By Michael Becker
Inside any D.C. brewery you will find speakers and more often than not there will be metal music on those speakers: Heavy metal. Doom metal. Thrash metal. Rap metal. Ambient metal. Stoner metal.
“Brewing is very much a blue-collar job,” said Will Cook, Brewer Emeritus at Atlas Brew Works and Director of Heavy Metal Operations. “There may not be a lot of people who want to get into this business listening to Adele or Maroon 5.”
How did this happen? What’s a Director of Heavy Metal Operations? What’s so wrong with Adele, anyhow?
Turns out, the men and women who make your beer are unapologetic metal heads. Not all, of course. Some like rap music—the real stuff; not the metal-rap derivative. Even more are into jam bands, like Phish or the Grateful Dead. However a growing number of D.C. brewers are brewing great beer and digging on metal while they do it.
“I don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg,” said Sam Puffenbarger, Brewer with DC Brau Brewing Company. “People who liked beer and liked metal got into brewing? Or people who got into brewing developed a taste for metal?”
It’s likely a little of both. Cook, who has brewed beer for Port City Brewing, Fair Winds Brewing Company and Atlas Brew Works, arrived at each spot with a fully developed appreciation for metal. On brew days, so long as he’s in the building, it’s eight hours of metal on the speakers. He said every single brewer who works at Atlas likes at least some aspect of metal. Puffenbarger, of DC Brau, is similar although he will defer to his colleagues for a few hours before switching to Black Sabbath, Manowar, or Bong Ripper.
Lately in D.C., metal has not been confined to the brewery speakers. The music inspires imagery on local cans as with metal-themed beers, like DC Brau’s one-off collaboration with Darkest Hour called Savor the Swill (a play on their 2011 song “Savor the Kill”).
That collaboration, in a way, had been in the works for years, as DC Brau’s Mari Rodela went to the same Northern Virginia high school as several members of Darkest Hour. Rodela and her husband, DC Brau President and Head Brewer Jeff Hancock, re-engaged with members of the band in recent years, asking them what they liked to drink both on-stage and backstage. A lot of bands don’t like hoppy IPAs, Hancock said, adding that most bands prefer light styles like pilsners for their drinkability. Eventually, Hancock suggested that DC Brau and Darkest Hour collaborate on a German-Style Helles. “We joke with them that it has Hell in the name,” Hancock said.
DC Brau released Savor the Swill—brewed with Augustiner Lager yeast and Czech Republic 2 row Pilsner malt—last spring and distributed it to select bars near the Black Cat, where Darkest Hour played a concert.
Heavy-metal concerts organized around big brewer events, like the Craft Brewers Conference, are a popular addition to the scene. DC Brau hosted an all-day lineup of metal bands for its anniversary party in 2016. Atlas Brew Works has been hosting weekly—and sometimes twice-weekly—metal concerts at the brewery. Recently, Atlas has hosted Defeated Sanity, Outer Heaven, Tomb Warden, Genocide Pact, Seven)suns, Circuitry, and Taphos Nomos—and that’s just since late October.
District Brewers are not unique in their love for metal. 3 Floyds Brewing Company of Munster, Indiana is known as the most metal brewery in the country, both for metal imagery it uses and the band collaborations it pursues. At Minnesota’s Surly Brewing Company, its longtime - now ex--brewer is in a metal band called Powermad. Yet, District brewers are notable for their passion—both for the beer they brew, and for the music they listen to. “If you’re a metalhead, you’re passionate about metal,” said Cook, the Director of Heavy Metal Operations. “There are not a lot of casual metalheads.”
Oh, and about that creative Director’s title? The tongue-in-cheek honorific was bestowed upon Cook while he was brewing at Fair Winds, for his propensity to blast metal and arrange concerts at the brewery. The moniker followed him to Atlas, where he overlapped briefly with Puffenbarger and became the Assistant Director of Heavy Metal Operations. When Puffenbarger left for DC Brau, the tongue-in-cheek title was all his.
“I don’t know any hip-hop breweries,” Cook said. “I don’t know any country breweries, by and large. But there are definitely some heavy metal breweries.”