So there’s this concept – synergy – which is regularly joked about because of its overuse in business conversations. It’s a real thing though – it’s basically two things that when combined create an effect, feeling, or outcome that is better than consuming them both separately. A great example is music and beer. I can drink beer and be pretty happy. I can listen to music and be pretty happy. But when I listen to music while drinking beer, my happiness level skyrockets. See, that’s synergy. That’s what Rock Brothers is about – it’s about synergy, making things, helping people, and doing something real.
Rock Brothers Brewing officially began in 2013, but founder Kevin Lilly was kicking around the idea for a long time before then, dating back to 2006. Kevin’s interest in music goes back a long way – he has been a full time musician, a coffee shop owner (think open mics and indie bands), and is currently a concert producer. Kevin’s also an entrepreneur – not afraid to try out ideas, find ways to make them work, and bring new and exciting things to market. “One thing is certain, there is a large disconnect between the typical person in the business world and artists in the music industry, they don’t speak the same language and it is difficult at times for those two elements to work well together. I’m like a connector for two odd puzzle pieces,” says Lilly, “who bridges the communication gap between the artists and the accountants.” The idea behind Rock Brothers is simple: hand craft beers that are the liquid representation of the artists and their essence. This is the way in which Lilly acts like a connector – bringing together musicians and artists on the music-side with brewers and artists on the beer-side. To make this idea a reality, Lilly needed someone on the beer side of the business.
The beer-side of Rock Brothers Brewing is a product of a deep collaboration between Lilly and Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing – actually Joey Redner, whom Lilly approached with the idea in early 2012. Redner was smitten with the idea of a brewery focused on music – most of Cigar City’s employees are musicians in some way, shape, or form. He recognized that there’s a lot of love between craft brewers and musicians. The two made for fast friends and quickly found themselves discussing their favorite styles – both beer and music.
Redner quickly saw how he and head brewer Wayne Wambles could contribute their brewing experience to the venture: their passion for beer is a perfect match for Lilly’s passion for music. Lilly was the puzzle piece that connected the two worlds. For Redner and Wambles the commitment was simple: contract a portion of Cigar City’s brewing capacity to Lilly and occasionally meet with Lilly and the bands and artists to develop great beers. Lilly’s commitment was to bring great artists and bands to the table and ensure a minimum capacity of beer each month moved through the brewing process.
Lilly passionately leads the music-side of the Rock Brothers Brewing team. His concept is simple: each artist has a soul, an essence, or a vibe – and that this concept can be represented by a specific beer uniquely tailored to that essence. Rock Brothers is very particular about the artists they approach – there is a specific vetting process. Every partner in the mix must fully understand the concept they’re getting involved with and understand this is not a “one-and-done” gig. Beers will go “on-tour” and there are charities involved with every brand. The partnership is not just about making money for the artist with additional revenue from the beer – it’s about doing good in the community and doing right by the fans. “Its about interpreting the artist” says Lilly. And Lilly is not alone in this interpretation. Once the artist passes the vetting process, the work on designing the perfect beer begins.
Designing beers for Rock Brothers is all about synergy and serendipity. The process of designing a beer begins with Lilly working with the artist to understand their beer experience. Designing beers with people not already in the craft beer industry is simplified by the wide variety of commercially available craft styles and an unprecedented availability of ingredients. The problem that Lilly faces is that many people have not tried the various styles, and are more familiar with common mass-market beers like Corona, Heineken, and Bud or Miller Coors products. When Rock Brothers approaches an artist about a collaboration beer, in many cases the first suggestions come from the artist’s experience with these mass-market beers. Lilly’s passion for beer comes in here – in that he understands the “beer learning curve” and is able to help guide the artist through craft styles similar to mass-market varieties, working with the artist to call out specific flavors, textures, and aromas. Lilly brings in Redner and Wambles as needed to help guide the discussions from conceptual (“My grandfather used to take his coffee ‘nare sugar’”) to a final design for a beer that can be produced at the scale needed to make it economically feasible. Consider Rock Brothers “Nare Sugar Brown,” the beer for Jacksonville-based, now internationally acclaimed artist JJ Grey and Mofro. “Nare Sugar Brown” is a brown ale influenced by JJ Grey and Mofro’s song “Nare Sugar,” referring to coffee ordered without sugar. The process to come up with the recipe was “like writing a song” said Lilly. The artist talked about feelings, senses, and emotional chemistry, while Lilly, Redner, and Wambles translated that into the biochemistry necessary to make a beer both would be satisfied with.
“Nare Sugar Brown” wasn’t the first beer Rock Brothers produced – that honor goes to Bradenton-based Have Gun will Travel‘s “High Road Ale”, a hoppy pale ale clocking in at 5.5% ABV. It won’t be the last beer either – Lilly has a big trick up his sleeve that he hopes to reveal soon after Rock Brother’s first anniversary this past April 28. He’s not saying much, but he will reveal that the beer is being brewed in partnership with Palmetto Brewing Company out of South Carolina and will be a sessionable American Blonde Ale.
Rock Brothers beers are generally available on draught and in packages throughout the state of Florida. Look for their distinctive “microphone” tap handle at your local watering hole. For information on the release of their newest beer please visit www.rockbrothersbrewing.com. Also – join them for their first anniversary party this June 13th at Saint Pete’s “The Ale and the Witch”.