Bands have been releasing their own-brand alcohol for a while now, but 2015 was the year we reached Peak Booze. Everyone from the obvious (Slayer, Motörhead) to the unlikely (Queen, who were always more champagne flutes than two pints and a packet of nuts) slapped their name on a bottle of falling-down juice this year.
But are any of them actually drinkable? Do they tickle your taste buds, or give them a damn good hiding? We decided to find out, and to help us we roped in rising Atlanta rock’n’rollers Biters – a band who know how to bring their own party.
And so we, and the four of them – that’s frontman Joshua ‘Tuk’ Smith, guitarist Matt Gabs, bassist Philip Anthony and drummer Joey O’Brien – gathered in the back room of Classic Rock’s favourite North London pub, The Three Johns, staring at the business end of a table of rock-star booze.
“Right,” says Tuk, a man who looks like Noel Fielding of the Mighty Boosh auditioning for the Ramones. “What are we drinking then?”
Queen Bohemian Lager
This is a odd one. Bottled lager isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Freddie Mercury and co. partying. Moët & Chandon (maybe even in a pretty cabinet), certainly; maybe dwarves carrying trays of cocaine on their heads. But lager? Nope. Still, Queen Bohemian is light and drinkable. Biters are impressed.
“This is nice,” Tuk says, grinning. “It’s got a perfumey sweetness. It tastes American.”
“They usually pump us full of [cheap American ‘training lager’] PBR or something,” adds Gabs. “But if we have a choice, we still pick piss beer.”
“I like a Monster Energy drink and vodka too,” says Anthony, taking a sip of Bohemian Lager. “It doesn’t send you to the moon like you just did a line of crack.”
So what does have that effect on you? “Actual crack,” Tuk replies with a laugh.
The frontman brought the band together in their home town of Atlanta, after the booze’n’drug-related collapse of his previous bands the Heart Attacks and Poison Arrow. If they were handing out awards for partying, then Tuk would have a shelf full of them.
“I used to do a lot of partying,” he says, speaking at 100mph. “I once pissed in my girlfriend’s car, into the air. And her friend in the back was like: ‘Quit pissing in my friend’s car!’ We got into a fight – in the car – and I chipped his tooth. We went inside and my girlfriend was mad cos I’d pissed in her car and chipped her friend’s tooth. I said: ‘You think I’m crazy, bitch? I’ll show you crazy!’ I took my shirt off and started chopping up my arm. I was out of my mind. You know Ikea furniture? It’s cheap as hell and easy to wreck. So I was throwing bottles and crushing it. Which made her scared as hell. Then the police showed up, while I tore up the Ikea furniture, and I’m standing there with my shirt off, covered in blood.”
Okay… And the moral of that story is?
“Trying to look real tough? Go for the Ikea furniture – it’s really easy to tear up.”
Kiss Destroyer Beer
Thankfully The Three Johns’ tables (not Ikea) remain unwrecked as we move on to the next beverage…
“Why do Kiss have a beer?” Anthony asks. “I know Gene Simmons makes money off everything, but it’s not as if he’ll drink it.”
“It tastes like Labatt Blue from Canada,” says Tuk. “We’ve been to Canada a bunch, I like it there. In my other band, the Heart Attacks, I played the really far-off bits. It was fuckin’ wild out there. It’s like a different world, especially in the winter – lots of snow. It’s beautiful.”
Touring far-flung places in inappropriate vehicles is part of the deal for a band at Biters’ level. A couple of months ago they arrived for a gig in Miami, only to find that all the hotels in the city had been booked. “We had to sleep in a parking lot, and it was hot as hell,” says Tuk. “I had to sleep in the trailer. Someone got a picture of me while I was sleeping in an Adidas tracksuit.”
If ever a band were _not _Adidas types, it’s Biters. Their sartorial touchstones are the Ramones – black jeans, black leather jackets, black hair.
“And The Clash,” says Tuk. “They looked awesome, and had a good message. They were a real gang.”
“And Thin Lizzy,” adds Anthony. “Lords Of The New Church, early Motörhead…”
“It’s all on personal preference,” Gabs says. “I mean, New York Dolls changed my life, but visually, man, they were just too flamboyant at times. They pulled it off, though.”
Tuk: “We’re from more working-class neighbourhoods, so glamorous LA just doesn’t fit for us. I’m more about the punk thing, more leather and denim than fluorescent and bright.
Iron Maiden Trooper
666 Premium British Beer
Ah, the big daddy of band beers. The original version of Maiden’s heavy metal booze has sold an impressive 10 million ‘units’ (that’s ‘bottles’ to you and me) in two years. Now they’ve launched this, its successor, which gives you more alcohol for your buck. Cue a chorus of terrible Cockney-style “Cheers, mate!”
“A little hoppy for me, but it’s good,” Anthony muses. “And it’s 6.666 per cent!”
“I’d do a Biters Wheatgrass shot,” Tuk cuts in. “Or a hot sauce. I’ve got a little garden and I love cooking. I thought about going to chef school at one point. But I’ve worked in so many kitchens and it makes me hate people.”
Is Biters your full-time job now?
“Oh hell no!” Tuk says, laughing. “We all have to work, but we haven’t been able to for a while cos it’s been so busy with the band. It’s a weird transitional period.”
“I’m a nanny by day,” Anthony says.
But it’s Joey O’Brien, the previously silent drummer, who has the most interesting job: “I do security for a dominatrix. I sit in another room with a taser while she’s tying up dudes. I’ve got one of those baby walkie-talkie things, and if she gets attacked I come out and taser the dude. I hear them screaming on the baby monitor. That happens quite often.”
“We did a video with her and she lashed me with a Korean lashing cane,” Tuk says earnestly. “I thought my ass cheeks were gonna split open.”
Er, time to move on to the next beer…
Slayer 666 Red Ale
It’s the fourth round, and certain members of Biters are starting to slur now.
“There’s a common theme of 666 with these drinks,” Anthony says thoughfully, examining the bottle. He takes a swig of Slayer 666… “Woooaah! This is grown-ass man beer! It’s strong, but I like the flavour.”
When they’re not living it up on the road or hanging out with dominatrixes, Biters do what most other people do: hang out at home (in their case Atlanta), drink wine, walk their dogs. Only Tuk confesses to an unusual spiritual interest.
“I think I’m the only one that’s really into weird shit,” he says. “Atlanta’s from the Bible Belt, it’s heavily Christian. I’m into some New Age stuff. I don’t really talk about it cos it’s personal.”
Does the south’s religious, more orthodox side feel at all at odds with rock?
“I think at this point, rock’n’roll is pretty safe,” Tuk says slowly. “Where we’re from, a lot of the rock’n’roll stuff is heritage, so if you’re Christian, you’re gonna be at the Eagles or a Peter Frampton concert. If you played Slayer an’ stuff down in rural Georgia you’d definitely be fucked with.”
Gabs: “Hell, if you have black hair down there, people think you’re a Satanist. Even if it’s natural!”
Joe Elliott’s Louder Bangin’ Strong Ale
This is the one to separate the men from the boys. The Def Leppard frontman (and professional Northerner) has come up with the Spinal Tap of beers – this one goes all the way up to 11 per cent.
“It should be beer for me, cos apparently I look like Nigel Tufnel,” says Gabs. (It’s true, he does.) “Lemme try that [reaching for a bottle and taking a drink]… Oh Jesus…”
“Our manager would like this,” Tuk muses as he takes another glug.
“And craft beer nerds,” says Gabs.
Asked to pick their favourite band-branded beer, the Biters vote is split. “You’ve got Kiss and Queen, that’s proper Biters beer,” says Gabs. “Then Trooper, which is a bit of a dork beer. Then this [brandishes Joe Elliott’s ale] is some German shit…”
We wrap up our afternoon in the Three Johns with shots of Killer Queen vodka. Generous helpings are sloshed into glasses, Tuk tells us about the indecent things he once did to ice cream (while working for Dairy Queen), and they rationalise slurrily the need for fun with fans, and some space.
“Some of the venues we play at, there’s no backstage, the bathroom has no lock, so I get ready in the van,” Tuk explains. “I’ll be trying to do my hair, in my underwear, and there’ll be a hammer on the door and it’ll be a fan or someone trying to do cocaine with me. But I take this seriously, I like to warm up before every show and sound good. But these people are so sweet, we love meeting them at show time.”
He thinks for a second… “Cos we’re not ‘rock stars’, we’re touring musicians.”
Our thanks go to The Three Johns (three-johns.com) and Icon Beverages (www.iconbeverages.co.uk). And remember: always drink responsibly.