At the risk of igniting a contentious Twitter debate (come at me, metalheads!), I’m gonna go ahead and say that Megadeth is the best thrash band on the planet. Sure, Metallica gets more accolades, but Megadeth -- co-founded by Metallica alumnus Dave Mustaine -- has, pound-for-pound, the greatest collection of riffs, vocals, solos, and songwriting of any shredding heavy metal band out there. (Now I’ve pissed off Slayer fans, too.)
Things seem to be going great for Dave and the gang. With rockier days in the past, co-founding member bassist David Ellefson has been back in the band for the last seven years; Mustaine, a born-again Christian, is funding soup kitchens in Tijuana and Haiti; and after 12 nominations over the course of two-and-a-half decades, 2017 brought the band its first ever Grammy, for the title track from their latest album, Dystopia (in my opinion, their best in 20 years).
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So admittedly, when I heard that Megadeth had risked it all to release their own beer -- the only non-human thing I love more than metal -- I was a little nervous. Okay, a lot nervous. Plenty of outfits larger and smaller than Megadeth have collaborated with breweries for band-licensed beers before – and some are about as palatable as Metallica’s LuLu. (That’s my last Metallica dig, I swear.)
But the beer is, in fact, even better than I could have hoped for. Brewed by Unibroue Brewmaster Jerry Vietz in Quebec, À Tout Le Monde is a sessionable Belgian-style saison named after Megadeth’s 1994 single of the same name. And the light, effervescent brew -- grassy and fruity with a super-dry finish -- is one of the best sub-5% ABV saisons I’ve ever tasted.
After we wrote about Mustaine’s appearance at Decibel Fest in April, the dude graciously reached out via via Twitter. I picked up the reins and let him know I’d love to chat with him over a brew. Three-and-a-half months later, I was backstage in Dave’s dressing room an hour before he’d hit the stage at Madison Square Garden, opening for hard rock legends Scorpions.
Below is our conversation (edited for length and clarity), during which we discussed beer, music, and the intersections of both.
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Ethan Fixell: So, from what I understand, you tasted through many different beers with Unibroue Brewmaster Jerry Vietz in order to determine the profile of your own?
Dave Mustaine: I had [first] gone to another brewery and tasted a couple of things. Looking back, the [other brewery’s] presentation was not as good of a presentation as Jerry did, because Jerry explained everything to me. It wasn’t like [he said], “Tell me what you like.” How the hell do I know what I like? I know that this one tastes good, this one doesn’t, and that one’s awful.
So [Megadeth] was headlining an 80,000 capacity sold out show in Quebec, and we go to the hotel to do the tasting, and I got so carried away -- drawn; compelled; connected with Jerry – that time for our soundcheck came, and it went. I forgot soundcheck. Needless to say, I was a little nervous because I thought that I had let the [Megadeth] guys down by goofing around, sampling beer -- because anybody hears ‘sampling’ beer, and they’re like, ‘Right...’
The second time that we met, we had narrowed it down to a couple of bottles. I picked one of them, and that was it.
Did you help design the actual recipe?
To the degree that I was capable of in the beginning, I did as much as I could. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned how to describe things: this has a bit too much yeast, this is a little bit too hoppy. I’ll be able to explain more. But what I did say was ‘I liked that -- it had a really nice finish.’ I said I liked [Unibroue’s] Éphémère Poire, and Jerry said, ‘You can’t have that one.’ Then I said, ‘I like this one,’ and he said, ‘You can’t have that one either.’ So when we finally settled on À Tout Le Monde, it was like, ‘This is mine!’
Now the beer is a year-round release for Unibroue.
And I’m so blessed because it gives me an opportunity to really just focus on all the good that comes along with this: being able to play because I want to, not because I have to pay bills. That’s a terrible thing to do: playing music to feed yourself. Hunger pangs -- the sounds that you experience when you’re starving -- are way louder than any call to play music. You know?
Well, this touches upon something you’ve talked about in the past: doing things for passion versus money. I think in Megadeth, you’ve always done things the way you wanted to, no?
For the right reasons, yeah. I don’t do anything for money, I wasn’t motivated to be in the music industry for money -- I did it because my sister played piano poorly and I just wanted to drown out her noise.
Yeah, she don’t like this story, but she loves me.
I’ll leave that part out, then.
Eh, we’re very close, she’s heard this story before.
You know, I’ve written quite a bit about the intersection between beer and metal. In both communities, the fans are passionate; extreme tastes are common; you’re not playing to trends. Since making the beer, have you gotten a bit of insight into the community between brewers and metal musicians, the synergy that’s there?
Not as much as I’d like to. I do know that that there are a lot of bands -- whether metal or not -- getting into the beer business. And there are people who are just in it for the money. I’ve tasted some celebrity beers, and they weren’t what I thought they were going to be.
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In terms of quality?
Quality. A long, long, long, time ago, there was a band that we were always at odds with, and they had put out some – I don’t know if it was vodka or cigarettes -- they did something that was really questionable back then. And I thought, wow, that better be really good. Because if not, that sucks that you’re doing that. I’m pretty sure it was vodka.
And it sucked?
It was bad. And a band that I really liked growing up bought a bunch of wine and it was really bad. People panned it. And we’ve been really lucky with all of the beverages that we do: the beer, the wine.
While those bands put out beers that weren’t what you thought they were going to be, your beer surprised me, too -- but in a good way. I think this beer is awesome, but it’s not at all what I would have imagined a Megadeth beer to be.
Yeah, right. You would have thought it’d be super hard…
Like an imperial stout or something.
Yeah, 10% alcohol by volume….
Do you feel like it represents the band in a different way though -- other than just being heavy?
I think it does. If you listen to the [band’s] name on face value, the name is just kinda, like, bombastic. But if you listen to the music, [there’s more depth]. Like, for me, I love AC/DC, but every song sounds the same. And I can tell the differences, but they sound really similar. Our songs -- every song sounds completely different. And I think that’s good because if you start getting into that same old same old, you might as well just quit.
Totally. And just as you’ve evolved from album to album, I think beer evolves like that.
It does. Cheers. (Pours beer and clinks)
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Yeah, cheers. Thanks for having me, man.
(To photographer) Are you drinking, homie?
(Photographer): I am not, but thank you.
Are you the designated driver? You know, you could take a taxi and grow some balls.
(Photographer): Generally, alcohol doesn’t work with my body.
Oh, really? Yeah, some people are like that. For me, with wine, if I have more than two glasses of wine, I start to feel crazy. With vodka, if I have more than two shots, I usually wake up in handcuffs.
Let’s stick to beer, then! So, considering how vastly different all of your albums are, have you thought about doing another beer that’s totally different?
We had discussed doing another, but I want to make sure that this [beer] has a good foundation. Until we get all of these other places set up with the distribution, starting a new recipe would be taking my eye off the ball, because demand right now is insane.
And that’s all I’m focusing on right now: buttoning all that stuff up. Because if we know that there’s a distributor for all of South America…and we’ve got [other] territories taken care of, then we can focus on something else.
I didn’t realize you were so hands-on with the business side of it.
A lot of artists will collaborate on a product and say ‘Alright brand, you handle everything else, and send me my check.’ But it seems like you’re even passionate about the distribution of this beer.
It’s not just the distribution -- that’s just one part of the puzzle. It’s what I’m good at: reaching out and talking to people…and I think because Jerry is so good at making the product, he was able to have somebody keep up with him tit for tat. You’re good at making it? Well, I’m good at making it known.