LAST CALL interview by Courtney Cox of Beer Advocate
Kevin Lilly Founder, Rock Brothers Brewing
Many breweries have tried to build on the likemindedness of musicians and craft brewers. Rock Brothers seems to have gotten it right. For years, founder Kevin Lilly had been harboring the dream before Cigar City’s Joey Redner signed on in 2012. Since then, Rock Brothers has partnered with Hootie and the Blowfish, 311 and other bands to release award-winning beers, and later this year, its brewery and music venue will open in Tampa, Fla. Says Lilly, “The ‘dream come true’ moment, in part, is happening. You can’t be so focused on money that you compromise your quality. With that said, you also want to mass market something artistic… it’s the classic struggle between art and business.”
What are you looking for in an artist when vetting them for Rock Brothers?
In short, we look for band longevity, marketability, that they have a passion for craft beer, that they are intricately involved in the process and that their hometown is a market we want to launch a beer in. Joey Redner, one of our partners and the founder of Cigar City Brewing, said it best in one of our early meetings with the band O.A.R., “If you guys don’t feel as passion-ate about this beer as you do about your next album, then we don’t want to do a beer with you.” [Those were] the first words out of his mouth when the band sat at the conference table… I was a little taken back, but I would have said the same thing, which is why I love working with Joey. The band’s response was: “our sentiments exactly.”
Describe the basic concept behind Rock Brothers. Basically, I got tired of selling everyone else’s beer… From the start we knew that this couldn’t be a gimmick. Authenticity was key. We won’t make a beer if it feels like a licensing deal and no one cares about the artistic process.
Why do music and craft beer complement each other so well?
For us, it is the authentic and cooperative involvement of the artist and the brewers that makes this process a connected one between the beer and music world. The beer and the music are coming from a pure place and that resonates with everyone in the process, from the band, to the brewer, to the fan and the beer connoisseur.
What makes a successful musician-inspired beer?
A great recipe. This process is a lot like writing a song for us. The artists come visit us and we sit around a table drinking beer. We talk about what all of us like, what we want to see from the beer in the market perspective. Is this a day-drinking Pale Ale or an after-dinner dessert beer? We go back and forth for usually about six to nine months before the process is wrapped, sometimes longer. The name of the beer is super important as well… We love naming the beer something that only the true fans will “get.”
How do you fit into the music and beer equation?
I come from a unique perspective because I was a musician first… I am able to blend the two worlds of music and business nicely, without making it feel bastardized and while maintaining the integrity of the project… I think more people are too lopsided one way or the other to effectively make a project like this work.
Where do you go from here?
Rock Bros. has been a journey for sure, and it won’t stop growing as long I am alive. … Long term, our vision is 50 beers, 50 states, 50 artists. When we get there, I will let you know what we plan next.