More than two dozen breweries across the U.S. have been making a special beer to benefit musicians and others in the music industry, many of whom saw their livelihoods quashed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Crosby Hops of Woodburn, Oregon, is donating any profits from hops sold to make the Rock On lager to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity founded in 1993 to help musicians in need. And breweries involved are also encouraged to make a donation to a COVID-19 fund Sweet Relief created in March 2020 to help musicians and music industry workers.
Most breweries created a crisp, refreshing lager of about 5% ABV with a hoppy whiff in the nose with hints of bread, honey, and melon or citrus. Even though there was a base recipe, some brewers went a bit heavier on the hops to increase its piney character.
After COVID's onset, most live music events were halted for more than a year and many concerts and festivals continue to get canceled or downsized. In 2020 alone, Pollstar estimated the economic impact of the live music shutdown at more than $30 billion.
"It's still an absolute state of emergency in our industry," said Aric Steinberg, Sweet Relief's executive vice president of development and artist relations. "This has a long tail to it."
►Pumpkin spice seltzers, cereal and TP:The fall flavor is back with more weird products
Since Silver City Brewery in Bremerton, Wash., made the initial batches of Rock On lager in July, other versions have been brewed nationwide – from Rhode Island (Hive Beer) to Alabama (Goat Island Craft Brewing) to Utah (Level Crossing Brewing) and California (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.).
"We loved the idea about helping musicians and their crews during a very difficult time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic," said Level Crossing founder and CEO Mark Medura. The South Salt Lake City brewery is donating $1 per pint to the Salt Lake Academy of Music, a local non-profit that provides instruction and instruments to children and adults.
A punk kickoff to charity beer
Crosby Hops Farm CEO Blake Crosby became interested in doing a collaboration beer after learning about Silver City Brewery teaming up with the Bremerton, Washington-based punk band MxPx on a beer called Secret Weapon for the band's 25th anniversary in 2017.
The hop supplier, which provides hops to thousands of breweries across the U.S., wanted to collaborate on a project to help the live music community. "I put myself in the position of someone on the road and all of a sudden income just comes to a complete halt and what you would do. That struck a chord with me," said Crosby Hops marketing manager Zac Schroerlucke, who like Blake Crosby also plays music.
The band MxPx recommended Sweet Relief and Schroerlucke found himself talking to Steinberg. Schroerlucke thought the charity's concept could be adopted by additional breweries, similar to how at least 1,500 breweries followed Sierra Nevada Brewing's lead and made Resilience Butte County Proud IPA to benefit those affected by the Camp Fire in late 2018.
MxPx's drummer Yuri Ruley joined the Silver City brewers and Crosby Hops team in making the beer, which used Crosby's Chinook and Sterling hops. "Our goal was to create an elevated rock show beer – something light and smashable," said marketing manager Daniel Frantz at Silver City, which has sold all of its Rock On Crafted Lager but made its recipe available for other breweries to try.
"The idea was to make a craft lager, something you could drink a few of at a concert," Schroerlucke said. But breweries were encouraged to tweak the recipe if they desired – and to involve local musicians in the project. "I think that allowed people to get really excited about it," he said.
Rock On beers across the US
Depending on the brewery, Rock On is available in taprooms and in cans (some made 12-ounce cans, others made 16-ounce cans). At Goat Island Brewing in Cullman, Alabama, two local bands (Round 2 and Avenue G) helped make of the beer, which is available now and into next month on site and at area retailers. Local disc jockey Steve Hathaway (DJ Kudlz), who had created a streaming service for musicians during the pandemic, assisted Virginia Beer Co. in Williamsburg, Virginia, with its Rock On lager, released over the Labor Day weekend.
The origin of Sweet Relief
Sweet Relief grew out of the 1993 release of "Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams," an album of the singer-songwriter's songs performed by musical friends including Pearl Jam, Lucinda Williams, and Lou Reed. They made the album to raise money to help pay for Victoria Williams' medical care after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Subsequently, she started the Sweet Relief fund for all musicians with the proceeds.
The Rock On lager project has raised $20,000 so far for Sweet Relief's COVID fund. Beyond the money, the initiative "has been a great awareness driver," Steinberg said. "We are trying to pay for stuff for people who are in an emergency crisis."
Crosby Hops and the breweries hope to make the beer an annual offering. The pairing makes sense as music plays in most tap rooms and is blasted in the brewhouse when it comes time to clean tanks and equipment. "I've never met anyone in the beer industry that said, ‘I do not like live music'," Schroerlucke said.
Level Crossing's Frantz is on board. "We would absolutely love to build on the success of the Rock On initiative next year, especially as concerts continue to come back," he said.
Rock On participating breweries
- Austin Beerworks – Austin, Texas
- Brokerage Brewing – West Lafayette, Indiana
- Camp Colvos Brewing – Vashon, Washington
- Crucible Brewing Co. – Everett, Washington
- Fifth Hammer Brewing Co. – Long Island, New York
- Fort George Brewery – Astoria, Oregon
- Virginia Beer Company – Williamsburg, Virginia
- First Magnitude Brewing Co. – Gainesville, Florida
- Goat Island Craft Brewing – Cullman, Alabama
- Goose Island Beer Company – Chicago, Illinois
- Great Notion Brewing – Portland, Oregon
- Hive Beer – Westerly, Rhode Island
- Initiative Brewing – Redmond, Oregon
- Kulshan Brewing Co. – Bellingham, Washington
- Laguna Beach Brewing – Laguna Beach, California
- Level Crossing Brewing – South Salt Lake City, Utah
- Mechanical Brewing Co. – Cherry Hill, New Jersey
- Navigation Brewing – Lowell, Massachusetts
- One Trick Pony Brewery – Lansing, Illinois
- Peoria Artisan Brewery – Peoria, Arizona
- Rainy Daze Brewing Co. – Poulsbo, Washington
- Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Chico, California
- Silver City Brewery – Bremerton, Washington
- Ska Brewing – Durango, Colorado
- Starr Brothers Brewing Co. – Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Stormcloud Brewing Co. – Frankfort, Michigan
- Top Rung Brewing Co. – Lacey, Washington
- Urban Family Brewing Co. – Seattle, Washington
- Old Coast Ales – St. Augustine, Florida
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.