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.
Austin, Texas is a music town if ever there was one. Though self-proclaimed, the “Live Music Capital of the World” is known for massive events like South By Southwest and Austin City Limits, as well as having a rich musical history that includes the likes of Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, Roky Erickson, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, not to mention current favorites like White Denim and Spoon. With so much live music happening across the city, there is plenty of beer drinking, and not all of it is Lone Star. These days Austin’s brewery scene is just about as bustling as its festival scene with new establishments popping up all over town.
One of the establishments that laid roots in Austin earlier in the city’s craft beer boom is Hops & Grain. With its comfy and hip East Side tap room and cans that are ubiquitous in the beer section at H.E.B., Hops & Grain has become a local favorite since it was founded in 2011 by Josh Hare. Hang out at any show around Austin and there’s a chance you’ll find people sipping on their regular roster of heady IPAs, or get together with some pals to cook up some barbecue and someone might bust out a bottle of their Volumes of Funk series. They even recently brewed a Texas Honey IPA, putting a twang on a style that could use it. At the core of the Hops & Grain community is a deep love of music that seems to touch everything they do. Recently, we talked with Founder and President Josh Hare about brewing beer in one of the best music towns in the world and channeling those good vibes into the brewery’s recipes and culture.
How long have you been brewing and what do you consider your greatest triumph so far as a craft brewer?
Josh Hare: I’ve been brewing professionally for about a decade now but my start in making beer began as a curious 19 year old attending a private university that didn’t allow alcohol consumption. My buddies and I learned that all the ingredients needed to make beer could be purchased by someone not of legal drinking age. We made a lot of beer in college, most of it drinkable. Our intent was never to perfect our recipes, we were just intent on making sure that it had alcohol! My greatest triumph so far has been assembling an incredible team of women and men that are committed to our goals as a brewery and committed to their own personal development. Their hard work and integrity has given me the peace of mind to know that the brewery will continue to crank out world class beer and I don’t have to be there all the time to oversee it. Which has enabled me to focus my energies on growing our business and fighting to modernize the archaic regulatory system that exists in Texas.
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?
The beer culture in Austin is very similar to the food and music culture in Austin. Most consumers care about where their beer comes from and they do everything they can to support local. Austin is also a town that enjoys drinking! It’s also pretty warm in Austin most of the year so creating beers that are full of character but easily quaffed on a warm summer day seem to be the most popular. What we hope to provide to Austin is continuing to push the envelope not just with innovative new products but also with innovative methods for quality control. We’ve been operating a state of the art lab almost since day 1 and we’re very transparent about our research and findings, especially when it comes to our exploration of hop forward beers! I definitely see the music and beer scene to be very aligned in Austin. Many if not all of the local music venues in town have a solid line up of local beer and I think that our weather and culture lends itself well to music festivals.
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 your brewery ever done something like this, and if so can you tell us about it?
We have not done a specific collaboration with a band or a tribute label but just about every story behind our beers can trace back to a specific genre of music. The most recent label is one called Lupulin Rodeo IPA. The branding was inspired by some of my favorite bluegrass bands, incorporating a really cool mountain backdrop to represent probably my favorite, Yonder Mountain String Band.
In your opinion, is there a particular band or genre that is ideal to listen to while brewing beer?
For me it totally depends on what I’m doing in the brewery. If I’m on the brewhouse I prefer 90’s country music or bluegrass. The act of turning water and malt into this beautiful liquid primed for fermentation is a rewarding process and has always reminded me of agriculture. Something about a George Strait song and a beautiful mandolin strum always get me excited. If I’m working the cellar cleaning tanks or just all around cleaning, I prefer Phish circa early 2000’s. I can clean a floor with the best of them if you throw on “Run Like An Antelope”!
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?
Live music is best enjoyed with cold local beer! We try and get involved in as many music festivals as possible. We always take part in SXSW events and when our budget allows we like to take part in sponsoring events like the Hot Luck Festival.
When naming beers, do you consciously try and reference songs, bands or albums, or do you find you naturally gravitate towards it?
All of our beer names are references to stories that we associate with the beer. We don’t consciously try and name beers after songs, bands or albums, but when we’ve got a few good options I like to sit down with my favorite vinyl and my turntable to ruminate on the options.
Do you have any musicians or noteworthy people that you can say are fans of any of your beers?
I don’t have any evidence of this but I’m pretty sure that George Strait loves our River Beer Premium Lager. Kyle Hollingsworth from String Cheese Incident has visited Austin a number of times and enjoys our pale lager, The One They Call Zoe. His daughter’s name is Zoe, which was why he tried it for the first time – we made sure that he enjoyed the liquid!
Breweries often collaborate with other breweries for beers and Hops & Grain is no stranger to this. They also have been known to collaborate with musicians. Is there a musician or band that you would love to collaborate with, and if so, what kind of beer do you envision you would brew?
I’d have to say Willie Nelson. We created a series of beers last year called the Dispensary Series. In this series we push the boundaries of hop usage to deliver some of our favorite flavors and aromas. I’m pretty sure we could put together a pretty rad collaboration beer in this series with Willie!
Hops & Grain is located at 507 Calles St #101 in Austin, Texas. For tap room hours, beer lineup and more visit hopsandgrain.com.
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