In Suds & Sounds we turn the spotlight on breweries, focusing on the role of music in that brewery’s history, packaging, tastes, and in its city or town as a whole. The idea is to get beer and music lovers to connect with a side of the brewery that may often go overlooked, but one that we think is absolutely vital. To accomplish this, we are talking to the brewers themselves about their own love of music and the role it plays in how they approach their beer. And who knows, maybe we’ll even talk to a musicians from time to time to give a perspective from the other side.
Depending on what state you live in, there’s a chance you’ve had to do a double take at your local beer store after catching the site of a can featuring bizarre, colorful, and overtly funny label art. Maybe it was the can with the poop-stained, tightey whitey backside, or a double IPA adorned with a strange looking burly hipster, mohawked bird, and arrows. In other words, there’s a good chance you’ve seen beer from Against the Grain, and if you’ve actually purchased it than you know it’s some damn tasty stuff. Since 2011, the quirky brewery has been bringing a wide array of delicious beers to the community of Louisville, Kentucky and beyond. Living up to their name, the brewers at Against the Grain often put their own twist on traditional styles of beer. Their “Mac Fannybaw” is a twist a Barrel aged Rauchbier that uses Beechwood and Peat smoked malt to give it a taste reminiscent of Scotch, while “Gnight Ryder” is an imperial black ale aged in red wine barrels. Those are just a couple of the eclectic range of beers they brew, and if you browse their full lineup you’ll quickly realize that the only thing they love as much as cartoony packaging art and puns is music. In fact, you can find music and puns together in many of Against the Grain’s creatively named brews, like “David Lee Froth” (India pale lager), “Judas Yeast” (Belgian style dubbel), and “Herbie Samplecock” (French saison) just to name a few. Music and humor seep into pretty much everything the brewery does, and if you’re lucky enough to visit their Louisville pub you may even get to catch some live music.
Between their omnipresent sense of humor, general weirdness, and love of music, we feel like Against the Grain is a welcome presence not just in their hometown, but in a craft beer industry that has a tendency to be a little too self-serious these days. To find out more about the role music plays at Against the Grain, and to meet one of the minds responsible for the brewery’s craziness, we talked with Brewmaster and Managing Member (they are brewer-owned!) Jerry Gnagy.
How long have you been brewing and what do you consider your greatest triumph so far as a craft brewer?
Jerry Gnagy: I’ve been brewing beer since I was just a wee lad back on the lone prairie. I ‘spect it’s been nigh one score save 3 years or 17 anos to the layman. My greatest triumph as a craft brewer was the death threats received from running The Brown Note through a randle with a pair of Whitey Tightey’s. (Bear in mind that I’m using common nomenclature for underwear, I frankly do not support the patriarchy’s classification of underwear based on color)
Talk about the beer culture a bit in your city. What do people look for in a good beer and what do you hope to provide, and also do you see the beer scene as being linked in any way to the music scene?
I have studied quite a bit the beer culture in this city and, like in several other cities not named Omaha (’cause they’re a bunch of dicks), people like beers that are good and have a good flavor and are also easy to drink. So what we do is try to match that want with what we are brewing, [and] I feel that this is at least a top 5 reason [why] we are marginally successful. That and the black market tooth whitening products I sell..<—-Off the record!!! The beer scene is related to the music scene because a lot of the bands that play music like to drink beer and then I heard that people sitting around and drinking beer don’t like to do it in silence and in lieu of having a conversation they enjoyed the non random sounds of music. I started off AtG by taking a brown stick and hitting a hollow gourd and it seemed to work okay, but then my good buddy Jevon brought his boom box in and, by cracky people enjoyed it more, and my arms were less tired… the rest is history.
A lot of breweries seem to incorporate their own musical tastes into their packaging and presentation, whether it be a collaboration with a band, a tribute label, or a beer name that references something they like. Has you brewery ever done something like this, and if so can you tell us about it?
We certainly have, we’ve done a lot of stuff, but maybe the best example is a few years ago when every brewery in the world was trying to be the most “metal” brewery. I set out to make the most metal beer ever so that we could just end it. So we brewed a red malt liquor because I don’t think great heavy metal bands like Ratt or Ugly Kid Joe drink imperial stouts as they rock out on stage. But we did a little better than that; we started our own heavy metal band called Save Ferrous and we did an a capella cover of “Reigning Blood” complete with a music video…
Going off of the previous question, one of the things that stands out about Against the Grain is the label designs, which often reference music. How much do the musical tastes of the brewers come into play when coming up with label designs and/or names of beers?
The tastes of brewers always come into play for designs and names. Do you honestly think that designers have any sort of creativity? Doubtful…
In your opinion, is there a particular band or genre that is ideal to listen to while brewing beer?
I enjoy listening to everything, but what really moves my glorious body is Lionel Richie. Many a lovely lady has fainted as I have cha cha-ed to “Say You Say Me”… YOU ARE A SHINING STARRR—ARRRR!! <–this is when they melt. So don’t bring your main squeeze around me for brew day unless you don’t mind him/her fantasizing about me next time you make Whoopie (not Goldberg) (I’m talking about sex, okay).
Some breweries have gotten more into music through sponsoring tours, festivals, or even throwing their own versions of those. How do you think live music fits into the fabric of craft beer, and is this something your brewery has done?
Yes we have woven live music into the fabric of craft beer with our magical loom. We haven’t sponsored any large music tours or festivals because we squandered all our marketing money on cocktails and tooth whitening serum. Actually, it all started with our brewery motto that we have hanging above the mash thingys (also know as cookers to the laypeeps). Surrounded by corn husks it reads “Live, Love, Laugh” and I think that sums up what we feel about music and craft type beer. YOU GOTTA LIVE MUSIC LIVE!!! Then you find some(one)(thing) to LOVE! They then LAUGH at your IMPOTENCE so you CRY. We have got to update our motto, but I think I made my point.
Do you have any musicians or noteworthy people that you can say are fans of any of your beers?
I have a cocktail straw that was used by THE KID ROCK!! I then put it in my beer and swish it around and tell that story. You know how much wool I pull from that??? I get more ass than a toilet seat because of that straw.
Against the Grain is located at 401 E Main St in Louisville, KY. To check out their full beer selection, smoked meat-heavy food menu, and general shenanigans, visit atgbrewery.com.
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