Bier: German spelling of the alcoholic drink that typically consists of water, malted grain, yeast, and hops.
Wax: colloquial term for a vinyl record
BierWax: a craft beer and analog music love affair
Nervous energy buzzes through my body as I prepare for the hunt. This hunt requires a boatload of patience and luck. As a DJ and vinyl collector for nearly two decades, there isn’t much that can come close to the excitement of digging for records, except for discovering some phenomenal beer, but more on that later.
Four hours have passed in what feels like minutes. I’ve been locked in, comfortably in my Zen place, seeing the countless dazzling covers float by my gaze as I fervently flip through record after record. What have I been looking for? I’m a child of hip-hop, so I thirst for any of the genres that influenced the Bronx-born art form, namely soul, funk, jazz, disco/electro/dance, latin, and rock. I have cast a wide net, but there’s a whole lot of junk in this large warehouse that looks like a hoarder’s fantasy. I’m sure there are a lot of Tom Jones and Barry Manilow fans out there, but they’re not the type of artists that wind up mingling with my Nina Simone, Ahmad Jamal, and James Brown records.
I’m nearing the end of my dig. My fingertips are painted black with dust and I have a serious urge to sneeze. I have set aside over 100 records. Each record is ready for a resurrected life after being discarded junk. Some of the gems I unearthed include CTI label jazz records, Fania latin LPs, and plenty of early 90s hip hop singles; not bad for 50 cents a piece. All of these records, including the 3,000+ of my personal collection will be a prominent feature at BierWax. I return home with a triumphant smile and crack open a bottle of my most recent home brew, a Belgian Stout.
Craft Beer and Hip Hop
As a student of both hip hop history and the rise of the craft beer industry, the parallels between the two are not widely recognized. Craft beer looked to a forgotten past for inspiration, with early brewers like Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewery, Jack McAuliffe of the New Albion Brewing Company, and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada fame digging up recipes for beer styles that were nearly extinct. Inspired by an underground home brewing movement and styles of beer with much more flavor than the American adjunct lagers that were already widely popular in the United States, Maytag and McAuliffe laid the foundation for the craft beer movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Maytag released his flagship beer Anchor Steam in bottles in 1971, his first Porter in 1974, and the precursor to the modern IPA in 1975 with the release of Liberty Ale. McAuliffe founded New Albion in 1976, which is widely recognized as the first craft brewery of the modern era. Ken Grossman established Sierra Nevada in 1979 and released the first batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale one year later. The now ubiquitous beer became the archetype for so many pale ales and India Pale Ales for the next four decades. Through determination, ingenuity, and often great personal risk, these early craft brewers sought to create something that was unique yet extremely authentic. A small movement that began with experimentation and a pioneering vision laid the foundation for a craft beer culture that today consists of over 4,000 breweries, a number that hasn’t been touched since the 1870s in the United States.
Hip Hop’s formative years were also in the 1970s and 1980s. The socio-political climate of the late 60s and 70s fueled the conditions that gave birth to the culture in the South Bronx. Pioneering DJs such as Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, and other lesser-known local favorites created a very unique music using two turntables and a microphone. The 1980s witnessed remarkable growth for hip hop culture: hip hop on film, breakdancing in TV commercials, rap-rock collaborations, and the emergence of groundbreaking acts such as Run DMC, LL Cool J, Eric B. and Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy and MC Lyte to name a few. The late 80s and early-mid 90s, a time I recall very fondly, is widely recognized as the golden age of hip hop. The sheer number of hip hop masterpieces and overall creativity peaked during this special time in music. There are too many to list, but here are a few of the classic albums from the Golden Era: Nas’ Illmatic; A Tribe Called Quest (choose any of their first three); De La Soul (also choose any of their first three); Main Source’s Breaking Atoms; Gang Starr’s Daily Operation; Souls of Mischief’s 93 ‘til Infinity.
Hip hop culture originally served as a vehicle for self-expression for underrepresented youth of color from the Bronx, a borough that was seen as a war zone in the mid to late 1970s. Whether through the mixing and scratching of records, the footwork of B-boys and B-girls, the intricate pieces of graffiti artists, or the wordplay of the first emcees, hip hop became the voice of urban youth later becoming a worldwide phenomenon for all to embrace and consume. Although craft beer originated in an entirely different locale and demographic, the culture is grounded in similar principles of creativity and sought to carve out new spaces of expression. The new generation of craft brewers sought to radically change the monochrome post-prohibition beer landscape. Maytag, McAuliffe, and Grossman had no idea their pioneering artistry and vision would eventually spark the global craft beer phenomenon flourishing today.
The late 1990s and 2000s witnessed a huge shift in hip hop music. Hip hop became a multi-million dollar industry with the rise of platinum-selling rap superstars and focus on popular singles over cohesive albums. As Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest pointed out, the overall hip hop scene became obsessed with “glamour and glitz.” The artists who stayed true to the original elements of hip hop were seen as “underground” hip hop artists, making more money oversees than at home. As a longtime fan of hip hop, it’s difficult to recognize the current iteration of the art form. The commercialization of the culture has diluted and distorted it to the point of non-recognition. We have been witnessing a similar corporatization of the craft beer scene, with multiple craft breweries opting to be purchased by big beer in recent years. Hip hop can serve as a cautionary tale for the craft beer industry. If the craft beer movement in the United States concedes too much to AB-InBev and other corporate interests, we will also lose the essence of what made the culture so great in the first place.
Further Information on BierWax:
For the past few years, Chris Maestro’s dual passion has had a home on the BierWax blog (www.bierwax.com). By 2017, the craft beer and analog music love affair will have a physical space. BierWax will be a NYC craft beer tasting room that doubles as a vinyl record archive. BierWax will have 18 draft lines for mainly local craft beer and a vinyl only soundtrack from the thousands of records stacked throughout the space. Readers of The Keg Tap can follow BierWax on social media to get updates leading up to opening day.