Editor's note: Kendall Jones is the insanely knowledgeable beer nerd who runs Washington Beer Blog (washingtonbeerblog.com). In an (unsolicited!) post about how excited (and shocked) he was that The Stranger was putting on a beer-and-music event involving actually great local beer, he said, "Hello Stranger, more beer please. Call me!" So we did. Here he explains to you—and to us—why this beer party is so great.
People around the globe recognize Seattle as the home of the Space Needle, great chefs, great coffee, and men in orange rain pants throwing fish. Blah, blah, blah. More important than all that, Seattle is the birthplace of great beer and great music. We are true leaders in that regard. But for too long, Seattle has been lacking a kick-ass beer-and-music festival. Typically, beer is an afterthought at our music festivals. And vice versa. Epic fail!
That's why I was so happy to hear that The Stranger is the driving force behind the Penumbra Beer Bash, a craft beer festival also featuring a lot of crafty live music on March 16 at King's Hall (penumbrabeerbash.com). While I'd never begrudged The Stranger its glaring beer- lessness—I've been certain the editorial staff drinks enough beer to make up for the fact that they rarely, if ever, write about it—as a beer nerd, I'm pretty jazzed to see the powers that be finally hopping aboard the beer bandwagon. And Penumbra has all the makings of a really good music-fueled beer festival (though I'd imagine the folks at The Stranger describe it the other way around).
On the rare occasion that a beer festival features good music, it fucking rocks! The annual Strange Brewfest in Port Townsend (strangebrewfestpt.com), which happens in January, challenges brewers to come up with bizarre creations and then dares festivalgoers to drink them. One of the best beer festivals in the state, it always draws huge crowds, in large part because of the quality of the music, not the quality of the beers. At the other extreme is the annual Washington Cask Festival (washingtonbrewersguild.org), coming up on March 30, which features some of the best beers on earth but torments festivalgoers with thoughtless music piped in through lame public-address speakers. (Don't let the crappy tunes chase you away—bring earplugs.)
Penumbra, however, offers the best of both worlds: Some of the Northwest's best breweries and beers, like Naked City Brewing, Cascade Brewing, and Gigantic Brewing, paired with a selection of great local bands, like the Catheters, Wimps, and Prism Tats. It looks like this event will bring it all together.
There, now—was that so hard?
The connection between music and beer is not reserved for those who like to listen while they drink: Music is actually one of beer's essential ingredients. If you visit a brewery on a brew day, when the Oompa–Loompas are busy working their magic, you'll usually hear music blaring. When you're making the good stuff, brewing beer is more a creative act than it is an industrial process. Music helps set the mood for a brewery's artistic expression.
A few years ago, I walked into the tasting room at Boneyard Beer in Bend, Oregon. From the depths of the brewhouse, I heard heavy metal reverberating off the stainless-steel brewing equipment. It was very loud and very metal. Your mother would have run away. The person serving the beer offered no explanation or apology for the loud, grinding music. Does the screw you and your mama attitude translate into the flavor of the beer? Judge for yourself: Boneyard will be at Penumbra.
Matt McClung is the owner and brewmaster at Schooner Exact Brewing in Seattle, another Penumbra participant. "I listen to reggae when I brew," he told me. "Usually, I stream archives of Positive Vibrations [KEXP's weekly reggae show hosted by Kid Hops]. The music makes me think of sunshine and warm, sandy beaches. It's all happy—there's no conflict." When I asked about the music's impact on the character of his beers, McClung said, "Wow, that's a really interesting question. I've never thought about that, really, but I think it's got to have some kind of effect on the beer." He grew verklempt—literally. He couldn't put it into words, but the tears welling in his eyes spoke volumes. Seriously, I'm not making this up.
Bill Arnott is less emotional about his craft. About two months ago, his Machine House Brewing fired up its brew kettle in the historic Seattle Malting and Brewing Building in Georgetown, the birthplace of Rainier Beer. Arnott moved to America two years ago, relocating from England where he worked as the head brewer at a small brewery in Norfolk, brewing old-school ales in the proud British tradition. "I listen to music when I brew because I would otherwise just be listening to pumps and brewing equipment," Arnott said, like it was a stupid question. "I usually listen to electronica or non-vocal hiphop... When things get hectic around here, I sometimes listen to ambient or down-tempo. I don't think I need to listen to medieval music, with flutes and all that, to brew traditional beers." You can taste the results of Machine House Brewing's curious mash-up for yourself at Penumbra.
Hundreds of years ago, monks living in remote monasteries brewed many of Europe's finest beers, stirring the kettle to the dismal sounds of Gregorian chant. Enduring that music would drive even the most God-fearing teetotaler to drink. Beer and music have always gone together. Today, thankfully, we have much better, louder options.