Back on December 21st of last year, which would have been Frank Zappa’s 80th birthday, we kicked off a pre-release sale of a special beer in honor of his memory and of his vast catalog of amazing music. The beer, the Zappa team and the whole process of putting this release together was one of the most fun and interesting things I’ve done in our 6-year-old business.
The idea first came about when we found out about a special variety of hop that just happened to be called “Zappa”. We thought it would be fun to do a Zappa-esque beer using Zappa hops since we’re all fans of Frank’s music. The short story of the Zappa hop is that it’s a variety called neomexicanus and is a native North American hop. The flavor profile is very eclectic (not unlike its namesake) and has descriptors such as “spicy” and “tropical fruit”. Those flavors aren’t terribly unusual in the hop world, but Zappa has also been described as having “fruity pebbles” notes and also as just “purple”. Yes, it tastes purple. Now Frank Zappa was not known to be a consumer of psychedelic substances, but whoever described this hop as tasting “purple” may very well have been.
But the expectations were met the first time we tried this hop in a beer. It had a very aggressive spice note to it, along with a prominent grassiness. There was some fruitiness too, but we felt that this hop alone in an IPA was a little off-putting. So we tried it in combination with some other hops. We combined it with a few different hop varieties that we had on hand, making some educated guesses about which types of flavors the Zappa hop was missing. In the end, the Simcoe hop was the winner. Simcoe has a big tropical fruitiness and has long been one of our favorites, being featured prominently in our Hop’em Sock’em IPA.
On the malt side, we wanted to keep it simple to showcase the hops, but we did go with all Pilsner malt for a nice, light body with just a smidge of Flaked Rye to balance the hops out. Coming in at 7.0% ABV brought in some background spicy alcohol notes, but it finishes balanced, crisp and clean.
So with the beer itself all settled, we turned our attention to the art that would appear on the can. But wait, what if we could team up with the actual Zappa family and come up with super cool art AND have it all sanctioned and approved by the Zappa folks? Well, it turns out that one of Matt D.’s buddies, Pete, had played bass previously with the Zappa Plays Zappa band. We asked Pete for an intro to someone at the Zappa organization and in short order we were talking to Ahmet Zappa, one of Frank’s sons and the guy who is in charge of everything Zappa these days.
Over the next several weeks, we had some super fun meetings (over Zoom) with Ahmet along with Melanie and Erin from the Zappa organization. We talked at length about the man, the music and of course about beer. Ahmet mentioned some previously unreleased photos that we could potentially use for the can art and many brainstorming sessions were held to come up with a good name for the beer. Though some people may think that Frank never touched alcohol, Ahmet verified that he was not a big drinker but would on occasion have a beer. So armed with some good background info and some fun photos, we set about creating a label.
We threw around some ideas and came up with a short list of potential names:ZAP PA (Pale Ale)The Grand WazooSt. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast StoutBeer ShampooDeadly Yellow Snow CrystalsCentral ScrutinizerOne Size Fits AllBut in the end, one name bubbled up to the top and became the undeniable favorite.Why Does It Hurt When IPA?
Now some folks got upset when the beer came out.”Why would you use that name when Frank died of prostate cancer!?!?!? It’s inseeeeeeeeeensitive!!!!”Well, Ahmet chuckled at that and we all felt it’s really missing the point of Frank’s entire body of work if you don’t appreciate the satire and sarcasm of a name like that.oh and just as an aside, we were joking about what foods would pair well with this beer:
- Lumpy Gravy
- Uncle Meat
- Burnt Weeny Sandwich
- Gumbo Variations
- Watermelon in Easter Hay
Maybe we should have released an entire Frank Zappa meal?
Our only regret in this whole process is that In the early stages of talking about this release, we were planning on a livestream concert to happen to coincide with the release. It was to be some members of The Mothers and others and would have taken place in LA and been live-streamed to everyone who bought some of the beer (plus anyone else who was interested). Unfortunately, the pandemic reality came crashing down and we had to postpone the show indefinitely. The concert proceeds were going to be going to the MusiCares foundation which was set up to help musicians who have been out of work during the pandemic. In lieu of that both Duck Foot and the Zappa Trust made generous donations to them.
So the Zappa beer has come and gone with the entire batch of 250 cases sold out during the pre-sale. Lots of people were able to get ahold of some to enjoy (or maybe just to put up on a shelf in their Frank Zappa shrine) but a few got shut out too. We of course still get the question, “When are you going to brew some more?” We would love nothing more than to brew this delicious beer every day, but business reality also is a thing. We have to satisfy our other beer obligations for the other beers we brew so it gets a little tricky to brew another entire batch and hope it will all sell out. So, the conclusion is we’re not ruling out brewing another Zappa beer, but it may be something a little different and may take a little while for us to get to. And we still would love to make that concert happen, so stay tuned!
But taking a little glimpse into the future, we’ve got another musically beery collaboration in the works! For all of you who are fans of the iconic LA-based Mexican-American band Los Lobos, we just agreed to do a beer release for them! The details are still forthcoming, but we’re targeting a Cinco de Mayo release of a Mexican-style Lager in 16oz 4-packs. We’re very stoked to be able to keep doing releases like this for all the musicians that we know and love and to help them out during this rough patch that we’re all going through. Cheers!Brett