Session #9: Beer and MusicThis month, Tomme Arthur, renowned head brewer at The Lost Abbey, has chosen a topic of Beer and Music.

I have many stories on this pair of topics. Admittedly most of the “best” stories (i.e. the most embarrassing) more often involve whiskey or tequila along with music. But I have some fond memories that unite beer with music.

In addition to being a homebrewer and craft/artisanal beer aficionado, I am also a lover of music. I play guitar (rock, jazz, improv, uncategorizable…) and compose a good bit of music. I also love music that focuses on improvisation: jam bands (Phish and their ilk) and jazz (surely no example required).

Most recently, I went to see G. Love and Special Sauce at The Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta. I went with my wife and two friends of ours (a woman with whom I work and her husband). We enjoyed ourselves for the most part except for two small let-downs: one involving beer and one involving music.

The first disappointment was encountered whilst searching through the glass door of the beer fridge behind the bar for a decent brew. The Tabernacle has no less than eight bars in it (they know how to keep the beer lines short when there is a crowd). The first bar had several decent brews, including Red Hook ESB on draft. After we found a place from which to enjoy the concert, the nearby bar had nothing on draft. There were bottles of decent local brew on display over the bar (Sweetwater 420), but I could see none in the beer fridge. I later learned, to my regret, that these brews were kept in a cooler underneath the bar – not on display. So I suffered through a tallboy of Budweiser because that was all that could be seen (aside from the many slim cans of Red Bull). Red Hook ESB is very far from an intense beer, but -nevertheless- Budweiser follows it like a bottle of water.

The second disappointment was the middle act. There were three bands playing that night: Ozomatli, Slightly Stoopid, and then G. Love and Special Sauce. To say that Slightly Stoopid was less than stellar would be definitively mild. Closer to the truth would be to say that they were terrible. My wife and I were unimpressed, and quickly found ourselves wishing for them to get off-stage.

That was my most recent encounter with live music. It wasn’t the best when it comes to beer and music. Which brings me to my fond memories… memories which are in stark contrast to our recent encounter with Bud & Slightly Stoopid: memories of college.

The Tabernacle and Brewhouse Café

I have been to The Tabernacle (the same venue as the event described above) twice before. The first was to see Medeski, Martin, and Wood. This was a phenomenal show, but alas there is no aspect of beer to that story. The second show was to see The Funky Meters. I had just recently met a girl named Malin (who is now my wife and mother of my son). The two of us, along with her friend Charles, went to the show.

On this evening, Beer and Music were not intertwined. Rather, they were in succession. First we went to see great, funky, live music. Then we went to the Brewhouse Café in Little Five Points to have a beer or two. In this case it was two of my favorite draft selections at Brewhouse: Paulaner Hefeweissbier and Pilsner Urquell. These types of beers are simply great session beers – especially in warm weather (The Funky Meters show was during the Summer in 1999). Luckily I did not have to drive that evening: Brewhouse is known for serving its draft beers in 32 ounce steins that they call “Brews”. A great session beer is the perfect beverage over which to discuss something like a great concert. Whether you want to recount the crazy stage antics, that bad-ass drum solo, or trivia about band members or songs you just watched and heard, a good session beer can be a comforting tool for relaxing and reliving the moment.

Home Park Festival and Sweetwater Brewing

I have other memories of college that also involve beer and music: memories of Home Park Festival.

This was a big party in Home Park (the neighborhood of cheap, student housing adjacent to Georgia Tech campus) that was typically held twice per year: once in the spring and once in the fall. I lived in Home Park for a few years before moving into an apartment on west campus (a very short walk from Home Park), so I made it a point to attend several of these parties. The two main events that stand out in my memory are from Spring of 1998 and 1999.

The music was noteworthy in 1998. I recall walking into the event to the tune of Roundabout by Yes. It was a cover band that I would otherwise say was unmemorable – but this was one of the best live renditions of this tune I’ve ever heard (though I’m a bit young to have ever seen Yes perform it). This particular Home Park Festival was also one of several that attracted local music legend Colonel Bruce Hampton.

I have a couple of CDs of Colonel Bruce Hampton belting it out with the Aquarium Rescue Unit. I’ve seen ARU once before (though without Colonel Bruce), and they were un-freaking-believably awesome. The level of talent in the folks that made up that band is off the charts. On the evening of this party, Colonel Bruce was performing not with ARU, but with the Fiji Mariners. It was a very good evening – great music, lots of recognizable tunes from the Colonel’s tenure with ARU, and an abundance of good draft beer.

The good draft beer was provided by a local brewery, Sweetwater Brewing Company. Their marketing folks were keen to capitalize on the college crowd – which seems to have paid off now that college crowds are becoming more and more aware of great craft beer (which is ironic since half of college kids aren’t even of legal drinking age…).

The following year, 1999, I attended another Home Park Festival, also sponsored by Sweetwater Brewing, with Malin (we had just started dating). The music was decent, but that year was more notable for the beer. Sweetwater provided many kegs of all of its products at the time (420, ESB, Exodus, and Blue). Malin found herself drawn to the Blue (a light, blueberry-flavored ale) and I to the others. It was a real shame to later see Sweetwater remove the ESB from their product line-up. The Exodus (a Porter) was one of the beers that Malin and I offered on tap at our wedding reception. And then there is the 420 – a light-but-hoppy pale ale and a perennial favorite in Atlanta that now can be had in nearly every bar in the city.

Honestly, I hardly remember the music from that year. I remember waiting in a very long line to get a dixie cup o’ Sweetwater, and then immediately returning to the end of the line. By the time you finished one beer, you had made your way back to the front of the line just in time to get another. That night’s finale was typical of my later years in college: a late-night stop at Waffle House before going home and dragging myself to bed. It was a good thing I didn’t have to drive that night…