Band beers are all the rage. Hanson has one. So does Kid Rock. AC/DC, Mötorhead, and Kiss are in the signature brew club as well. The question is, how much of this is about beer and how much of this is about marketing?
Case in point; Trooper the signature beer of Iron Maiden. Clearly the Iron Maiden brand is huge. It’s attached not only to the band, but also to a large collection of band-related merchandise. You can buy Iron Maiden T-shirts, hoodies, pint glasses, key chains, even an Iron Maiden skateboard deck. The Seventh Son of a Seventh Son basketball jersey will only set you back about 75 bucks. It’s big business. Clearly attaching the Iron Maiden name to a beer will bring a windfall to the brewery that makes it. Adding a “craft” beer to the merch line can’t hurt the band either. But is marketing and branding – raking in the dough to be blunt – really all there is to it?
At a recent Better Beer Society University session that I hosted on beer marketing I quizzed Trooper importer Lanny Hoff (Artisanal Imports) on this very topic. (I think I took him by surprise with my aggressive questioning, but he’s more than ready for some good-natured verbal sparring.) He said that the goal of marketing is to convince you to buy something that you really don’t need. Despite what many of us think, we don’t really need beer. In that sense, says Hoff, attaching the Iron Maiden name to beer is all about marketing. But he’s okay with that. The marketing is convincing people who ordinarily would drink light lagers to try something a bit more adventurous. It’s bringing new consumers into the fold.
But Hoff does feel that Trooper rises above pure money-grabbing gimmickry. Everyone involved, from the band to the brewer, actually cares about the beer. And the beer is good, he says. It’s real beer, not just something cranked out to make a quick buck.
So let’s explore this for just a moment. It’s not like Iron Maiden went to some nameless contract brewer and said, “Make us a beer.” Trooper is brewed by Robinsons Brewery, a 175-year-old, family-run, English brewery. They make respected brands like Old Tom Strong Ale. Iron Maiden’s front man Bruce Dickinson claims to be a lover of traditional English beers. He reportedly went to the brewery personally and assisted in its design and production. In a promotional video for the beer Dickenson describes being “put on trial” by the brewmaster at Robinsons as to whether the band was serious about producing a real, long-term ale.
But I suppose the real test of whether or not Trooper is just a marketing gimmick is the beer itself. Is it good? Or is it just another Badass Beer?
Here’s my notes:
Aroma: Malt leads with toasted bread crust and biscuit. A touch of orangey fruit. Just the subtlest hint of earthy English hops.
Appearance: Medium copper color and clear. Full and persistent head of nearly white foam.
Flavor: Medium-high bitterness from start to finish. Malt offers a pleasing counterpoint with toffee and dry, biscuit and toast flavors. Hop flavors are low, but present – earthy and herbal, minty even. Background notes of orange marmalade. The finish is dry with lingering bitterness.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-low carbonation.
Overall Impression: A very nice best bitter. To quote Dickens, ‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’