Friday, April 11, was the first day ever that craft beer was offered at the innovative, critically acclaimed, two-weekend event known as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Nic Adler—of the L.A. Vegan Beer and Food Fest, as well as The Roxy—was recruited to develop a tantalizing, foodie paradise within the festival foregrounds. Adler enlisted friend and craft-beer advocate Tony Yanow—of Golden Road and Tony’s Darts Away—to help assemble the craft-beer list.
The result: A fantastic 130 or so beers on tap, many hailing from the Golden State, that proved brews and bands make perfect music together.
Yes, Heineken is still the top sponsor and rocked the festival with surprise artists and mash-ups in the Heineken House. But in Coachella’s 15th year, the genre-bending festival joined the craft beer revolution by serving a savory selection of craft brews in what became known as the Craft Beer Barn.
Located in the marketplace area, the barn supplied music-lovers with some of the biggest names in craft beer—and some surprising cameos as well.
Here are some recommended beer-and-music pairings I came up with at Coachella.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Rooted in gritty rock ’n’ roll, the band draws influences from punk, psychedelic blues, garage rock, rockabilly, soul and R&B. After being founded in 1991, Spencer and co. have helped lead the way in American roots music. With a palm-tree backdrop, the band offered no laser shows at Coachella, but the cover of Beastie Boys’ “She’s On It” was fantastically down and dirty—and a little greasy, too. Pair with Stone/Kyle Hollingsworth/Keri Kelli Collective Distortion IPA: Stone Brewing has made its name with bold, aggressively hoppy and arrogant beers. Thundering in around 9.2 percent alcohol by volume, this hop face-punch is backed by Nugget, Comet and Calypso hops, and then dry hopped with Vic’s Secret, a new Australian hop, cranking up the citrus notes with wild abandon. Stone traced the roots of brewing to the days when Old World herbs were used to spice beers; the brewery added coriander and elderberries here. The lightly roasted golden oats balance the spicy citrus notes in this visceral, cranked-out IPA. Next time you’re looking for a strong and aggressive beer, just ask yourself: “Do you wanna get heavy?”
Aloe Blacc killed it in the Mojave tent. With his crisp white shirt, sharp gray vest and fedora, the Orange County native and USC graduate exuded positivity and rays of California sunshine. He’s been compared to John Coltrane; his horn players danced in unison to “Soldier in the City.” The beats lifted the crowd’s spirits, while the lyrics revealed social awareness. For Blacc, “It ain’t that hard when you got soul.” Pair with The Bruery, Loakal Red: This American red ale has a ton of soul. It’s oak-aged with citrus and floral notes. This beer pays tribute to the growing Orange County beer scene; a portion of the older batch was left to mature in new American oak barrels, and was then blended with the fresh dry-hopped batch. There’s a sugary sweetness and funky, vibrant notes. Tastes of grapefruit, caramel, orange zest, toffee and light pine result in a full body and solid balance. Like Blacc’s voice, the texture is silky and downright delightful.
Fishbone: This legendary good-time ska, reggae, punk, metal, funk and soul fusion band out of Los Angeles didn’t disappoint fans with its indefinable energy and talent. On the second Coachella weekend, the band rocked the main stage with earnest fierceness. Angelo Moore bounced around onstage, pumping up early-afternoon Coachella-goers for another amazing day in the desert sun. The band wowed with complex arrangements featuring instruments including the theremin, saxophone, trumpet and keyboard, inspiring uncontrollable and joyous head-banging. Pair with: Drake’s Denogginizer—DIPA: Like Fishbone’s life performances, Denogginizer has been known to blow a few minds. The hoppy, in-your-face double imperial pale ale features a crazy amount of pungent American hops. This somewhat experimental, high-alcohol brew (9.75 ABV) can’t be contained and will leave you wanting more. Or, pair with Golden Road Brewing 329 Lager: Like Fishbone, Golden Road is quintessentially Los Angeles—and it’s low enough in alcohol (4.8 percent ABV) that you can drink it all day. On a more personal note, Flying Jay, Fishbone’s trombonist, said that many of his favorite beers are lighter in flavor; personal favorites are Hoegaarden and Leffe. When asked what his favorites were, Angelo Moore, the ultimate “Fishbone Solder,” quickly snipped: “I like Guinness, because it’s dark; it’s heavy; and it’s in your face.”
Beck is simply one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. Before playing a cover of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies),” Beck told a story about how he waited in a rainy line for 45 minutes to see them perform at a bar—the same bar where he’d seen The Black Keys a year earlier. “You know, that little bar down the street sometimes has the best music. Don’t forget about that little bar.” After “Devil’s Haircut” and “Loser,” the band rearranged “Think I’m in Love.” The crowd erupted in dance with his cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” He even joined Arcade Fire onstage to cover Prince’s “Controversy.” Pair with: Faction Brewing, 2 Hop Collab (Nelson/Galaxy): Faction is a brewery out of Alameda that likes to do things a little differently. This is a special beer brewed as part of the experimental and educational “2 Hop Collaboration Project.” Various California breweries have participated, including Alpine, Ballast Point, Beachwood, Berryessa, Drake’s, Faction, Kern, Moylan’s, Stone and Triple Rock. Each participating brewery used the same pilsner malt backbone and then added two hops of their choosing. The Nelson Sauvin hop is named after the sauvignon blanc grape and is grown in New Zealand. Considered by some as “extreme,” it’s one of the world’s most unique and delicious hops. It leans toward tropical notes such as passion fruit, mango and tangerine. Similarly tropical, Galaxy has rapidly become the most internationally recognized Australian hop. Thanks to notes of passion fruit and citrus and a high alpha acid level, this versatile hop is great as a late addition in the brewing process. Beck is no stranger to experimental projects, like the “Song Reader” project, so this cornucopia of awesomeness is a Beck-appropriate craft-beer project.
Arcade Fire: Win Butler started by introducing two special guests in disheveled robot masks as a slightly inferior version of “Get Lucky” began to play. After the prank, the band turned in a set that may have been one of the most passionate and searing in Coachella history. Butler talked about gay human rights and urged people to get behind a cause. The multi-instrumentalist band played “Reflektor,” showing romantic deep grooves and grandiose rhythms. Pair with Blazing World, Modern Times: The relatively new San Diego brewery Modern Times is making waves with complex, flavorful, hybrid styles. The brewery was named one of the “Top 10 New Breweries” in the world by RateBeer. Blazing World has a ton of hop character and makes a presence with bursts of pine, citrus and grapefruit flavors. This effervescent brew has a fantastic complexity, but still remains well-balanced with a malt backbone. This could be confused for an IPA, but has definite amber characteristics. The use of Nelson, Simcoe and Mosaic hops play together beautifully.
As with Arcade Fire, this beer offers something for everyone.