There are currently more breweries than at any time in American history, which is cool enough, but what’s even better is the gargantuan number of beers they combine to produce. Long gone are the whatever-old days when a brewery could get by offering just a few different styles. For more than a century, a domestic operation needed brew only a Light, a Dark, and maybe an A-Rita. Now you need at least six distinct beers the day you open, and within the first year you’ll be expected to cycle through a couple dozen one-offs and seasonals to keep your local beer geeks in the mood.
This must pain brewers’s asses a million different ways, but I’m a bit on the selfish side when it comes to sympathizing with people who sell me poison, so I really only care about one burden that comes with these overstuffed portfolios: Brewers have to come up with way too many beer names, and a lot of them are terrible at it. Once you’ve named beers after your favorite pets and hop puns, what’s left? Music stuff, sometimes!
Presented below is a ranked list of 16 beers with music-themed names. In a first for Drunkspin, this list is not all-inclusive. There must be other music-themed beers out there; the mere fact that this list contains nary a Bruce Springsteen brew means it must be several cases short of complete. This ranking does uphold Drunkspin tradition in one important way, however: It is entirely correct.
16. AC/DC Premium Lager Beer
The biggest surprise in this survey is that none of the beers flat-out suck. This one is crisp and dry, with some good grassy, spicy hops showing up on the finish. It’s a basic 5-percent alcohol-by-volume pale German lager, made by Karlsberg, and a fair deal at $3 for an oddly oversized can with kick-ass art. (The can is 19.21 ounces/568 milliliters, and the beer tastes even better if you assume that’s somehow satanic.)
15. Marky Ramone’s Natural Brown Ale
First, a tip for my fellow white boys of a certain age: Life gets easier when you stop pretending to love the Ramones. Once you let that go, you’ll have so much more time to overstate your respect for Lou Reed and Elvis Costello. The beer? Made in by Guinea in Spain, it’s a 6-percent-ABV brown ale with a somewhat disjointed mix of nutty, cola, and chocolate-brownie flavors.
14. Iron Maiden Trooper
This is a perfectly serviceable extra-special bitter made by England’s Robinsons Family Brewers, but the presence of Eddie on the label isn’t enough metal to mask the fact that an Iron Maiden beer needs to be stronger than 4.7-percent ABV.
13. Cambridge Brewing Company Remain in Light
Man, this one really stings. I’ve been trying to love this beer since it debuted a few years ago, but I just can’t get all the way into it. It’s a style I dig (pilsner-leaning light lager) from a brewery I double-dig, and it’s named after my favorite band’s best album. And it wins all sorts of awards! But for whatever reason, Remain in Light’s never done a ton for me.
12. Abita Purple Haze
Tastes like raspberries, which are good.
11. Karbach Sympathy for the Lager
I don’t think I’ve had a better American version of Vienna-style lager, a category that includes Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Brooklyn Lager, both of which are plenty good enough for me. Nice biscuit and caramel malt along with light grass and citrus.
10. Tröegs Master of Pumpkins
This is a pumpkin saison that doesn’t come out until October for the novel reason that Tröegs actually waits for the pumpkins to hatch rather than just unleashing some gourd-free, pie-spiced bullshit in August like everyone else. It’s good beer, and I like saisons and authenticity, but this ranking still seems suspiciously high on any list compiled by an avowed pumpkin-disliker. Did it perhaps get bonus points for having the best name? No, that would be unscientific.
9. Crazy Mountain Lawyers, Guns, and Money
A 10-percent ABV canned barleywine full of caramel, molasses, and dark fruit, with citrus and pine on the finish. If this were available in my region, I’d drink at least two cans on at least six dreary weeknights from November to April. RIP Warren Zevon.
8. Dogfish Head American Beauty
The East Coast’s foremost weird-beer pioneers put granola in this Grateful Dead-inspired strong ale. It’s damn fine brewski. Shouldn’t damn-fineness earn a higher ranking? Am I marking it down because it pays homage to my all-time least-favorite band among all bands that Jim Morrison wasn’t in? Nah. The honey and oats are more prominent than I’d prefer, you see. Plus: Fuck the Grateful Dead and everything they ever stood for or inspired. B+.
7. Stone Thunderstruck
This is a double IPA brewed with four different Australian hops. It’s fruity and piney and middle of the pack as far as high-end Southern California double IPAs go, which means it’s really good, and it has the further distinction of being the best AC/DC-themed beer I’ve had all year.
6. Boulevard Long Strange Tripel
Another one that definitely didn’t pay a Grateful Dead tax, no ma’am, that would be unethical. It smells like citrus and cloves, with a little bit of banana and some wheat bread. If Belgian-style tripels are your thing (and they should be) and you can overlook the egregious name (how could you?), you really ought to check this one out.
5. NOFX Stickin’ In My IPA
My editor suggested that this beer should have been called Fat Mike’s Piss, which people would interpret as a playful reference to the time the main NOFX guy either did or didn’t serve urine-spiked tequila to the crowd at a show in Texas, but no, it’d actually just be a tallboy of Fat Mike’s piss. Cool idea, but instead we’re stuck with a very good rye IPA made by Virginia’s Champion Brewing Company. It’s got strong black-pepper kick to balance grapefruit and resin notes, plus a fair dose of sweetish caramel malt.
4. Notch Left of the Dial
Sometimes it seems like I never stop shilling for this session IPA, huh? That is because I’m wise and tasteful.
3. Surly Todd the Axe Man
Surly calls this one a West Coast IPA, and although a lot of beer geeks are getting tired of splitting hairs over fast-fading regional style distinctions, I think the term still has merit in situations like this. Todd the Axe Man is very heavily hopped with Citra and Mosaic, and it has a less pronounced caramel counterbalance than might traditionally be expected out of a Minnesotan brewery. Named after Surly’s operations director, Todd Haug, who is apparently quite the guitarist, Axe Man’s full of grapefruit, pineapple, and resin, and it is fantastic.
2. Cambridge Brewing Company You Enjoy My Stout
Ugh. Why did CBC’s Phish-named beer have to be so much better than their Talking Heads one? Because bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts rule, and this is one of the best I’ve had. At 10.5-percent ABV, it doesn’t burn quite as much as Goose Island’s 13.7-percent Bourbon County Stout, allowing the rich, roasted chocolate, light vanilla, oak, caramel, and coffee flavors to shine. And while I can’t say that I definitively prefer CBC’s version, at $11 per 750-milliliter, it’s 50 percent cheaper than Bud Extra Dark, and you don’t have to wait in line for it.
1. SingleCut Billy Full-Stack Double IPA
SingleCut makes fantastic beers in Astoria, Queens, down the road from the Steinway piano plant and directly across from a somewhat skanky strip mall. You should run right over and refuse to leave until they ask at least twice. I visited last month and worked my way through their entire lineup of Billy IPAs: 18-Watt, Half-Stack, Full-Stack, and 200-Watt. They’re all delightful—and all named for Billy Duffy of the Cult, because why not?—with the 8.2-percent ABV Full-Stack being my favorite. It’s hopped to heaven, sure, with grapefruit, floral, pine, and tropical fruit aromas and flavors all over the place, but there’s also a mellow bready note and a hint of caramel. Play us out, Billy. You earned it.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.