Beer on Broadway: “Hamilton” Cast Plays at Brewing
The cast members of Broadway’s Hamilton seem to have it all. They’ve performed at the White House, they’ve won a Grammy and they play before nightly sold-out crowds.
Now, you can add “brewers” to the list of accomplishments.
On April 3, the cast and crew from the runaway hit musical teamed up with Gun Hill Brewing Co. in the Bronx, New York, to brew the official Hamilton beer.
The beer is named Rise Up Rye—a nod to the oft-repeated refrain “rise up” in the song “My Shot”—and in honor of rye, once an important staple grain in the New York City region. The 4.8% ale is brewed with rye, barley, New Zealand Wai-iti hops and saison yeast. Gun Hill co-founder Dave Lopez says he expects the finished beer to boast citrus and spice notes.
The beer collaboration was the brainchild of Broadway actors James “Jimmy” Ludwig and Mark Aldrich. Together, they form the duo behind The Happy Hour Guys, a traveling short-web series touring bars, breweries and distilleries.
Last August, Ludwig had an epiphany: HBO’s Game of Thrones has a beer line. Why not Broadway? Calling the new series Broadway Brews, the 48-year-old Ludwig envisioned actors and brewers allying forces to brew beer for charity.
“Both professions have a lot to do with each other,” Ludwig says. “Acting is a craft; brewing is a craft. The people are a lot alike; they just don’t know each other.”
But when he began pitching the idea for the show to Broadway acts, he received a string of rejections. Undeterred, he pushed on, and in November he got the first green light — from none other than the hottest show in the country. “Yeah, we got a little lucky there,” Ludwig says.
Ludwig just needed a brewery, and Lopez didn’t hesitate. “I told them, I don’t care what you want us to do, we’re in,” the 31-year-old brewer says.
But finding a time in the cast’s demanding schedule was difficult, postponing the brew date.
“I was told they had to cancel because they were going to perform for the Obamas,” Ludwig says. “Oh, I get it, it’s just the leader of the free world.”
After months of discussion, Javier Muñoz, the stand-in for lead and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, joined cast members Kamille Upshaw and David Guzman at Gun Hill. Arriving after mashing, they transferred the wort to the kettle, raked out the spent grains from the mash tun and added hops on cue. They were not asked to perform.
“When you’re busting your ass eight shows a week, the last thing you want to do is sing and dance,” Ludwig says. The first of three episodes on the collaboration will be released online at The Happy Hour Guys later in April.
The beer will be launched at a special ticketed party with members of the cast on April 30 at the Beer Authority in Manhattan. Lopez says he plans to bottle a limited amount of the beer for purchase at the brewery and sell kegs to area bars.
“The big question is whether it will be sold at Hamilton shows,” Lopez says.
Proceeds will benefit the Eliza Project, which recruits performers to teach kids to sing, act and dance. The program, started by Hamilton cast members, is run through the social-services charity Graham Windham, which Elizabeth Hamilton, Alexander’s wife, started as an orphanage 210 years ago. Today it provides foster care, schooling and counseling to needy children.
Hamilton, based upon the life and times of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, has been hailed as an imaginative, multiethnic mashup of hip-hop and pop. Tickets can be difficult to buy, as the show has garnered critical acclaim for reinvigorating the musical while maintaining strict historical accuracy.
A history buff himself, Lopez points out that both brewery and show share common themes: Gun Hill brands itself almost exclusively around the Revolutionary War with sayings like, “At Gun Hill Brewing Co. we hold this truth to be self-evident: that all beer is NOT created equal,” and draws its namesake from nearby Gun Hill, a mound now inside Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. In January 1777, American soldiers fired on British forces with a cannon they had dragged to the top of that hill. The brewery’s connection to local lore features a lineup of beer that includes historic references like Cherry Tree Red Ale.
Likewise, Hamilton, an aide to George Washington and the first secretary of the Treasury, was a major New York City political figure. Hamilton forged his fortune in the city, founded The New York Post and was shot to death in a duel with then Vice President Aaron Burr in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
Before Hamilton was ever a show, Lopez brewed Schuyler’s American Wheat Ale in honor of Hamilton’s wife’s parents, who burned their wheat fields rather than let them fall into British hands. Now, like everyone else, he’s just hoping to get a ticket to the play:
“I’ve been told I can get tickets, but I don’t count my chickens before they hatch.”