NO ONE GOES to a beer festival for the music. That's the cold, sudsy truth. But no one's put together a beer festival geared specifically toward music before—and that's where the first-ever Malt Ball comes into play. It makes perfect sense to capitalize on Portland's ridiculously fertile music scene as well as the bevy of craft breweries that threaten to drown our city in delicious, bubbling beer. There seemed a vacuum, a beer-and-music shaped void that was crying out to be filled by a hybrid event that would celebrate the best of both worlds. So the Portland Mercury and the Oregon Brewers Guild called upon a dozen of the city's best bands and 17 of the finest local breweries to see if they felt the same way. To our delight, they did.
Sure, it's possible to get good beer at a show in Portland; it's also very possible to get terrible beer. Either way, you're unlikely to find any specialty brews, seasonals, or one-offs in the tried-and-true, moneymaking tap handles that anchor the city's clubs. The inverse is true for Portland's numerous, crowded beer festivals: Music is often an afterthought, relegated to a tent on the periphery where it can be easily ignored. Drinking and very loud conversation seem to be the order of the day.
That won't be the case at the very first Malt Ball. You'll be able to sample some unique, limited beers from lots of great local brewers, and you'll be able to soak in tunes from a wide range of hand-picked, excellent local bands. Because if there's a song that doesn't sound better without a delicious beer in your hand, we haven't heard it.
So with only a tiny bit more ado, here's your exclusive guide to the Malt Ball, which takes place this Saturday, March 24 at the Bossanova Ballroom. We're running down the beers and the bands for you—and you'll note that each band has been paired with a brewer for an exclusive beer inspired directly by the band. Some of the musicians actually helped with the brewing process; others served as an inspiration for the style or name of the beer. In all cases, though, the bond between brewer and band has never been stronger.
BEER 'n' BAND GUIDE
THE BUILDERS AND THE BUTCHERS
- Gilgamesh Brewing -
Devil Brown Ale (6.6% ABV)
It turns out that Justin Bier—one of the Builders and the Butchers' drummers, and bearer of a very auspicious name—is the cellerman and assistant brewer at Gilgamesh. "Needless to say, we listen to a fair amount of Builders while we're brewing," says head brewer Mike Radtke. "Justin thought it would be appropriate to do a brown ale and name it after one of their songs called 'Devil Town,' hence the name Devil Brown."
To capture the essence of the Builders' death-rattling punk-folk in beer form was no easy task, Radtke says. "We started with Munich and darker crystal malts to give pleasant roasted notes and added a small amount of peated malt and smoked malt to give it mild smoky notes. During the boil we added Ancho, Guajillo, and California dried peppers to give some pleasant peppery notes, and in the brite tank we added a small amount of Chipotle peppers just to kick up the heat a little bit."
- Hopworks Urban Brewery -
Stage Diver (10% ABV)
Weinland's bark has some bite: Each time you think the Portland band is going to simply turn in a peaceful set of songwriter Adam Shearer's mellow acoustic folk, they end up rocking the house down. That's why it's appropriate that Hopworks' Stage Diver concoction—named by a Weinland fan via Facebook—tops out at around 10 percent. Head brewer Tom Bleigh says that the "finished product will be derived from four barrel aged products we have in house," and the result will be something uncategorizable and completely unique.
Brewer Aaron Gilham knew immediately which band he wanted to brew a special beer for: the crushingly heavy, steamrolling classic metal of Lord Dying. "We wanted it to be big, dark, and heavy, just like their music," Gilham says. "Six different malts, including rye, give it a clean complexity, letting the overwhelming hop character come through."
- Coalition Brewing -
Golden Grease Golden Ale (5% ABV)
The country-tinged classic rockers in Quiet Life tour around the country in a specially rigged van that runs on vegetable oil, so when the time came to name the beer, the band suggested "Golden Grease." Brewer Elan Walsky says, "As the style implies, this is a nice light beer, golden to very light copper in color. It is designed to be an easy drinking session beer. It's got a simple malt bill, using Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, and touch of light Chilean caramel malt.
"We had a great time collaborating with Quiet Life to make this beer," Walsky continues. "To start with, we had to get a good idea of what they liked to drink, so we had the band over to the pub and had them sample all of our house styles. We've got 12 styles, so that made for a good early-afternoon buzz to help enjoy listening to their music while we talked about the beer we wanted. We wanted to make something the band liked to drink, and Quiet Life let us know that when they are touring or playing, they like something they can drink a lot of, and still remember their songs."
- Fort George Brewing -
Lost Lander Belgian White Ale (5.5% ABV)
Lost Lander's powerfully emotive pop is both rejuvenating and full of bottom end. "Seeing as Lost Lander wears a lot of white, we decided to make a light (though still gravitational) Belgian White Ale," says Fort George pub manager Brian Bovenizer, who learned the band had a circle of ties loosely rooted in Astoria, where Fort George is located. "Matt [Sheehy, frontman for Lost Lander] mentioned a rainy Astoria afternoon with our Divinity"—Fort George's excellent, seasonally varying fruit beer. For the Lost Lander beer, Bovenizer says, "Our head brewer, Spencer Gotter, added the zest of 12 grapefruits, coriander, and cardamom. It should be light, sweet, and zesty."
- Breakside Brewing -
Hot Denver Pale Ale (5% ABV)
Denver traffics in classic outlaw country—the perfect soundtrack for knocking back a few—and some of the group decided to visit Breakside on brew day to help out with their Malt Ball collaboration beer. "Hot Denver is an American pale ale inspired by balanced, crisp East Coast craft beers like Yuengling Lager," says brewer Ben Edmunds. "A couple of the guys from Denver grew up drinking Yuengling in Pennsylvania, and they love easy drinking, clean beers. We wanted to do something that was different than your typical 'hop bomb' of a pale ale. The beer uses all Oregon-grown base malt and is hopped only with Northwest-grown Cascades."
- McMenamins Crystal Brewery -
Portland Blue Ribbon Lager (PDXBR) (4.64% ABV)
Old Junior—the current embodiment of beloved local band Old Growth—makes righteously heavy guitar rock with all the subtlety of a brontosaurus. Such a sound calls for an easy-quaffing beer, so brewers Jeff Cooley and Alex McGaw took their cue from Portland's most ubiquitous beverage, using pilsner-style malts from Canada, rolled oats, and Vienna malts, plus Santiam and Crystal hops. The result is a true lager in which "a subtle sweet bready malt flavor is slowly consumed by a delicate, hop spiciness," Cooley says. It's "craft beer's answer to the glut of cheap domestic beers that typically fuel the Portland music scene."
WOW AND FLUTTER
- Alameda Brewing -
Double Deuce Imperial ESB (7.2% ABV)
Wow and Flutter drummer Jack Houston is part owner of mobile bottling company Green Bottling, which has been bottling Alameda's 22-ounce beers for nearly four years. The group's new EP, Double Deuce, actually comes as a download code on bottles of Alameda's imperial ESB of the same name. "The beer is the record," says brewer Carston Haney. "...And who knows what an Imperial ESB is, anyway? I've been listening to them for a few years and really enjoy their version of post-punk indie mess sound. Wow and Flutter stopped by the brewery several months ago to taste some of my brews and came up with a nebulous idea for a beer. It didn't include garlic. I really enjoy English style ales with a Northwest twist, so I brewed something that I wanted to drink. Isn't that selfish? Thankfully the band liked the beer."
THE GOLDEN BEARS
- Commons Brewing -
Haver Bier Saison (5.75% ABV)
The Golden Bears incorporate sounds of tumbling mod rock, lilting pastoral folk, and a touch of psychedelia into a crisp, intriguing package, so it make sense that Commons Brewing's saison is similarly complex and refreshing. "We ultimately wanted a beer that would be interesting and easy drinking at the same time," says head brewer Mike Wright. The result is "a golden saison with a noble hop finish balanced by a creamy mouthfeel from oats, and grainy pilsner malt flavor."
- 10 Barrel Brewing -
Chill Pils (5.5%)
"Our inspiration for Chill Pils was mostly through learning about the name of the band," says 10 Barrel Brewing's Mark Carver. "It seemed perfect to match the beer name and style to the band's call (in name anyway) to try and stay calm while we blow you away with stage presence and an innovation of sound."
That's an apt description of the frantic, polyrhythmic dance beats of Stay Calm, which includes Claudia Meza (formerly of Explode into Colors) and Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls. "It is inspired by the lighter, refreshing qualities of Pilsner style beer," Carver says. "Chill Pils is still brewed with an ale yeast, but we have taken steps to allow for a fairly complex hop aroma." 10 Barrel will also have their flagship Apocalypse IPA on hand.
- Laurelwood Brewing -
Organic Free Range Red with Archers fermentation (6.1% ABV)
The frantic, jittery clang-rock of Archers is going directly into a batch of Laurelwood's flagship Free Range Red. How? "We brewed the beer in our standard way," explains brewmaster Vasili Gletsos, "except as the yeast is working hard and making the wort into beer, it is doing so to Archers. Each tank has a little shelf on it where the wall is thinnest. Here we placed some speakers and looped six tracks that Chris [Cantino of Archers] sent to us. We will keep it running for the entire primary fermentation." The yeast'll do its thing while being exposed to—and inspired by—"whatever rockin' vibrations the Archers put into our beer," Gletsos adds. "Though I have no facts to back this up, I bet our yeast is a huge Archers fan."
- Columbia River Brewing -
War Elephant Double IPA (8.5% ABV)
Mission Spotlight makes Western music, with country twinges and an age-old sound. It's classic Oregonia, and so's the beer cooked up by Columbia River Brewing. "It's a Northwest style IPA," says brewer Rick Burkhardt. "With 85 IBUs, it was made with five malts and five hops additions, and an additional two dry-hop blends. Kurt [Foster of Mission Spotlight] said he and the band love IPAs." Burkhardt took that as his cue, adding "And then again, we are in Portland!"
Other Participating Breweries:
Lompoc Brewing: Kick Axe Dry Hopped Pale Ale
Migration Brewing: Old Silenus (old ale)
Full Sail Brewing: Phil's Existential Alt (altbier)
Ninkasi Brewing: Spring Reign Pale Ale
Burnside Brewing: Meridian Rye (spring seasonal)
Widmer Brothers Brewing: Oatmeal Porter