Entertainers, Athletes Gravitate to Brewing
It may have been a bit of fate that pushed Chris Ray to a career in beer.
It was July 29, 2011, when Ray, a relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, stepped to the mound in the seventh inning, set to face the Tampa Bay Rays. Ray fired off 39 pitches across two innings, his array topping out with a 95-mile-per-hour fastball.
His team was down by eight runs, but Ray had reason to be excited: A collaboration beer he made with Fremont Brewing, Homefront IPA, debuted in the stands with proceeds donated to Operation Homefront, a charity supporting military families. Ray, a homebrewer, was also pitching well, but felt a twinge of pain during his outing.
“I was probably too amped up, and I threw my lat off my shoulder,” says Ray, speaking of his right latissimus dorsi, a muscle connecting the back to the shoulder.
In the 283rd appearance in his career in Major League Baseball, Ray would finish the eighth inning and never step on a mound again in the majors. But that was OK. It was his push to start Center of the Universe Brewing Co., a dream he began conceptualizing in 2010. He would open the brewery with his brother, Phillip, in November 2012 in Ashland, Virginia.
“When I was on the road, teammates would drink Bud Light or Stella if they felt fancy, but I became their guide to craft beer,” Ray says. “It instilled in me that I was doing the right thing opening a brewery because there’s a tremendous amount of people who can be brought on board to craft beer.”
Ray isn’t the only person with a celebrity background to get into the beer industry. Steak houses, car dealerships and clothing lines have long been popular areas of interest for athletes, musicians and actors, but more are following the siren call of beer, from collaborations to full-fledged breweries.
In 2014, Hanson, the music group made famous by their ’90s pop songs, launched Hanson Brothers Beer Co.’s Mmmhops, a pale ale riff on their No. 1 song, “MMMBop.” Former MLB All-Star Kevin Youkilis is co-owner of Loma Brewing Co. in Los Gatos, California. Actor Kelsey Grammer is planning to open Faith American Brewing Co. in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Radio and television host Adam Carolla recently made Endless Rant IPA with King Harbor Brewing Co. in Redondo Beach, California. Wrestler Steve Austin and El Segundo Brewing Co. teamed up on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull IPA. The list goes on with celebrities from all corners of sports and entertainment getting involved.
“The intersection of chemistry, art, science and cooking, all backed up by history, is really exciting, romantic and really lovely to me,” says actor and writer Wil Wheaton, who collaborates annually with Stone Brewing on Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout and has his homebrew recipes featured with supply company Northern Brewer. “Being able to share all that with others has been a very positive experience.”
Wheaton’s love for beer has also extended into promotional work for a collaboration beer between Newcastle and Caledonian Brewery, and his two pit bulls, Seamus and Marlowe, were featured on a Foothills Brewing IPA of the Month label in July 2015.
The founders behind Rock Brothers Brewing, who are bringing together beer and music, are also expanding those kinds of partnerships. Kevin Lilly and Tony Casoria launched their business in Tampa, Florida, along with partner Joey Redner of Cigar City Brewing in 2014 with the idea of creating musician-themed beers hand-in-hand with artists. That has led to collaborations with bands like Hootie & the Blowfish and 311. Rock Brothers has contract brewed its beers at breweries around the country, but will open its own brick-and-mortar brewery and music venue in Tampa this fall.
Among Rock Brothers’ most recent creations was an IPA brewed with reggae band Rebelution, a friendship that began after Lilly and Casoria were introduced to the band by NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson. The IPA, like other Rock Brothers beers, is sold at the band’s performances with plans to roll out in home markets for each band, too.
“It was cool for us to know we could share another craft that isn’t just music,” says Rebelution keyboardist Rory Carey, a self-described “craft beer connoisseur” and former homebrewer. “Sharing another passion of ours was important to connecting with fans on a different level.”