Metal and Beer are a match made in Heaven (or Hell, whatever). People do enjoy beer that do not enjoy metal and vice versa. You can enjoy one without the other, but putting them together makes everything else in life better (See the Receiving the Eucharist articles my Nine Circles brethren have been doing). So I was elated when I heard that Meg and James Evans were putting together a metal and beer fest called PGH Brewtal Beer Fest. Meg is the head brewer for Pittsburgh’s Rock Bottom and James brews for Spoonwood Brewing Company. Even though they are busy organizing the fest, headbanging, and making beer, Meg and James agreed to take the time to answer some questions, see what they had to say after the jump.
Meg & James Evans
(Looking for anything else there? hahaaa)
I feel like “Head Brewer” is something of a dream job for a lot of people.
Meg: I started with Southern Tier Brewing Co. in 2010 gluing boxes and labeling bottles. Equally as exciting as watching the most recent Presidential debate. Nonetheless, I knew I had to start somewhere. That led to working on their (STBC) bottling line. With a lot of tenacity fueling me, I moved to Oregon to start a program that would align my goals and my credentials (2011). I was there only a term before getting offered a job back at STBC. That jump started my brewing career. I stayed at STBC less than a year before moving down to Pittsburgh (2012) and worked for Rivertowne Pourhouse (their pub) and then came to Rock Bottom in 2014. I was promoted a year and half later to head brewer. I guess good things come with hard work and going after a good opportunity.
James: I also started at Southern Tier in 2010 (couple months before Meg). I primarily worked on their bottling line and if there was time after our run, we would label bottles and glue boxes. I guess my title would be considered racking/packaging technician. When we moved down to Pittsburgh in 2012 I was hoping to find a lead doing the music thing. Having been in a band for over 12 years, we not only saw Pittsburgh as an opportunity for beer but also for music. I worked for Guitar Center for a while before starting back in a brewery. That was when I was hired at Rock Bottom. I worked closely with the other Assistant Brewer, Steve Ilnicki before Meg started. When he opened Spoonwood Brewing Company I started working with him again.
**Yes, we ‘met’ at STBC. We began dating right before I moved to Oregon. We didn’t last with the distance, but when I moved back we began dating again.**
What are some of your favorite beers/breweries other than the fantastic beers you’ve made for Rock Bottom?
Meg: One of my favorite beers coincides with my residence in Oregon. Before I left for winter break I volunteered at the Portland Holiday Ale Festival. Part of volunteering was having the ability to drink on my off session. I lucked out and worked an early session. Some friends from school met me in Portland and we had a good time (besides being asked why I chose beer over wine, ya know being a lady and all…). ANYWHO… I set out to try some of the rare stuff, one being from Firestone Walker. It was their barrel aged version of Velvet Merlin, adorably named Velvet Merkin. I’m sure it was situational, and my spirits were really high at that point in my life, but that was by far the tastiest, most smooth and full flavored beer I’ve ever had. I really enjoy discovering flavors/techniques/etc.. I’m always intrigued in learning about how and why a brewer chose to do that particular thing or used that particular ingredient. I think it can enhance the beer in a whole new way. But to end this on a high note, I really enjoy a crisp, clean Pilsner. Give me Pilsner or give me death. That does include Miller/PBR/etc..
James: I fell in love with Crooked Stave on our trip to Denver, CO. Anything from their Nightmare on Brett Street Series is right up my alley. Other than having a few favorites, that I can’t totally think of right now, I like trying anything and everything I can get my hands on. But I also can get down with an Old English from time to time too.
Do you ever home brew?
Meg: A few times. But my first experience stands with one of my favorite anecdotes in my career: My love for brewing started with Bruce, the first beer I ever brewed. I was a curious 20 year old, and I had just attended my first homebrew meeting. I was completely enchanted by this newly discovered beer culture and inspired by the idea of creating a beverage that was so much more than a bland golden soda. Soon after that meeting, my friends and I set out to brew our first beer, Bruce was a roasty and flavorful coconut porter.
I proudly put my new brew kettle on the stove. This was it, time to make my own mark in the brewing world. Of course, in an effort to ensure this venture was authentic, my friends and I had to use real coconut. No big deal, right? Just watch a few YouTube videos, and we’d be opening those suckers in no time. Well, we were wrong. After a couple hours’ worth of failed attempts and a few cuts, we used our instincts and began savagely banging them on the floor. Finally, in a show down between us versus the coconut, we prevailed.
It was now time to take on our next feat, chilling the wort we had just created without proper equipment. We were so ill prepared, but fortunately for us brewing novices we lived in the snow belt of Western, NY. We decided that our best option to cool down the wort would be to use the recently fallen snow outside. It did the job, but my goodness, was it a sight to see. Imagine for a moment three people running outside wildly to collect snow in plastic totes in a frantic attempt to use our resources. We were exhausted after a long day of brewing; nevertheless, we brewed our first beer.
To this day, Bruce continues to hold the title for the worst and best beer that I’ve brewed. This beer spurred my love of brewing and showed me that hard work and ingenuity could yield beautiful results. The experience of creating Bruce was also the inception of a life-long journey in the world of beer. After one taste of Bruce, there was no turning back.
James: I did a couple times. My favorite was the first beer I did with Meg. We brewed a Belgian Wheat with Ginger lovingly named for our golden retriever – Ginger Bitch. We actually held onto a bottle for a couple years and it was probably the tastiest thing we’ve brewed together.
What got you into metal?
Meg: I can’t recall a major influence on my musical taste from any one in particular, but I was certainly attracted to the emo bands of my youth. Around the same time, I had friends who played in an array of bands and the punk bands were a preference. That’s when my world was opened to punk and ska. I would go to shows in the surrounding major cities (compared to my small town) like Erie, PA and Buffalo, NY. I still have the Casualties scarf I bought from 2003 when I saw them at Forward Hall (Erie, PA). One of my favorite memories was seeing Agent Orange in Buffalo, NY. Those days felt free. But metal: Every Time I Die, Daughters and Russian Circles were a few early loves. James really opened my world to the vast sea of metal. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with many more and still finding new loves today.
James: My parents listened to a lot of hard rock when I was a teenager. I recall them having fires throughout the summers with AC/DC and Van Halen playing. I saw a Korn video on TRL with Carson Daily (WHAT UP), and from there I was hooked. From that point I was all about discovering this world of metal. Some early favorites were Metallica, Slayer and Shadows Fall. Though I still love those bands, I read metal news on a daily basis to see what’s coming down the pipeline. It’s a passion really. Discovering metal encouraged me to pick up a guitar, as well. I still play today, though not actively in a band.
What are some of your favorite bands, and what would be on your perfect beer brewing playlist?
Meg: Some favorites include: Dillinger Escape Plan, Animals as Leaders and Mastodon. Punk/Ska – Operation Ivy, Bad Religion, Leftover Crack and Streetlight Manifesto.
When brewing, I have several playlists depending on what I’m feeling that day, one for some Punk/Ska – Star Fucking Hipsters, English Beats, Agent Orange, Big D, Bouncing Souls, Suicide Machines, etc.. The other is dedicated to all metal – Goatwhore, Red Fang, Within the Ruins, Slayer, Thy Art Is Murder, Black Tongue and more. They’re both great to keep track of new stuff I find or bands I want to check out later. James is always sending stuff my way.
James: Favorite band: my Revocation playlist includes a lot of their stuff mixed with Sabbath/Maiden/Megadeth/A lot of death metal – Death/Fallujah/Mastodon/BDM/etc… I could spend an entire interview talking about the bands that I like. Non-Metal – Anything from Mike Patton, Frank Zappa, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra or anything from the 90s grunge era.
Do you play any instruments yourself? What is the possibility of starting a metal supergroup consisting of different brewers around the country?
James: I play guitar. A super group would be rad. Pretty sure we have tried to make this happen while getting drunk with other brewers who play.
How did you all decide to do the Brewtal Metal Fest?
James: When I worked for Guitar Center, I was able to take home unsold magazines. One of those was Decibel. They had this section called Brewtal Truth where they talked about metal and beer whether it was a collaboration or talking about a musician who happened to be a brewer. That was where the spark was lit.
Meg: Part of the influence came from what James explained, but also from the influx of metal breweries emerging and brewery/band collaborations happening. It’s amazing and we wanted to bring that to our region/state. Also, we always run into other brewers at shows, and this festival is a HUGE change of pace from the average festival. Once we got the bands and breweries together, it took shape without any work at all.
What do people need to know about the Brewtal Metal Fest?
Beer & music is included in the ticket price! Also, we need everyone’s help to get the word out about this festival. We want to keep making these bigger and better. So, the more success we have with our inaugural year, the better we are to be set up for next year.
Final thoughts or musings of wisdom?
Meg: Support local on all fronts here: bands / breweries / etc…
James: Keep it weird, always.
- Penn Brewery and Greywalker
- East End Brewing Company and Natural Causes
- Spoonwood Brewing Company and Vermithrax
- Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and World’s Scariest Police Chases