“Let’s talk beer!” says Dan Hawkins, greeting me with a hearty laugh.
As the riff-meister for British hard rockers The Darkness, Dan generally finds himself doing interviews about guitars and amplifiers. But, as someone who appreciates a good ale as much as he does a good Les Paul Standard, he’s happy to be able to discuss some of his favorite beverages for a change.
Dan is also happy to report that beer is once again included on his band’s tour rider. Back in 2003, when The Darkness electrified the rock world with their debut album, Permission to Land—which featured the massive hit “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and which eventually sold over 1.5 million copies in the UK alone—the band was firmly committed to ticking off every excess in the rock encyclopedia, musical and otherwise. But when the partying eventually got the better of them, frontman and Dan’s older brother Justin Hawkins entered rehab for cocaine and alcohol addiction. The band fell apart. When they reunited in 2011, The Darkness initially “toured sober” out of respect for Justin’s substance abuse issues. These days, however, the singer feels quite secure in his sobriety, and the rest of the band has returned to enjoying a post-show pint or three.
“When we first got back together, that very first tour, basically we were supporting Justin in his sobriety,” Dan explains. “And then, one day, he just said, ‘You don’t need to do this—I’m totally fine. You can do whatever you like.’ But I wouldn’t say that things have ever got back to how absolutely outrageously over-the-top that they were; we’re connoisseurs these days. It used to be quantity, not quality—and now it’s the other way ‘round.”
I caught up with Dan near the beginning the band’s current North American tour in support of their fifth and latest album, the glam-tastic Pinewood Smile. The tour will run through May 2, giving Dan plenty of opportunity to sample regional microbrews.
What’s your favorite beer to have backstage?
Well, it depends, really. Over the last ten years, we’ve noticed that there’s just so many great ales appearing from American microbreweries. That’s always been the case in England, they’ve always been there—although, even in England, it’s taken off massively. We’re all kind of ale drinkers, really. So, what we do is, every town we go to, we ask for a selection of what they consider to be the best ales from their area. And it’s great, because you never know what you’re going to get, and the standard always seems to be good. Although, you guys don’t fuck around on your alcohol percentage. My god! It’s taken me a few years to get used to it, you know, that first smack ‘round the face when you have a 6.9%, or whatever… because most of the beers back home tend to range from 3.8% to 5.0%. We tend to drink what you guys call “session ales.”
Well, that’s part of the IPA appeal, certainly—not only is there a lot of flavor to them, but they also pack a punch!
Yeah, that’s the thing. Do you know why India Pale Ale is called that, by the way?
Sure, because it was brewed to survive the long boat journeys from England to India.
That’s right, yeah. I just think that’s fascinating, really. I love the idea of that! IPAs are a big favorite of mine.
So you enjoy a hoppy brew, then?
Absolutely, yeah. There are a lot of good sort of golden ales in the UK… I try to keep it seasonal, as well, so in the summer I’ll drink golden ale, and then it’ll get a bit stronger and more malty in the winter months.
Does your taste run to Belgians, as well?
Oh, yeah. In the 90s in the UK, Belgian ales made a really big play. There was a beer called Hoegaarden, I’m sure you’ve heard of it, which I drank a lot of; they serve it chilled with a bit of orange or lemon in it, sometimes. That’s a pretty cool beer. That’s definitely an acquired taste, though, because it’s almost got that mustiness to it, doesn’t it? It’s not for everyone. But these days—you know, as you get older—you don’t want to be drinking pint and pints of stuff, especially when you’re on tour. You come offstage about 11 o’clock, normally, and then you wind down, and then you’re in your bunk by about two o’clock and traveling off to the next venue. And I can tell you, it’s a fucking pain in the ass to have to get up and go to the piss all the time on a tour bus, especially when you’re a bit drunk, as well! It can be quite dangerous, in fact! So on tour, I tend to steer towards those stronger beers, just because, as Russell Crowe says in one of his films [A Good Year], I don’t want to waste time doing it. So yeah, I’ve become a bit keener on the stronger percentage American beers.
This is the problem, isn’t it? Trying to remember the names of the beers, after having drunk all of them.”
Are there any particular favorites that you’ve discovered?
Oh god, there’s loads. Sometimes we keep it quite straight, you know. If we’re in Boston, for instance, and Samuel Adams turns up, we’ll drink that. I had some Fat Tire on the rider last night [in Los Angeles]. Do you know that one? That was really nice. And every now and then, because the crew quite likes lager, I’ve noticed some boutique lagers appearing on the rider. There was a good one last night—I can’t think of what it was called, though. This is the problem, isn’t it? Trying to remember the names of the beers, after having drunk all of them!
What about back home—which British beers are you particularly fond of?
There’s an ale called Sussex Gold [from Arundel Brewery], which I genuinely think is the best ale in England. It’s quite hard to get ahold of, actually. You very rarely find it in supermarkets. You have to go to these weird sort of off-licences and delis in Sussex to find it. I quite like a beer called Harvey’s, which is another fantastic ale. I think it was the first ale I ever tasted that was designed to be served slightly chilled. Because that’s the thing, in the summer, even if you love ale, it’s nice to drink something a bit cooler, isn’t it? Where we come from [Lowestoft, a town of about 70,000 on England’s North Sea coast], the local brewery is called Adnams. That’s a fantastic, fantastic brewing company, and they’ve been around for years. Every ale that they’ve ever produced has just been incredible. Really, they do this golden ale that has a kind of Belgian feel to it, called Ghost Ship, which is really good. And there are so many different brewers that are hugely successful in the UK. If you go into any standard supermarket in the UK, Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, anything like that, you will find upwards of fifty different ales, at least. It’s really taken off.
There are no winners in a bar room brawl. I can absolutely vouch for that.”
Do you recall your first beer?
Oh, yes! The first pub that I went to, we used to manage to get into this place when we were about 12 or 13. I probably shouldn’t say that, because I don’t want to encourage youngsters to drink, but there you go—that’s the way it was. It was called Forbes Brewery, and it was just outside Lowestoft, and the entire youth of the town would go there. They’d have bands playing—they literally had sawdust on the floor, they had fishing nets on the ceiling, and they had the most amazing jukebox playing Stones and the Doors. They served their own ale, and honestly it was atrocious. It was like washing-up liquid! But it was 80 pence a pint, so with your pocket money—maybe you’re getting five pounds pocket money a week, and you’ve got your paper round—I mean, there wasn’t a night down that pub where I didn’t come back and get sick in the toilet. It was really good days, really happy days.
Was it a pretty rowdy scene?
Oh, no—it was generally nice-natured. It was a bit rough, though. I mean, you put a load of people in a town that’s on the end of the line, geographically, and things are occasionally going to go wrong, aren’t they? I remember my brother got into a fight and kicked a hole through the wall of that brewery, and my dad had to go back the next day and plaster it up. I got into a fight at that brewery, as well. I was just drinking some beer with my friends, and there was a big kerfuffle—looked over and saw my friend covered in blood on the floor, with a guy sort of standing over him. I jumped over the seating area that I was in, and I just socked this guy as hard as I could in the head. And it turns out that the guy was just helping him up! And I basically put the fourth knuckle on my right hand back an inch, and had to go straight to the hospital. It was a disastrous night.
That’s one of the problems with barroom brawls—you can never be quite sure that you’re punching the right guy.
Exactly. There are no winners in a bar room brawl. I can absolutely vouch for that!
What person, living or dead, would you most love to have a beer with?
Wow, well, that’s a good question! You know what, I don’t want to tug on the heartstrings, but I would genuinely love to go have a beer with my granddad. He’s been dead for years, now. He died when I was about 21. But I would love to hear all his old stories again. He was a big drinker; he was in the merchant navy, and ended up being the captain of London’s only fireboat on the Thames. When I was twelve years old, I used to wander into town, where he and my Nan had a flat. Every Saturday, without fail, I would stop in to see him. And the first thing he would do was pour me a drink.
No! Pusser’s Rum, Navy rum, which is honestly the strongest thing you’ve ever tasted. He would just pour me a double-shot of that as a welcome, “Come and have a drink, tell me how your week’s been” sort of thing. He was just such a dude. He was our hero, really.
Was he an ale man, as well?
I think he did enjoy an ale; but again, ale has really only taken off in England in the last ten, fifteen years. Before that, England was quite lager-y, really. Or maybe that was just the way I saw it. Because when you’re younger, you tend to just steer straight to lager, don’t you? I can’t remember when I realized that ale was definitely my thing, but I don’t think it was until my late-twenties.
Yeah, I’d say that most of us start with lagers before branching out elsewhere.
Honestly, I just cannot fucking drink the stuff anymore. And I’ve tried, honestly, I’ve tried! Because I used to love lager. But having been an ale man for ten or so years, now, whenever I drink a lager it just tastes of chemicals to me. It just seems weird, you know?
You can drink pints and pints and pints of it, and not have a hangover.”
Last question: I know you’re a big Thin Lizzy fan. In your opinion, what is the perfect beer to drink while rocking out to Thin Lizzy records?
Oh, it has to be Guinness, and with a whiskey chaser! The problem with Guinness, though, is that Guinness, to me, only tastes good in Ireland. There’s a lot of people that will agree with that, I think. It tastes completely different in Ireland, and I don’t know if that’s because it doesn’t travel well, or what, but I would challenge anyone to go to Ireland, drink Guinness and tell me that it doesn’t taste completely different to any place else in the world. When we’re in Ireland, even the people that don’t usually drink Guinness at any time will drink Guinness in Ireland, because it tastes so fucking amazing. And you can drink pints and pints and pints of it, and not have a hangover. It’s worth going to Ireland, just for the Guinness!
I will definitely take that under advisement.
Yes, do so! And also, did you know that draft Guinness is incredibly low in calories? I only found this out recently. I would have thought Guinness would be among the most calorific, just because of the texture and how thick it is. I just can’t believe it—I’m still reeling from that, you know. I could have saved myself so much gym time if I’d just switched to Guinness.