If fate’s fortuitous twists lead you to hip-hop artist El-P’s bedroom, your eyes might gravitate to his dresser. After all, it’s hard to ignore Steven Seagal’s face on the six-pack of Lightning Bolt, a long-discontinued energy drink stuffed with herbal mumbo jumbo including Tibetan goji berries and Asian cordyceps, a.k.a. parasitic fungus.
“I promise you, I tasted one can of Steven Segal Lightning Bolt and will never taste it again,” El-P says of his unopened can keepsakes — celebrity gag as a gag reflex.
Despite the despicable flavor (“My sinuses are filling up with electric eels,” wrote one Amazon reviewer), the idea of branded canned beverage held real appeal for El-P, one half of rap powerhouse Run the Jewels alongside Killer Mike. “It would just be fucking cool to have a six-pack with my logo on a beer can,” he says. “That alone would make me happy.”
This month, that boozy dream will become an alcohol-laced reality with the release of Stay Gold IPA, named after a banger on the duo’s latest album, Run the Jewels 3. The beer will be unveiled at Run the Jewels’ New York City show at Terminal 5 on February 25 (the first of four dates), before encoring in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 14 at the October Kickoff Party.
The seed for a Run the Jewels beer was planted in 2013, when the group partnered with Goose Island on a Belgian wheat ale for the Pitchfork Music Festival. This project is far more personal.
Run the Jewels has teamed with Jesse Ferguson, cofounder and brewmaster at Brooklyn’s Interboro Spirits & Ales. Before beer, beats were his calling. In 1999, Ferguson was one of the first employees for independent hip-hop label Definitive Jux (later Def Jux), cofounded by Amaechi Uzoigwe and, drum roll please, El-P. “Jesse was a huge part of my whole life at Def Jux, and I consider him family,” El-P says.
Ferguson worked at Def Jux till revenue shortfalls forced the label to disband in 2009. By then he’d caught the brewing bug, collaborating with Sixpoint on Gran’dad’s Nerve Tonic, a strong ale named after an album by rap group Junk Science. “I’d always preached that hip-hop and craft beer went well together,” Ferguson says.
After leaving the music industry and fine-tuning his brewing talent, he worked as head brewer at New Jersey’s Carton Brewing and then manned the brew kettles at Other Half. He went solo with Interboro last summer, earning a sterling rep for his hazed-up, hella drinkable Northeast-style IPAs like Mad Fat Fluid and the Next Episode, beer names cribbed from hip-hop culture. Ferguson sent a mixed box of his canned creations to El-P and Killer Mike, soliciting input on their preferred style.
“I couldn’t tell you what’s trendy in the beer world,” El-P says. “I can only tell you what beer tastes good to me.” Run the Jewels was originally keen on a stout, a tie-in to their tune “Panther Panther.” Ferguson pushed back. “I was like, ‘If we’re trying to set something off to show your fan base and the rest of the beer world that you guys know and like good beer, it’s got to be a Northeast-style IPA. We’re in the moment,’” he recalls.
Ferguson formulated a smooth, oat-tinged New England IPA that’s gloriously fruity and fairly tropical with Citra and Mosaic hops, pleasingly dry and a poundable 6% ABV. “We decided to make beer people actually want to drink,” Ferguson says.
Like the beer, Stay Gold’s label is also a Run the Jewels–Interboro joint, proudly featuring the group’s fist-and-gun hand logo. “We don’t slap the hand on just anything,” El-P says. “We’re pretty protective of the artwork and what we do with it.”
Depending on Stay Gold’s success on tour (Asheville’s Burial brewed Interboro’s recipe for the Charlotte show), Run the Jewels is open to future beers – band merch by the pint. The point isn’t to bilk fans but to introduce them to a different sort of artistry. Liquid not sonic. “Maybe one day we’ll all get rich off a Run the Jewels beer,” El-P says, laughing. He later adds, “It’s kitschy, but there’s no point in kitsch if it’s not pleasurable to consume.”