Beer is a cool thing, and as such it often shares spaces with other cool things.
Music — the louder the better — is often one of those things.
Many high-profile breweries wear their adoration for music on their sleves of tattoos.
Here in Wisconsin, we have HHG, the Central Waters pale ale named for a homegrown Americana band that’s a favorite around the brewery, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. One of Wisconsin Brewing’s first beers was Big Sweet Life, a tribute to a song of the same name by bluesman Jon Dee Graham.
But it seems most breweries’ musical affiliations tend to be more of the long-haired, sleeve-tattooed, face-melting variety.
There’s Minnesota’s Surly, whose longtime but recently departed brewmaster, Todd Haug, is an accomplished metal guitarist; his moniker “Todd the Axe Man” is also the name of one of Surly’s best-regarded beers. The brewery for which he left, Three Floyds in northwest Indiana, has done several collaboration beers with bands including Cannibal Corpse and Pig Destroyer, and, like Surly, has a kind of metal attitude running throughout its brand.
Megadeth, Mastodon and 311 have all had beers, and Iron Maiden’s Trooper series brewed by England’s Robinsons Brewery has grown from a single ESB to a handful of styles.
It is this jagged edge Madison’s own music-beer collaboration has running through it.
It’s Aztec Astronaut, a double red India pale ale from Madison’s House of Brews under the flag of Madison-based Droids Attack, whose music has been described as “stoner-rock/thrash-metal” and who are known for putting on a heck of a live show.
But the brewery and band are only two of the four hands that touched this beer. It was commissioned by Trixie’s Liquor proprietor Chris Welch, and the recipe was developed by local homebrewer Peter Schroder.
Welch said the idea was born when he, Schroder and Droids Attack frontman Brad Van were chatting — over beers, of course — at Welch’s Growlers to Go-Go about the many metal beers and what Welch (more colorfully) described as their uneven quality. Welch suggested Droids Attack should have a beer, Van countered he doesn’t brew beer, Schroder volunteered to develop it and Welch immediately committed to help sell it.
“After a few beers and pinball, it seemed like a great idea,” Welch said.
The trio talked style preferences, Schroder brewed some test batches and they settled on the big red IPA that became Aztec Astronaut. House of Brews was a natural brewing spot to scale it up, and Page Buchanan worked it into his busy brewing schedule ahead of Madison Craft Beer Week.
Van credited Welch with the excellent idea of using Eli Quinn’s sweet Aztec-pyramid-as-spaceship art from Droids Attack’s 2016 album “Sci-Fi or Die” as the label.
Both Aztec Astronaut and Droids Attack will be featured at a launch party May 19 at the High Noon Saloon.
“It’s a very cool collaboration,” Van said, “and we feel lucky to have been given the opportunity.”
Style: Imperial red IPA
Brewed by: House of Brews, 4539 Helgesen Dr.
What it’s like: Red IPAs, particularly the really big ones, can be great, bridging the gap between malt lovers and hop heads. Once Waukesha’s Raised Grain Brewing is able to make enough beer to ship it around the state, I think its Paradocs Red will be the state’s benchmark for the style. Two Brothers’ Revelry and Fulton’s Libertine are two other good big red IPAs distributed here — in season.
Where, how much: Bombers of Aztec Astronaut went on sale for around $8 at Trixie’s, 2929 E. Washington Ave., and other independent bottle shops this week and also will be available at House of Brews. But they’re very limited; each of the just 360 bottles is hand-numbered, with the balance of the batch directed to kegs for various local establishments. One cool bonus: Each bottle also comes with a unique code good for a free download of the Droids Attack rocker “Brahma Astra” from “Sci-Fi or Die.”
The beer: Aztec Astronaut pours a gorgeous deep amber that makes this style one of my favorites to look at, at least. Aroma is a bit muted, with some crackery malt character and a little spicy hop note but less than I expected from the style. The bready, caramel malt — 65 percent of the grist is a variety called Red X — runs the front of the beer before the hops come on big and brash, snipping off the sweetness with a sharp bitterness that lingers long into the next sip, building and building. It’s an interesting execution of the style’s hop-malt duality, though I wouldn’t have minded some more of those hops — Simcoe and Citra, both of which could do quite a bit with tropical and dank qualities — directed more toward aromatics than bitterness.
Booze factor: At 8.2 percent ABV, Aztec Astronaut probably will not be an all-concert beer; you will probably want to mix in a PBR.
The buzz: I nearly always listen to music when I write my columns — The Hold Steady and Flaming Lips usually capture the mood of beer writing pretty well — but this week’s edition was particularly satisfying. It could be the collaboration story and the power of suggestion, but this beer felt right against the backdrop of Droids Attack’s music. With such a high-ceiling style I was hoping for a little more from the beer itself, but my head was bobbing appreciatively anyway.
Bottom line: 3½ stars (out of five)