Still haven’t been able to score tickets to Hamilton? The smash-hit Broadway musical sells out months – sometimes even a year – in advance. Thankfully, you can get a taste of the revolutionary show in the form of a fruity, easy-drinking rye saison inspired (and crafted) by Hamilton and its Broadway cast.
The existence of the brew, cleverly named “Rise Up Rye," is thanks to Mark Aldrich and Jimmy Ludwig, two Broadway actors and craft beer enthusiasts with a pub-centric web series called Happy Hour Guys. The project started percolating when Ludwig heard about a beer called Schuyler’s American Wheat (named after the mother of the Schuyler sisters, who are prominent characters in the musical), available at a Revolutionary War-inspired brewery in the Bronx called Gun Hill. The place takes its inspiration from the Battle of Gun Hill, a pivotal moment in the American Revolution that happened just down the road from the brewery.
Aldrich and Ludwig approached Dave Lopez, Gun Hill’s co-founder, about the possibility of doing a Hamilton-themed beer in which the proceeds went to charity. At the time, the show was only just getting popular. Lopez hadn’t seen it, but he had heard of the early buzz – so he agreed. “It was an opportunity to get our name out there to an entirely different group of people, to meet people we wouldn’t otherwise get to meet.”
Through personal connections, Aldrich and Ludwig were able to get the idea (and Gun Hill’s beer) in front of the Hamilton team, who, to their great surprise, signed off. “The heat around Hamilton was just ridiculous. Everyone was trying to jump on board, make a buck off the show,” recalls Ludwig. “For us to cut through the noise, to get the most influential show to take the leap on this idea, was a triumph.”
Upon hearing about the collaboration, the Hamilton cast immediately took an interest in wanting to be a part of the development and brewing process; so the first step was a meeting over burgers between them, Aldrich and Ludwig, and the Gun Hill team. “The cast spoke a lot about legacy, approachability, the fact that this was one of the more diverse casts on Broadway,” Ludwig says. “They didn’t want a beer that would sit in a narrow profile; it had to be dangerous and daring, but appealing to a lot of people.”
Lopez suggested a saison, as it’s “appealing to non-drinkers, because it’s not as bitter as what they expect beer to be, but it’s sexy enough for beer nerds to want to try.” He also wanted to choose ingredients with historical significance during the era of Hamilton, so he settled on rye, which was a staple crop in New York agricultural society around the American Revolution.
Gun Hill’s head brewer Chris Prout took the cast’s ideas and made his version of a rye saison, with two kinds of New York-grown rye (“flaked rye for a little bit of spiciness to the background, malted rye so the beer is still drinkable”), hops from New Zealand (“they have a fruity, orange peel character”), and a Belgian yeast (“it echoes that spicy, peppery flavor”). Ludwig describes the final taste as “light, citrusy, and zesty, with a caramel base.”
The name for the collaborative beer? Rise Up Rye. “When you see the show, the phrase ‘Rise up’ is mentioned like a hundred times,” Aldrich says. “It just kept coming up. And after we decided it was a rye beer, it made sense.”
All through the development process, Hamilton was only ballooning in popularity throughout New York and the world. “You have this group of people in the process of becoming celebrities in New York. They are super busy, but at the same time they are so excited and into this project,” says Lopez. When Ludwig and Aldrich threw a release party for the beer, the majority of the cast turned up to try their creation. “It was like we were bringing two artists together – Chris, who is an artist crafting beers, and these actors,” Lopez adds. “Two creative groups doing something totally different.”
As soon as the beer was released to the public (at first, it was only available at Gun Hill), the response was overwhelming. Everywhere from Rolling Stone to The Wall Street Journal to Eater wrote about the beer, with headlines like “A Revolutionary Drink.” “We were on taxi TV!” recalls Ludwig.
“I didn’t realize how wide reaching the Hamilton hysteria had gotten,” Lopez says. “We had people from around the world reaching out asking us how to get their hands on the beer. We had people from Germany emailing us telling us they were going to be in New York asking if we could hold on to it.” Tourists would come to the brewery from all over – even those who hadn’t seen the show – just to get a taste of the Rise Up Rye.
Now, New York Hamilton goers can also purchase the beer at the concession stand at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Ludwig conjectured that it might even sell better than the t-shirts or CDs. “I can’t think of a more personal thing than drinking something made by somebody you are watching on stage,” he says.
The Rise Up Rye is also one of just a handful of craft beers to be sold at a Broadway theater at all – in-house concession companies at theaters are known for being very old-school when it comes to snack and beverage offerings (hence the perennial $10 Miller Lite). “We’d like to think we are getting the Broadway houses a little closer to 2017,” Aldrich says.
And in case you were wondering, not even a collaboration beer was enough to score Aldrich and Ludwig a pair of coveted Hamilton tickets (that said, both have seen the show twice because they are TONY Award voters).
The duo has since done two other collaborations. The first was an imperial black ale called “School of Hoops” in partnership with School of Rock and Carton Brewing Company. “We wanted a beer that reflected the rebellious, positive nature of the show,” Ludwig says. Carton Brewing Company ended up being the perfect partner, as not only did co-founder Augie Carton have a creative, norm-breaking attitude toward beer that matched the tone of the show, but also it turned out that he had worked on the movie version of School of Rock as well. The beer sold out almost immediately. “And it was one of Carton’s most highly rated beers!” adds Ludwig.
The latest partnership was with Waitress, a musical based on the pie-centric 2007 film. Aldrich and Ludwig knew they wanted a beer that captured the spirit of pie, but wasn’t overly sweet or cloying. Sixpoint Brewery approached them with the idea of a Cherry Cream Ale. “It was subtle, paired well with both savory and sweet, and was just beautifully made,” Ludwig says.
Both School of Rock and Waitress were limited-run beers – but the Hamilton-inspired Rise Up Rye is still being churned out at Gun Hill Brewery, and will soon also be available at Madison Square Garden. “I honestly thought it was just going to be a one or two batch phenomenon,” admits Lopez.
Aldrich and Ludwig now have their sights set on beer partnerships with some of the more long-running shows on Broadway, like Wicked and Phantom of the Opera.
“Phantom of the ‘Hopera’?” suggests Aldrich. “Maybe a ‘Populager’ for Wicked? We’ve got a whole list of puns.”