Bands and beers have gone together since the beginning of time. The Northwest’s sudsy culture has a tradition of one-upping this natural marriage by intentionally pairing the two in savory and sonic ways for both your palate and ears.
While Ninkasi has a line of seasonal brews that tip their caps to legendary metal acts (Sleigh’r for the holidays and the summery IPA Maiden the Shade with artwork by Jerry Garcia’s daughter), the Eugene operation also fosters artistic development by sponsoring tours as well as supporting the creation of new music via its in-brewery recording studio. Then there’s Astoria’s Fort George, which has teamed up with notable PacNW tastemakers to release tallboys in partnership with Portland label Tender Loving Empire, the legendary Tape Op Magazine, and Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records.
Next in line, advancing the ritual of pairing great beer with great bands, is SE Portland’s Gigantic Brewing Company. From day one, brewmasters Ben Love and Van Havig knew art must play a role in fulfilling their liquid dreams.
“You can’t just be about making beer. You have to be involved in other things and bring your other interests to the business,” explains Love, an Oregon native who spent some time brewing with Pelican and helped Hopworks get off the ground. “If all you’re doing is focusing on making beer, it’s not going to be very interesting and it’s not going to be that much fun—for you or for the people that drink your beer.”
Havig, a Reedie, once-aspiring economist, and longtime brewer with Rock Bottom Breweries, and Love began their brand in 2012 with creativity and flexibility built in. First, they only (consistently) brew one beer: Gigantic IPA. Everything else is seasonal and only meant to last three months, never to be brewed again. (Seriously. They even publish their recipes online.)
Second, every label is unique. Inspired by concert posters and comic books, each new bottle of beer features a custom-designed label especially created by talented artists, illustrators, cartoonists and even a quiltmaker. And those labels offer quotable wisdom from luminaries like Sartre, Sagan and Sinatra, from Vonnegut to Bukowski, and both George Carlin and Clinton—the latter attributed with “Free your mind and your ass will follow” on the flagship IPA.
Both brewers are huge music fans—and so is “everybody who works here,” Love adds. But he’s taken the passion to another level by adding bands to the brewing mix. Seasonal beers now pair original artwork with a downloadable song, often from local artists. Collabs have coupled Red Fang with a winter IPA dubbed High Voltage, Y La Bamba and a milk stout, Bed. and a Belgian farmhouse ale, while Loch Lomond was matched with a Scotch ale, natch. This past winter saw a pale ale combined with a Jared Mees track from his latest release, Life is Long, and a Wes Anderson quote.
This started in 2013 when Gigantic met stoner rock outfit Sons of Huns thanks to the annual Malt Ball. They brewed a small batch of beer together, a black doppelbock called Kiss the Goat available only on draft. The brewers and the band became buds, and few years later, Gigantic released a seven-inch of freshly recorded Sons of Huns songs by the same name, all in honor of Kiss the Goat’s first bottling. And good news for Goat fans: Gigantic will break its own rule and bring it back in bottles again in April 2018.
In fact, Gigantic will revive several of its most popular brews in honor of its fifth anniversary this May. And some of these greatest hits will come with new musical accompaniment—like beers #2 and #3 from the brewery’s earliest days.
The connection with Mees’ record label Tender Loving Empire as well as Relapse Records has helped bring some consistency to Love’s pet project. It’ll continue this spring with a cut from Astro Tan’s debut full-length, Canary, on the recently restored The City Never Sleeps (beer #2, an imperial black saison), and with on-again-off-again doom metal torchbearers The Obsessed as part of the “collabo pale ale” with Three Floyds of Indiana. Axes of Evil (beer #3) also pays tribute to both the Timbers and Chicago Fire, features art by Jay Howell of Bob’s Burgers fame, and leaves you with this gem from Lemmy: “We want to be the band that if we moved in next door to you, your lawn would die.”