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Having a Beer With... Mastodon's Brann Dailor

September 05, 2017

By Dan Epstein, September 05, 2017

Brann Dailor’s Atlanta home is filled with many wondrous things. The walls of the Mastodon drummer’s home office are covered in 19th century-style wallpaper bearing the silhouette of Abraham Lincoln, while the adjacent guest bedroom is filled with macabre clown paintings. Hanging over the house’s main staircase are two-dozen or so black velvet portraits of celebrities ranging from John Travolta to JonBenet Ramsey, and the extensive collection of colorful snare drums that dominates Dailor’s basement would make any skins-pounder drool with envy.

But for beer aficionados, the most impressive thing about Dailor’s place is his basement closet, which is filled from floor to ceiling with bottles of rare, limited-run brews from around the world. “It’s about 250 special occasions waiting to happen,” he laughs. “And I’m probably not gonna have any kids, so I’ve just gotta start celebrating the fact that it’s Wednesday, or whatever. But I also want to go through life with just this liver, so it’s a dangerous collection to have.”

Currently on summer break after a month-long tour of European festivals, Mastodon will be hitting the road again this fall in support of Emperor of Sand, the progressive metal band’s acclaimed seventh studio album. The tour will include a special benefit show at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro on September 9th, which will raise funds for Hope for the Day, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that promotes proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. The event will also herald the re-release of Crack The Skye beer, a coffee barrel-aged imperial stout brewed in collaboration with Munster, Indiana’s 3 Floyds Brewing and Chicago’s Dark Matter Coffee.

“They did a bottle release of it last year, it was on tap at many places around Chicago, and I think some other specialty beer bars had kegs of it when it first came out” says Dailor of Crack the Skye, which is named after the band’s epic album from 2009. “But now there’s gonna be much more of it out there. It’s fucking awesome – probably one of the best coffee Stouts I’ve had!”

Crack The Skye is actually the fourth Mastodon-related brew to hit the market, following Mahrs Bräu’s The Hunter, Signature Brew’s Black Tongue and Mikkeller’s Motherpuncher. So we thought it was high time for October to sit down with Dailor and talk about beer.

How did your beer odyssey begin?
I definitely didn’t start out with any kind of mature beer palate. The first beer I drank a lot of was Genesee Cream Ale, which we called “Genny Screamers,” because they’d give you a screaming headache the next day. I still really like Genny Cream Ale, especially when I’m hanging at the beach or something, and want to last all day. I mean, I’ll usually have a nice German Kölsch, or a nice Czech Pilsner, in that situation — but our version of that would be the standard American Lagers, and your Cream Ales, like Genesee.

What was the original appeal of Genny Cream for you?
I liked Genny because it had a green can; I think my grandfather used to drink it, and I just used to see it around. I grew up in Rochester, New York, which is the hometown of Genesee – a lot of people’s dads worked at the brewery, so you’d be at people’s houses in their rumpus rooms, and they’d be drinking Genny. Everyone knew someone who works at Genny, and they wanted their loved ones to keep their jobs! And it was cheap beer; every old man bar that you’d saunter into would have it on tap.

When did you realize that there was better beer to be had out there?
I think it was sometime in the early 90s. In Rochester, there was a place called Rohrbach’s that was a brew-pub; they would make this Scotch Ale once a year, and you could only get growlers of it. There was a house that we practiced at that was called The Metal House; and everybody at The Metal House – my band Lethargy and the other bands who practiced there – got really excited whenever the Scotch Ale came out. My guitar player, Erik Burke, would go down there and fill up growlers. It was really heavy duty, like ten or eleven percent; maybe it was less than that, but it was super-flavorful, somewhere way beyond anything I had tasted before.

And I think a couple years after that, Sam Adams released a Scotch Ale, and they would sell it at my local deli. Say what you want about Sam Adams, but they were the first to be in your local grocery store with different options other than just Bud or Bud Light, you know? They had their Boston Lager, obviously, but they also had their variety pack, where you could dip your toes into different kinds of beers. The grocery stores and little delis wouldn’t have a huge selection of crazy beer, but there’d always be a couple of weird Sam Adams choices. And then Saranac Brewery up there started coming out with different beers, so it wasn’t just Genesee Cream Ale for me anymore. Saranac had a beer called Black Forest that was available on tap at the local bar that we all used to go to – the bar that I turned 21 at.

I was amazed that there were so many different kinds and so many different styles – I was overwhelmed, a little bit.”

So you turned 21 with a Black Forest in your hand?
I think so, yeah. I drank a lot of Black Forest back then. I haven’t had one in years and years, but that was my beer of choice in the mid-90s.

You went to Europe for the first time in 1999, when you were drumming for Today Is the Day. Was that a revelatory trip for you, beer-wise?
Yeah, we went there with Neurosis and Voivod on that tour – and yeah, Belgium! I didn’t really know anything about Belgian beer until we got there. I remember we played in Brussels, and when we finished playing I wandered back to the bar, where there was a group of four or five fans who kept bringing me Duvels. And I didn’t know it was so strong – it just tasted really good – and the next thing you know, I’m finishing my sixth one! [Laughs] They just kept bringing ‘em over to me, and I just kept swilling ‘em. “Yum! These are really good!” And then it was like, “Whoa – I’m getting hammered, fast!” Scott Kelly from Neurosis had to pick me up and carry me out of there, because I was about to get into a fistfight with people who were talking shit about Neurosis. I was yelling at them, “You’re bad people!” [Laughs]

Did you immediately start searching out Belgian beers upon your return to the States?
Well, I was pretty broke at the time. When I was in Today Is the Day, Bill [Kelliher, future Mastodon guitarist] and I lived at [Today Is the Day leader] Steve Austin’s recording studio. Bill slept on the floor on a futon, and I slept on a couch; it was a deep-seated couch, so when bands would record there, change would fall out of their pockets. That was like our little bank – every time the band would leave, we’d be like, “All right, cushions!” [Laughs] We’d be sticking our hands down there, pull up two or three dollars in quarters, then roll down to the store and pick up a six pack of Busch or whatever cheapest thing they had.

But when Mastodon started touring, in 2000, I started looking for Belgian beers in the cities we played. It was hard to find a lot of that stuff; I didn’t really know where to look. But then John Adubato, the guitarist from Burnt by the Sun, started really getting into Belgian beers. Whenever we played with them, John would have a special cooler with Belgian beers in it; he’d have the van doors open, and we’d do this little tasting. [Laughs] He’d be like, “Check this one out!”

I feel like John Adubato kind of set the wheels in motion for me: I came home from some tour where we’d played a bunch of shows with Burnt by the Sun, and I went to a couple of beer stores here in Atlanta looking for something better. I was amazed that there were so many different kinds and so many different styles – I was overwhelmed, a little bit.

And then Dave Witte, who was also in Burnt by the Sun, started really getting into Stouts. I remember running into him on the road around 2006 or 2007, and he had a cooler with a bunch of Great Divide stuff in it. I tried some Stouts and some IPAs through him; and then my dad moved to Asheville, North Carolina, which is pretty much ground zero for East Coast beer everything. So whenever he’d come to visit, he’d bring me a bunch of IPAs, because that’s what he was really digging on.

I started getting into all that, and started sort of collecting, I guess. I would get alerts about special beers that were coming out in limited batches, and just got super-nerdy into it over the next five or six years.

And now you have a closet full of amazing beer.
Yeah, and I have way too much of it! A lot of people in the brewing industry are big music fans, and a lot of them are metalheads. You make friends with these guys, and they want to hook you up – you give them tickets to the show, and they trade you these awesome beers. And what am I gonna say, no? [Laughs]

So I end up coming home from tour with four or five case boxes filled with awesome beer. I’m like, “Ahhh! I don’t know what the fuck to do with all this stuff!” So I try to give it away to friends who might drink a little more than I do – but I don’t really have that many people over, and when I do have people over, it’s not like we’re chug-a-lugging the best beers ever made.

A lot of it needs to be dumped out at this point, unfortunately – because I have a lot of Saisons and other stuff that isn’t gonna keep, you know? You can really only cellar your big beers, like your big Stouts, and there’s a ton of Stouts down there. But I don’t really crush Stouts, you know what I mean? If I’ve got one big bottle, I want to space it out over like a four-hour period. I’ll cook with it sometimes, throw it in a pot of chili.

But this interview is basically a cry for help. Not like, “Someone please check me into rehab,” but “Someone please come over and help me drink all this fucking beer!” [Laughs]

Plenty of bands — metal and otherwise — have their own beers these days. But you guys were in on it pretty early.
Yeah, I think it was in 2009. It was the Fourth of July, and we were playing the Sonisphere festival in Germany with Metallica, Lamb of God, Anthrax, Down and some other bands. Our buddy Stephan [Michel] from Mahr’s Bräu, he’d always hooked us up with beer from back when we first started touring Europe. He knew we were going to be missing home, missing our hot dogs and fireworks, so he just showed up with 20 cases of their unfiltered lager with these awesome Mastodon labels on it!

And then the next year that we went back, after our album The Hunter had come out, he did another batch with The Hunter label on it, and you can still buy it now. And then we got approached a few years later by Signature Brew out of the UK to do a Black IPA, so we did the Black Tongue double Black IPA, which was delicious.

How involved were you in the creation of Black Tongue?
We did a little tasting with those guys at the Reading and Leeds festival in 2013; they came and set up a bunch of different styles of beer, and we just kind of pointed in the direction that we wanted to go, based on the different beers we tasted. We didn’t get to be part of the brewing process – we wanted to, but didn’t have the time – but we did give them some direction, and we had [artist] David Cook draw up the label for it, and I thought it tasted awesome. I’ve still got a few bottles sitting down there in the basement, though they probably don’t taste too good at the moment!

We’re just trying to build awareness, especially in light of the recent suicides we’ve had with two major figures in the music world.”

Black Tongue was followed in 2015 by Motherpuncher. a Farmhouse IPA.
Yeah, we did that with Mikkeller, which is one of the most respected and revered breweries in the world, really. People were like, “Whoa, Mikkeller? Holy shit!” [Laughs] Mikkel [Borg Bjergsø] definitely brews outside the box; he can create the best of all the different styles available, but then he really knows how to tweak them in different directions. He’s one of the people who’s really making people think about beer beyond, “You drink it, get fucked up and do something stupid,” and I’m really happy to be involved with him. The Motherpuncher beer is super-delicious, and I just saw that they’ve released it in cans, so I’m really excited about that.

How involved were you in its creation?
I wanted a Farmhouse IPA. When we started coming up with ideas for it a few years ago, everybody was getting funky, basically; the tide had turned in the US where people weren’t a hundred percent obsessed with hops and IPAs, and everybody was starting to go with sours. They said, “Let’s add some passionfruit to it!” – and what came out was a super-drinkable, fruity, tart, hoppy, really, really good beer. We’re going to be doing another beer with them soon, but I think they want to be the ones to announce it. It’s barrel-aging at the moment!

And Crack The Skye is Mastodon beer number four — how did that one come about?
Well, our lighting guy Mike Howe is from Chicago, and his roommate works for Dark Matter coffee. They’d approached us about possible doing a coffee, and we were like, “Great, that’d be awesome!” So we came out with Black Blood in 2014. Dark Matter had partnered with a mental health awareness and suicide prevention charity called Hope for the Day, that was trying to get in with musicians and align themselves with that aspect of popular culture, in order to reach as many people as possible. Being a survivor of suicide – my sister committed suicide when she was 14 – I know about that, obviously, and if there’s anything I can do to help somebody out of a bad situation, using Mastodon or any little bit of marginal fame that I have, then I’ll try to.

So we decided to do a beer, Crack the Skye, with 3 Floyds and Dark Matter, with all the proceeds from the beer and coffee sales going to Hope for the Day, to fund their hotline and whatever else they need. All the proceeds from the show that we’re doing in Chicago will go to that, as well. We’re just trying to build awareness, especially in light of the recent suicides we’ve had with two major figures [Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington] in the music world. No one’s immune, and the more you talk about it, the more likely it is that the people who are in pain will come out and try to get some help.    

Final question: Are there any other beers that are particularly blowing your mind at the moment?
Everything that’s coming out of Orpheus, this brewery in Atlanta, is pretty awesome. I highly recommend it for anyone that’s looking for a new brewery to follow that’s doing interesting things. They have an IPA called Transmigration of Souls that I really like, but they’ve also got a lot of sours that are really great, like an awesome blueberry sour called Wandering Blues. I’m not sure how far their reach is, regionally, but it’s all over the Atlanta area, and it’s really good stuff.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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