Breweries craft Rock On lager to help musicians hurt by COVID. Find the beer in your state

·6 min read
More than two dozen breweries across the U.S. have made a Rock On beer, with Crosby Hops donating any profits from the sale of hops used going to the Sweet Relief COVID-19 fund.
More than two dozen breweries across the U.S. have made a Rock On beer, with Crosby Hops donating any profits from the sale of hops used going to the Sweet Relief COVID-19 fund.

More than two dozen breweries across the U.S. have been making a special beer to benefit musicians and others in the music industry, many of whom saw their livelihoods quashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Crosby Hops of Woodburn, Oregon, is donating any profits from hops sold to make the Rock On lager to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity founded in 1993 to help musicians in need. And breweries involved are also encouraged to make a donation to a COVID-19 fund Sweet Relief created in March 2020 to help musicians and music industry workers.

Most breweries created a crisp, refreshing lager of about 5% ABV with a hoppy whiff in the nose with hints of bread, honey, and melon or citrus. Even though there was a base recipe, some brewers went a bit heavier on the hops to increase its piney character.

After COVID's onset, most live music events were halted for more than a year and many concerts and festivals continue to get canceled or downsized. In 2020 alone, Pollstar estimated the economic impact of the live music shutdown at more than $30 billion.

"It's still an absolute state of emergency in our industry," said Aric Steinberg, Sweet Relief's executive vice president of development and artist relations. "This has a long tail to it."

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Since Silver City Brewery in Bremerton, Wash., made the initial batches of Rock On lager in July, other versions have been brewed nationwide – from Rhode Island (Hive Beer) to Alabama (Goat Island Craft Brewing) to Utah (Level Crossing Brewing) and California (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.).

"We loved the idea about helping musicians and their crews during a very difficult time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic," said Level Crossing founder and CEO Mark Medura. The South Salt Lake City brewery is donating $1 per pint to the Salt Lake Academy of Music, a local non-profit that provides instruction and instruments to children and adults.

At Level Crossing Brewing in South Salt Lake City, Utah, local musicians play on a 1946 Chevy flatbed truck converted into a stage. A mural behind it was painted by Jann Haworth, who helped design the cover of The Beatles’ 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' album.
At Level Crossing Brewing in South Salt Lake City, Utah, local musicians play on a 1946 Chevy flatbed truck converted into a stage. A mural behind it was painted by Jann Haworth, who helped design the cover of The Beatles’ 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' album.

A punk kickoff to charity beer

Crosby Hops CEO Blake Crosby became interested in doing a collaboration beer after learning about Silver City Brewery teaming up with the Bremerton, Washington-based punk band MxPx on a beer called Secret Weapon for the band's 25th anniversary in 2017.

The hop supplier, which provides hops to thousands of breweries across the U.S., wanted to collaborate on a project to help the live music community. "I put myself in the position of someone on the road and all of a sudden income just comes to a complete halt and what you would do. That struck a chord with me," said Crosby Hops marketing manager Zak Schroerlucke, who like Blake Crosby also plays music.

The band MxPx recommended Sweet Relief and Schroerlucke found himself talking to Steinberg. Schroerlucke thought the charity's concept could be adopted by additional breweries, similar to how at least 1,500 breweries followed Sierra Nevada Brewing's lead and made Resilience Butte County Proud IPA to benefit those affected by the Camp Fire in late 2018.

MxPx's drummer Yuri Ruley joined the Silver City brewers and Crosby Hops team in making the beer, which used Crosby's Chinook and Sterling hops. "Our goal was to create an elevated rock show beer – something light and smashable," said marketing manager Daniel Frantz at Silver City, which has sold all of its Rock On Crafted Lager but made its recipe available for other breweries to try.

"The idea was to make a craft lager, something you could drink a few of at a concert," Schroerlucke said. But breweries were encouraged to tweak the recipe if they desired – and to involve local musicians in the project. "I think that allowed people to get really excited about it," he said.

Rock On beers across the US

Depending on the brewery, Rock On is available in taprooms and in cans (some made 12-ounce cans, others made 16-ounce cans). At Goat Island Brewing in Cullman, Alabama, two local bands (Round 2 and Avenue G) helped make of the beer, which is available now and into next month on site and at area retailers. Local disc jockey Steve Hathaway (DJ Kudlz), who had created a streaming service for musicians during the pandemic, assisted Virginia Beer Co. in Williamsburg, Virginia, with its Rock On lager, released over the Labor Day weekend.

Disc jockey Steve Hathaway (DJ Kudlz) at Virginia Beer Co. in Williamsburg, Virginia helping create its Rock On lager.
Disc jockey Steve Hathaway (DJ Kudlz) at Virginia Beer Co. in Williamsburg, Virginia helping create its Rock On lager.

Austin (Texas) Beerworks altered the recipe slightly with the help of Kyle Shutt, guitarist for hard rock band The Sword, and the beer is currently available in its taproom.

The origin of Sweet Relief

Sweet Relief grew out of the 1993 release of "Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams," an album of the singer-songwriter's songs performed by musical friends including Pearl Jam, Lucinda Williams, and Lou Reed. They made the album to raise money to help pay for Victoria Williams' medical care after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Subsequently, she started the Sweet Relief fund for all musicians with the proceeds.

The Rock On lager project has raised $20,000 so far for Sweet Relief's COVID fund. Beyond the money, the initiative "has been a great awareness driver," Steinberg said. "We are trying to pay for stuff for people who are in an emergency crisis."

Crosby Hops and the breweries hope to make the beer an annual offering. The pairing makes sense as music plays in most tap rooms and is blasted in the brewhouse when it comes time to clean tanks and equipment. "I've never met anyone in the beer industry that said, ‘I do not like live music'," Schroerlucke said.

Level Crossing's Frantz is on board. "We would absolutely love to build on the success of the Rock On initiative next year, especially as concerts continue to come back," he said.

Crosby Hops of Woodburn, Oregon, is donating any profits from hops sold to make Rock On lager to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity founded in 1993 to help musicians in need.
Crosby Hops of Woodburn, Oregon, is donating any profits from hops sold to make Rock On lager to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity founded in 1993 to help musicians in need.

Rock On participating breweries

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Beer for a cause: Rock On lager helps musicians after COVID shutdown