Gene Smirnov

I am what you might call "not a metalhead." Sure, I can sing the lyrics to “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and I know Alice Cooper is a man -- but I prefer long hair to big hair, Dead lots to leather shops, and Bob Dylan’s unintelligible mumblings to Ozzie’s.

Having said that, I do recognize a cool opportunity when I see one – and I most certainly love beer. So when I was invited to Decibel Magazine’s first Metal & Beer Fest at The Fillmore in Philadelphia, I replied, without hesitation, “Hell, yeah!" And then foolishly flashed the hang ten sign instead of devil horns.

A growing numbers of heavy metal musicians are following their rock and hip-hop brethren into brewery collaborations to produce beers that bear their name (much like Hollywood stars have long done with wine). Fans of bands such as Iron Maiden, Municipal Waste, and Pelican make up a new market for the high-end beer industry, assuming that the stereotypical beer geek was once more likely to sport a winding hop bine tattoo than one of a Gothic cross dripping blood onto a pile of dead bats.

Last year, Megadeth founder and frontman Dave Mustaine partnered up with Canada’s Unibroue to brew a sessionable saison that he and brewmaster Jerry Vietz named “A Tout Le Monde” (French: “For the Whole World”), the name of a Megadeth song and an homage to the Unibroue tripel, La Fin du Monde (The End of the World). As such, Unibroue sponsored the two-night Decibel fest, which brought together 12 bands and 17 international breweries that make metal and/or hardcore a central part of their identity. Unibroue has also sponsored the (definitively NOT hardcore) weekly beer TV show that I co-host. Given that our director Tom Santangelo basically dons a Megadeth tee as his work uniform, we decided to tape an episode at the festival with Vietz and Mustaine.
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And I have to report, as a metal-tolerant non-fan, that the festival wasn’t fun: it was a fucking blast.

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was the presence of breweries whose participation had gotten me amped to attend in the first place. To name a few blockbusters (most of which don’t normally sell in Pennsylvania), there was 3 Floyds, 3 Floyds -- and did I mention 3 Floyds? Okay, so maybe I did kinda stalk the dude who makes the coveted Dark Lord imperial stout…but more on that in a moment.

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Within one two-level building, I could taste amazing beers from TRVE, Mikkeller, Cigar City, Champion, and Burial, among many others. I was like a wild-eyed kid in a boozy, black-clad candy store. And soon, I was catching up on gossip with the guys from Atlas, and swapping compliments with Alexandra Nowell, head brewer at L.A.’s Three Weavers. I wondered whether or not to ask the guy pouring Mikkeller if he was famous because he just had That Look. (I didn’t, but later learned it was Dan Lilker from Nuclear Assault). I discovered HammerHeart, an incredibly skilled Minnesota brewery that specializes in smoked beers, and Hydra, whose saintly iconography paints a disturbingly spooky picture -- but, you know, in a good way. And I’d be remiss in excluding locals Tired Hands and Neshaminy Creek, the latter of which wins tons of Philly beer awards but whose proximity gives me a shameful excuse to take those rockin’ punks for granted.

Most of all, I was impressed by how universally jazzed all of the industry folk seemed to be in the presence of so much greatness. Brewers gushed about how nice everyone in the metal scene is, and the love flowed both ways.

With doors about to open to the public, I smiled at the roadies (who all smiled back despite some really tough-looking exteriors), bopped my head to the sound check of a harmonious heavy band whose name I never managed to determine, and found two perfectly justifiable reasons to talk to Chris Boggess, the Three Floyds head brewer who is -- how can I put this? -- incredibly…smokin'… hot. I’m sure I came off totally nonchalant asking him if he could identify the band that was warming up, and then later formally introducing myself as the beer/spirits contributor to Forbes. I’m pretty sure he didn’t care.

Still, all was wonderful until I decided to broadcast a live video walking tour of the venue for my Facebook followers. The tour was great at first; I even still felt pretty dandy as I turned my phone's camera toward a series of weary-looking vendors filling up their tables with logoed hats, apparel, and steel stuff to stick in appendage holes. (I’m sure that these creatively pierced metal heads would have been horrified by the dorky narration coming from this coiffed, pink-lipsticked girl, but I like to think they couldn't hear me.)

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But in approaching a group dressed head-to-toe in shredded animal skins, I managed to make a total ass of myself. Though I did have enough presence of mind to keep a safe distance (just in case they'd bite), I made the mistake of pointing my camera directly their way. As if choreographed, they all turned around to glower at the chick with the department store jewelry holding a video phone. And, perhaps emboldened by the reassurance that everyone in the scene is so gosh darn ducky, I somehow heard myself say, out loud, “Say hi, everyone!”

They didn’t find my cheerful mandate cute. Rather, they deepened their scowls and directed suspicion and loathing in my very specific direction. So maybe this wasn't as lovey-dovey as a Grateful Dead show after all.

Mustaine arrived shortly after doors opened, and we managed to corral him into our grip and seat him at the bar table our crew had set up for interviews. I can assure you that that taping got more viewers than the combined total of our Nielsen reach over the year that we’ve been broadcasting. Unphased by the masses of iPhones filming our faces, my co-host and I goofed around with Vietz and Mustaine, who looked about as entertained as a guy who’s just cold turkeyed himself off of a six-shot-a-day espresso habit. Nevertheless, we talked about his current world tour, how he hooked up with Unibroue and why collaborating on a beer is like writing a piece of music.

By the time he took the stage to address fans in the crowded VIP room, he’d gotten a bit more chatty. I don’t know what he said, exactly, because I was so focused on trying to convince the bartender to give me more than an ounce of A Tout le Monde at a time. My secondary mission was to make sure that Tom, our director, would get to meet his idol and obtain a souvenir photo from the encounter.

After the crew left, I decided to stay, flirting with strangers and staring at Boggess -- I mean, drinking Three Floyds. My Baltimorian brother – in town for his own musical gig -- arrived at the event with less than an hour to spare. He may have wanted to hear some of the metal, but I gave him no chance to stop and listen while I literally dragged him by the arm to sample the beers I knew he might never get to taste again. I might have been in the minority – surely, plenty of attendees came for the beer, but most were there primarily for the tunes.

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I didn’t have the chance to return for day two of the fest, but everyone I'd met that first night (well, almost everyone) was as lovely as your friendly neighborhood hippie. One traveler even emailed me the next week to thank me for my local bar and restaurant suggestions. I suspect that as craft beer seeps like sound waves into a greater portion of society’s ears and mouths, more of these “crossover” beer and music fests are to come.

I can’t say I’ll go out of my way to attend all of them. But if you were to put beer from all of those breweries in a room again, and spice it up with a personal visit from Boggess, well, I might be willing to travel to the end of the world to get there.