get-togethers. The intention is in the eye of the beer-holder and consumption is 9/10th of the law.

The name "Winter Madness" came first. However, they quickly shortened the name to just Madness. The tribute to Iron Maiden naturally and rightfully followed since both founders are fans. Check out the promotional poster for Madness with its tagline, "Can I Brew With Madness," which is an obvious reference to Iron Maiden's song "Can I Play With Madness" from the bands 1988 album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Now that's what I call a purebred heavy metal inspired beer!

I cracked open my bottle of Madness on January 12, which happens to be the birthdays of Marine Corps Metal Head extraordinaire Steve Angelucci, Howard Stern, and Rob Zombie. Cheers gentlemen! It also coincided with the President's final State of the Union address. I'm sure glad I had a big bottle of 12.4% ABV beer to get me through all the political theater.

My bottle was dated 12/08/15, which is quite fresh for a big boozy dark beer like this. Madness has a deep reddish-brown color and a full off-white head that left substantial lacing on my glass. At first sip, I noticed pleasant heat from the high alcohol content, but this did not detract from the beer at all. It warmed me. Madness has loads of sweet caramel flavor complimented with a bit of milk chocolate and dark fruits. Madness is a very malty beer and the malts are the star of the show. There is not a lot of hop character to Madness – and there doesn't need to be. 3 Stars ages Madness in the fermenter with pieces of wood previously aged in George Dickel Rye Whiskey barrels. This hybrid barrel aging does not overwhelm the beer, but it rather compliments and enhances Madness.

Forty minutes into the President's speech, I consumed my bottle of Madness Old Stock Ale—and I felt good—like bent over a barrel good.

If you happen to live or travel near the Washington, D.C. metro area, you can find Madness in D.C, Virginia, and Maryland. You can also stop by the brewery and get some on tap.

3 Stars Brewing Company
6400 Chillum Place NW
Washington, DC 20012

3 Stars also make a wine barrel-aged Saison called Harvester of Sorrow – a tribute to Metallica's song by the same name from the And Justice for All album. If I get my hands on a bottle, I will feature it in a future BREWHEADS column (hint, hint, Dr. Lange!).

Grab a bottle of Madness, listen to Iron Maiden play "Can I Play With Madness", and enjoy another metal beer. Cheers!

BREWHEADS: Fade to Black

Merry Brew-mas! Drink and celebrate beer instead of worshiping the birth of a Royal Jewish Hippie Zombie Astronaut that just so happens to coincide with the Pagan winter solstice. Obey, cheers and amen!

During Christmas, I celebrated Brew-mas by pouring myself a couple of glasses of Fade to Black Vol. 1, a fall/winter seasonal brewed by Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado. Any self-respecting Metalhead should get the obvious reference to Metallica's epic song "Fade to Black" from their second record Ride the Lightning. In fact, you should be able to recite the first verse on command!

This brew is not an official metal beer collaboration between Metallica and Left Hand Brewing. But rather it is a "tribute beer," which is when a brewery names a beer as a nod to a band/album/song/lyric without the band's official endorsement. In case there were any doubts whether this was a tribute to Metallica, look no further than the first two lines of the beer's description on the brewery's website.

"That time of year when the day seems to fade away. Drifting further into the darkness with each passing day."

Compare that with the first two lines of the song "Fade to Black":

"Life, it seems, will fade away / Drifting further every day."

Case closed.

Fade to Black Vol. 1 is a foreign export stout that is 8.5% alcohol by volume. The bottles I bought were date-stamped Best by: 10/06/2016. The beer pours nearly pitch black, but it fades to brownish-red at the extreme edges. It smells of slightly burnt coffee with loads of chocolate and hints of caramel. They need to extract this smell and make air fresheners out of it!

Although I have drunk Fade to Black a few times over the years, this was the first time I paid close attention. Coffee is the predominant flavor, yet there also are lots of dark chocolate, burnt toffee, and caramel undertones. It is also a bit smoky, which works well with the other flavors. There is no coffee or chocolate added to this beer. The brewers at Left Hand did a great job achieving this complex flavor profile naturally by combining malts like roasted barley, chocolate malt, black malt, etc. The beer is somewhat sweet, but the hops certainly are not absent. You can taste the earthy Magnum and U.S. Goldings hops balancing the beer at a mild 30 IBUs (international bitterness units). The pleasing aftertaste lingers and does not seem to fade away like the song lyrics would suggest. It tastes like a coffee-dipped Heath Bar in the very best way. In fact, I need to try that. The more I drink this beer, the more I love it. After only one sip, I immediately was surprised this beer previously had not become a go-to winter favorite. I can see why this brew won three gold medals at the Great American Beer Fest (the Olympic Games for American craft beer).

There are five Fade to Black volumes. Each one is a different dark beer: Vol. 1 – Foreign Export Stout, Vol. 2 – Smoked Baltic Porter, Vol. 3 – Chili Pepper Porter, Vol. 4 – Rocky Mountain Black Ale, Vol. 5 – Black Rye Ale.

Fade to Black Vol. 4 is featured in one of my favorite books, The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers, penned by Decibel Magazine contributor Adem Tepedelen. If you like metal and beer, you need to buy this book!

(SPOILER ALERT!! The following paragraph mentions details of the new movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to skip to the last paragraph. You have been warned.)

So you're probably wondering why I have Darth Vader and Kylo Ren in the beer pic. First, I'm a huge Star Wars fan. Second, I thought it would be appropriate to include a grandfather and grandson whose paths both drifted further every day from light—eventually fading to black. NERD ALERT!

Left Hand Brewing makes another seasonal Heavy Metal tribute beer called Wake Up Dead. Stay tuned for a BREWHEADS column on that beer. In the meantime, enjoy Fade to Black and blast old Metallica. Cheers!

BREWHEADS: Amber Smashed Face

If you are reading this, you probably like heavy metal, craft beer, or both. If not, what you're about to read—and hopefully drink—may crush your skull and liquefy your brain! This write-up is the first BREWHEADS metal beer review in what I intend to become a regular column for METALHEADS.

I had the good fortune to acquire several bottles of Amber Smashed Face – a collaboration metal beer between Cannibal Corpse and 3 Floyds Brewing Company based in Munster, Indiana. The beer's name is a riff on the Cannibal Corpse' song "Hammer Smashed Face" from their album Tomb of the Mutilated.

3 Floyds Brewing Company is legendary in the craft beer community for brewing beers for metal bands. They previously have brewed several collaboration beers for Pelican, Eyehategod, Amon Amarth, Pig Destroyer, Municipal Waste, and High on Fire, to name a few.

I have to give a huge shout-out to my good friend Doug's half-sister's husband (did you follow that chain?) who procured the bottles for me and smuggled them all the way from Indiana to Washington D.C. Thanks!

There is not a lot of information out there about this beer or how the collaboration process worked. Did Cannibal Corpse pick the beer style or help create the recipe? Were they present on brew day? There are more questions than answers about this collaboration. As a professional brewer who has brewed several beers for local metal bands, these are the things that make me wonder. As an obsessed metal beer drinker, I'm not going to dwell on it; I'm going to pour myself a glass.

I cracked open my first 22oz bomber of Amber Smashed Face on December 6th. The fill date printed on the bottle was October 14th. 3 Floyds' website describes the beer as "An aggressively hopped American Amber Ale sure to crush your skull and liquify your brain" (yes they spelled liquefy wrong). Oddly, the website description does not specifically mention the collaboration with Cannibal Corpse; whereas the descriptions from previous 3 Floyds metal beer collaborations always mentioned the related bands. Hmm. There is no alcohol by volume (% ABV) listed on the bottle or web page, but I estimate it's somewhere between 7.5 – 8.5% ABV. Beer Advocate lists the ABV as 7.8%, but I'm not sure what the source of the ABV originates.

Despite the beer's name, it appears and tastes more like an India Pale Ale than an Amber Ale. I was expecting it to be dark and malty. Nonetheless, the color and taste are great and indeed worthy of the Corpse brand. When I poured it into my glass and took a big whiff, I first smelled intense citrus hops, but after one delicious sip, the beer's nose quickly turns "dank" from earthy and resinous hops - like a body that has started to rot - in a good way. The balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness is done well. This beer drinks a lot like it smells, and I love it! This is not a palette destroyer. It is a palette embracer.

I spent a lot of time pouring over the beer's label art. I quickly discovered that artist Vince Locke has ingeniously incorporated elements from all 13 Cannibal Corpse album covers and sleeves into the beer label. You can buy the original artwork for the beer label for a mere $3,500 at www.vincelocke.com.

Find this beer while you can. 3 Floyds does not often re-release its metal beers. If you are so lucky—crack it open. Pour yourself glass. Sit down with the "Bible of Butchery" and blast Cannibal Corpse to 11! Cheers!

While drinking Amber Smashed Face, I encourage you to listen to "Hammer Smashed Face" on Youtube while streaming this video gem: