Jeff Cooley is a brewer of beers and a district brewery manager for McMenamins. He’s also the drummer for Cede the Clouds, a buzzy, Portland-based punk band.
It’s hard to tell exactly which of those roles he’s talking about when he describes the process of brewing a beer. Or writing a tune. Or both.
“It starts with an idea, a collaboration between the band or the brewing staff,” Cooley said. “Over time, the idea is fleshed out and fine-tuned to become a tasty song or delicious beverage. Then, finally, we bring it to an audience and get that live feedback—a room full of grooving people or a bar full of satisfied patrons.”
Cooley’s double life is not uncommon. In a town like Portland, known for both its beer and its music scene, many brewers also moonlight in bands, and many bands count brewers among their members.
That’s the basic idea behind Brewers & Their Bands, happening Saturday June 17 at Ecliptic Brewing as part of PDX Beer Week.
“Good beer and music are best friends,” said John Harris, Ecliptic’s owner and brewmaster. “This is a fun event [where we] get to see the other side of brewers’ creativity.”
Harris plays the washboard in a classic rock ‘n’ jam band called Buds of May Revival, who will serve as headliner and house band at Brewers & Their Bands. The event will also feature brewers from Breakside Brewing, Stormbreaker Brewing, Ruse Brewing, Unicorn Brewing, McMenamins, and Ecliptic—each playing with their respective bands or with Harris and his Buds. While it may be difficult to sync up a specific beer with the brewer playing, selections from the aforementioned breweries will all be on hand for those who wish to try.
Besides being best friends, beer and music are made through a process that involves alchemy, science and passionate creativity, Harris said—a sentiment echoed by several of the brewers playing alongside him on Saturday.
“Many brewers are tinkerers and DIYers by nature. Brewing and music both feature a lot of math,” said Zach Vestal, owner of Unicorn Brewing and drummer for the New Orleans-steeped funk-rock band Unicorn Jam Factory. “But above all, it’s just one of those classic combos. Beer and music can be enjoyed alone or with a bunch of other people. You can pour a beer and put on a great album on your couch, or have a beer at a huge concert. Either way, the beer and the music are better when served together.”
For Dan Malech, co-owner of StormBreaker Brewing, both brewing and making music sate his desire to experiment with new processes and forms, and they reinforce the importance of being adaptable. Malech plays bass and sings in the punk and metal band Agent Boché, alongside his 13-year-old daughter on guitar/vocals and his 11-year-old son on drums. Together, they opened last year’s Brewers & Their Bands.
“Learning from one batch to the next or one song to the next is very similar,” Malech said. “We wrote one song that just wasn’t hitting for us, but we ended up using most of it in another song for a long intro. We’ve done this with many beers on many levels, whether it’s change in process, ingredients or whatever.”
Of course, playing in a band is usually fun, no matter your real job. It’s a creative outlet, said Cooley, who caught the performance bug in college and never shook it. It’s “an amazing time with my kids,” said Malech, and a way to bring people together. Being on stage in front of a crowd is “a thrill unlike any other,” said Andy Cech, a former Navy musician who plays tuba in the Buds of May Revival and works at Breakside Brewing.
Indeed, brewers have cool jobs, but they’re still jobs that come with day-to-day pressure and stress. Thankfully, music can be a form of therapy, Vestal said. “When our band finds the pocket, nothing else matters. All the troubles of the world vanish. Like beer, music is pretty magical.”