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The Mysterious Connection Between RVA Punk/Metal Bands & Craft Beer

Posted by: Necci – Dec 03, 2013

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In the past two years, a new trend has arisen, one that has taken the RVA punk and metal scene by force. No longer do bands just create and produce music; now many bands have begun to craft beers to represent their music and what they stand for.

One Richmond band that has been a trailblazer on the blending of beer and metal/punk music is GWAR. Port Richey home brewers Rob and Deidra Chalmers, who run Chalmers Brewing Company, decided to craft a beer in honor of GWAR. It became bigger than they ever imagined. GWAR approved their beer and gave them permission to use their official artwork for the label art. They were asked to craft more GWAR beer for the annual GWAR-B-Q festival, an event where people gather to thrash to their favorite metal/punk bands and get trashed on their favorite brews.

The Chalmers’ knew they would be unable to produce enough beer for the GWAR-B-Q in their home. “I could not supply them with what they needed, so I contacted Joey Redner at Cigar City Brewing and he was interested,” Chalmers told the Tampa Bay Times in July 2013. Chalmers, Redner, and members of GWAR met to discuss collaboration between the band, the beer, and the brewery. Cigar City, a prominent Tampa brewery, has collaborated with bands in the past to craft beers, and quickly picked up the GWAR beer. “A lot of bands are starting to do their own beer, lots of bands have done their own wines, there's even some bands that have done their own liquors,” GWAR frontman Oderus Urungus told the Tampa Bay Times.

The first band in the Richmond scene to craft their own band beer was Municipal Waste. Dave Witte, drummer for Municipal Waste, took the lead on this project, as he is the beer connoisseur of the group. “This is my first project for the band,” Witte said. “Usually the other dudes have art ideas and this and that. We write music together and all that stuff, but I was like, ‘OK guys, this is beer--I’ve got it.’ This is my thing, so I took control of it.”

Witte is incredibly passionate about beer, and has been since he was young. “I started drinking when I was 25. I had some Belgian beer, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said. Witte believes that “there’s a beer for everyone, and there’s a beer for every occasion, that’s how I look at it. If you don’t like a certain style, then you probably haven’t had the right one yet.”

Municipal Waste partnered with Munster, Indiana’s Three Floyds Brewing and its Vice President, Barnaby Struve, to craft the perfect beer that would suit the band. “Three Floyds actually approached us about it, and we’re good friends with those guys,” Witte explained. “We were hanging out and Barnaby said, ‘Hey, let’s make a beer!’ And we were like, ‘Yeah!’”

Witte said his band was more than happy to work with Three Floyds to create this masterpiece. “Their beer is the best,” Witte said. “Every beer they make is great and they are world renowned. And more importantly, they love the band and they love us. They aren’t afraid to use every ingredient possible.”

“It sat on the back burner for a while because [Struve] was really busy and we were really busy, and then it finally came up and I was like, ‘let’s try this, and let’s try that,’ tossed around some ideas with the band,” Witte said. The band finally came up with the flavor and label art, and everything began to come together.

Their beer, aptly named Toxic Revolution, is a stout beer with a flavor that Witte and his band had only dreamed of. Witte’s favorite breed of beer is stout, so he was very pleased when the band all agreed that that was the correct choice for them. “I said, alright, we want to have a stout,” Witte said. “[Three Floyds] recommended an oatmeal stout. Then I went out and tasted a bit of based beer, which I thought was really good, and I went out there and brewed it with Chris.” Witte was lucky enough to be able to participate in the brewing process. “I helped pour all the stuff in the kettle,” he explained excitedly. “They are the experts, it was just my vision.”

Toxic Revolution came out earlier this year. “Ours came out in March of this year, and it’s gone already. It was a limited release. We did 3,100 gallons of it, and it was gone like that,” Witte said. The band set aside three barrels of the beer to age, which will be released next year under the new name Horny for Blood. Witte is confident that this beer will disappear just as quickly as the first batch.

The brewers at Three Floyds described Toxic Revolution as being “borne of relentless experimentation, ancient alchemy, and hatred. Hatred of uninspired, flavorless beer. Municipal Waste demanded we brew a massive yet drinkable American style oatmeal stout perfect for winter shred sessions. Black as night and creamy on the palate with fruity, tropical hop notes balanced with roasted and chocolate malt.”

Three Floyds have dedicated followers, just like Municipal Waste. “They have such a crazy fan base. They have this whole devoted fan base that just goes nuts and goes there and buys whatever. It’s like a record label almost. Whenever they put out a new beer, people flock to it,” Witte said.

Drinking a beer while thrashing to some punk or metal music is nothing new, but the way it is being done now is groundbreaking. “Beer and music, especially punk and metal, have gone hand in hand together since the beginning of time. Three Floyds were the first to start doing the band beers,” Witte said.

Three Floyds has worked with other metal and punk bands such as Amon Amarth, Pelican, and Eyehategod, and are currently considering a few other bands. “Metal and beer seem to be very popular right now, but we were both ahead of the game on that one,” Witte said. “Extreme brewing and extreme music kind of hold hands with one another. It’s total artistic expression without compromise from both ends. I’m going to make this beer how I want it, and no one is going to tell me how to do it. It’s the same thing with music.”

While the beer was being perfected, the label art was being created. Witte collaborated with James ‘Barf’ Callahan, a passionate cartoonist, who does most of the artwork for Municipal Waste’s T-shirts, skateboards, banners, and posters. Callahan describes his own artwork as “Highbrow toilet humor for dummies and brainiacs. Exploding heads with exploding heads.” He has created masterpieces for many other bands, including Battlemaster, Luggage, Constrictor, Brainworms, and “probably a hundred more that I can't remember.” Callahan met Municipal Waste at one of their shows and was introduced by a mutual friend. “I wanted to draw something for them and they didn't know better yet. They blew it by letting me, and now they're in too deep,” Callahan said.

The label art was a collaboration of Witte’s imagination and Callahan’s keen eye for detail. “I have got to say that was largely the brainchild of Dave Witte, as far as I know,” Callahan said. “He gave me a very detailed description of all the elements he wanted to include, and it was my job to find a way for it all to fit in there, and look cool. Hopefully I didn't blow it.” “We’ve been working with him since the band started,” Witte said of Callahan. “We went back and forth a few times, and then he nailed it, like I knew he would. He has an amazing eye for detail. His work always comes back aces.”

Witte’s goal with the label art was to express “staying true to what you’re doing and not selling out,” and “sticking to your guns” through depicting punk rock resistance. “Three Floyds is independent, they’re not big beer. We’re a punk rock/punk metal band; I wanted to blend their image and our image together with an attack on big beer at the same time,” Witte said.

The label features their infamous gas mask man holding a sword and shield, which are branded with the Three Floyds emblem. “You can see next to him there’s an army of our dudes hoisting this statue, the Arctic Panzer, which is the Three Floyds statue,” Witte explained. “Next to it on the ground was a decapitated Clydesdale statue that was pushed over, which was the Budweiser symbol; both of us being punk and grass roots, taking down the big guy.”

Another metal band from Virginia that is becoming involved in the fusion of beer and music is Pig Destroyer, who also brewed with Three Floyds Brewery; a meeting arranged by Witte. “To me, the topology of the craft beer scene is very similar to the way the underground music scene was before you could just download anything,” Scott Hull, guitarist for Pig Destroyer, told American Craft Beer in September. “It’s the same thing that happened in underground music and tape trading. And all these craft breweries are super passionate about what they are doing. They aren’t concerned with mass production or making it big, they just want to brew a really fantastic beer. People in the underground music scene don’t do what we do to make it big, we do what we love... so it’s incredibly similar and it's really exciting,” Hull said, speculating as to why beer and punk/metal have become intertwined in the recent past.

Brewing companies, such as Three Floyds Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, South County Brewing (who have worked with RVA doom metal band Windhand), and New Belgium Ale (who have worked with Maryland's Clutch) want to work with these bands for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that they believe in these bands and the music that they make. The same way that underground musicians aren’t in it for the money, but instead to reach and inspire people, small breweries like these are in it to create imaginative beers and share them with the world.

The only disappointing thing about Municipal Waste’s Toxic Revolution is that it can’t be purchased here in Richmond. “A lot of people complained that they couldn’t get our beer because Three Floyds isn’t allowed to be distributed in Virginia,” Witte said. “There’s a lot of weird laws when it comes to alcohol on where it can be distributed and where it can’t. There’s a lot of red tape.” Three Floyds is able to distribute to Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

“People were way into it, and it came and it went,” Witte said. “A lot of people were upset that they couldn’t get it in Virginia, but that’s just the way it is.” Even though it is irritating for Municipal Waste and their local fans not to have their beer in Richmond, their loyalty keeps them with Three Floyds. “I love their beer and I love them so I don’t think we’d do it with anyone else,” Witte said.

With other Richmond bands such as Windhand getting in on the act recently, the union of RVA metal and punk music with craft beer is not going to end anytime soon. While at first blush the connection might seem surprising, once you examine the philosophical similarities between those who create music that will never make it onto the radio and those who brew beer with a far smaller reach than that of mass marketed Anheuser-Busch products, the whole thing makes a great deal of sense.

By Chelsea Gingras

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