A Drugcember to Remember Holiday Ale, Music Beer Collaboration with The War on Drugs
Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery, Cherry Hill NJ
Written by Jamie Queli, Owner & CEO
Meet: Drugcember to Remember, a Holiday Ale brewed for The War On Drugs annual Drugcember to Remember Benefit Concerts
Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing does a series of music inspired beers and collaborates on making beers alongside musicians and bands. This is the story behind of one of these beers.
I ended 2022 on a high note when I got a very interesting phone call. The War on Drugs team was reaching out to discuss beer, specifically to reignite their annual Drugcember to Remember concert series in Philadelphia, previously paused due to the pandemic. The event is a small and beautifully intimate live performance aimed to gather attention and resources to Fund the School District of Philadelphia. This annual holiday show takes place in December and somewhere in mid-November, they slipped into my DMs.
“A Drugcember To Remember, a series of holiday shows directly benefiting The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, a nonprofit that raises and coordinates investments into the Philadelphia public schools. It’s an intimate holiday jam that focuses on raising funds, attention, and commitment to Philadelphia’s public schools.”
TWOD: “Are you interested in doing a beer for the War on Drugs to benefit Drugcember to Remember?”
Me: heck ya!
TWOD: “Great, I’m not sure how long these things take and I know it’s a little short notice but the shows are in four weeks.”
My internal thought process: “Are you out of your mind?! You are doing 10,000 different things right now Jamie!”
My actual response: “Totally doable!”
Well, both versions of me are correct. I am a little out of my mind. However, my crew is completely capable at performing at elite levels every step of the way. However I must add that normally we get a little more time to noodle!
I began my deepest dive on The War on Drugs. I was trying to figure out their mojo, their ethos, their drink-ability. The band isn’t an overtly visual act, I began to find their identity in their intrinsic layered sounds. One of the first things I noticed is Adam’s sonic wall of guitar pedals and his tone. I thought that the best way to honor this band is by layering flavors in our beer that uniquely hits your palate with multiple tastes but melds together delightfully like a wall of sound.
Because of the nature of the show, I wanted to create a Holiday Ale. But you can’t just brew a regular holiday ale for a Grammy award winning artist. So I began to think of really creative deserts that I would normally cook for an impressive holiday dinner. I landed on crafting a poached pear holiday ale, something I cook often.
So, we set to brew a poached pear holiday ale. We started with a simple cream ale base beer, which in terms of a beer profile, is a basically a blank canvas of a beer. We then added in puréed pears and rounded that flavor with vanilla beans. Vanilla for me in the brew house is similar to a compression tool - it softens up the highs and lows so everything can be tasted evenly.
I wanted to add cinnamon for the seasonality of a holiday ale but one fact about cinnamon is that all cinnamon is not the same! Most store bought cinnamon used commercial settings is darker, less bright, and not complex in the slightest. We were not going to brew with store bought, commercial cinnamon. We used royal cinnamon, which is sourced from the mountains of Quang Nam in central Vietnam. This specific type of cinnamon is layered with floral notes, citrus, and a mild sweetness. To paraphrase and use a metaphor I found on Bon Appetit, “Trust me when I tell you that the tasting royal cinnamon is akin to listening to A War on Drugs record on vinyl through a $5,000 speaker system and every other cinnamon is a just an mp3.”
At the end of the beer conditioning process, I wanted to amplify the sound (aka the taste) and push the whole damn beer into an overdrive pedal. I asked the brew team to add in citrus, specifically oranges. This brightened up the entire beer and let all the flavors shine brightly, marrying everything together much like a little lemon zest during a dish plating.
As I explained to team of The War on Drugs, “I wanted to approach the beer style based on how Adam Granduciel approaches his guitar sounds. The cream ale base represents his clean tonality, the vanilla poached pear brightens up the malt base of the beer akin to an overdrive pedal, when you need that little extra something, while the cinnamon provides that grit that can cut through on a shining lead, with the hints of citrus roaming around your palate like a finely dialed in reverb. If you were to take his White Falcon and tones he creates and asked what kind of beer it would be, our answer is our Holiday Ale with vanilla poached pear, royal cinnamon & citrus.”
I teamed up with Andrew Sax for the can artwork. I had previously worked with Andrew on the Dogs in a Pile (local NJ band currently tearing up the jam scene) beer can artwork. Due to the time constraints on getting artwork done, proofed, approved by the band, into production and for sale at our tasting room in Cherry Hill NJ we had to work at ludicrous speed. We spoke with The War on Drugs team and explained that time was of the essence for production and they completely understood. We decided the best approach was to keep the art direction a little more familiar to the art direction of previous gig posters for War on Drugs with all elements entirely unique and newly illustrated. Andrew set out and designed a vintage comic book style mailer with limited color palate, black line work and grungy overlay, red fill and halftones, on a white background.
We had this beer brewed, canned, packed and stickered on December 16th, 3 days before the first show Drugcember to Remember show at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia. We packed up two cases of this delicious brew, and brought it to the bands gig and watched Adam and team play a delightful intimate showcase. During their return from set break, a few members of the band came out and were sipping on the beers we brought them. The concert was amazingly intimate and somehow, no one tripped over Adams massive pedal display!
In the end, we sold out of the beer. Forgotten Boardwalk got to assist in The War on Drugs fundraising efforts by donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the beer directly to benefit the School District of Philadelphia. And the band delivered 3 beautiful and gigs at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia.
Happy Holidays To All