Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Drinking Hanson's beer, Mmmhops, with Hanson

Posted By on Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 8:07 AM

HANSON: (from left) Zac, Taylor, and Isaac Hanson have their own beer.
  • Jason Travis
  • HANSON: (from left) Zac, Taylor, and Isaac Hanson have their own beer.

You'd be forgiven for thinking the words "Hanson beer" sound a little hokey together. After all, when those words initially started rolling out in the press almost two years ago, back before the band of brothers had formulated much of a plan or even landed on the style they'd ultimately brew, it seemed more like an offhanded interview comment (or an upcoming marketing gimmick) than an actual business plan. It would be another year and a half before the beer, an American Pale Ale called Mmmhops, would make its debut at The Hangover Part III's Los Angeles premiere party this past May. (The song from which the beer takes its name, Hanson's 1997 pop smash, "MMMBop," was featured on the soundtrack, and the makers of the song posed for photos with stars from the movie on the beer's Twitter account. Yes, the beer has a Twitter account.) Not much has happened since.

I decided to investigate. I sent a few emails, then made a few phone calls, then, two Sundays ago, braved an intimidating "Red Rover" situation with a long and winding line of Hansonites that stretched from the front door of Variety Playhouse, all the way back down the alley between the venue and El Myr, snaking around the outskirts of the parking lot, then halfway back up to Euclid Ave. I was on a mission. I was going to drink Mmmhops with Hanson.

"This is an endeavor on its own. It's not a promotional thing," drummer Zac, 27, says as we crack open a few bottles backstage. "We're not, like, making some up, having it on tour, then next year you won't see it. It's about taking the right steps, not moving too fast."

The Hansons are a friendly bunch without coming off as too polished or cheesy. They act like goobers in a way that three still-relatively-young brothers who hang out every day might act like goobers. They have plenty of handlers, but none flutter around while we drink beer and chat.

Mmmhops pours a light amber color with medium head. It's neither particularly fragrant or bitter, though there's some bready sweetness on the nose. Tastewise, it's a very balanced pale ale, much heavier on the malts than its name implies. (Play-on phrases aside, they probably should've bestowed the "Mmmhops" moniker on something a little more "mmmhoppier," as it were.) The Hansons have talked it up as a "craft beer gateway drug," which is a pretty fair assessment of this 7.5 percent ABV brew.

Like many bands, Hanson got a taste for craft beer on the road. Coming of age in a distinctly different environment than most American beer drinkers, the trio were less inclined to sneak booze and behave badly. They could have easily had a beer at a festival or show if they really wanted one. As a result, they started trying regional craft varieties in different towns, finding a taste for Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, Three Floyds, and New Belgium along the way.

"You're touring around the country, and you come into a city, and people go, 'Have you tried our beer?'" Zac says. "Especially in the size of venues we're usually playing - places like 1,200-2,500 seats. You're not playing the big Clear Channel arena, the hockey place. People who live in that community, places like this, Little Five Points, they love their local beer."

While they've never homebrewed themselves, under the influence of "a very good friend and longtime tech," they became interested in the science, reading up as they tried new IPAs and stouts. The band's done limited runs of chocolates and coffee in the past for super fans, but something about beer felt egalitarian enough that they should make it in a bigger way.

"The idea of doing a beer is like the great connector," singer Taylor, 30, says. "It's the equalizer. Our parents' church friends and our hip-hop remixer friends are all like, 'I'll drink your beer.' It bridges all people. What's cool about it is that it allows us to say something about ourselves without saying it."

"Perez Hilton and Jay Leno are both drinking our beer," guitarist, Isaac, 32, adds.

Enamored with their home state of Oklahoma's Mustang Brewing Company, the Hansons met with Mustang brewer Gary Shellman and started experimenting with recipes. They loved the first batch, but made it hoppier on a subsequent try, experimented with different types of barleys, tried dry hopping at one point, messed with the formula a bit longer, then decided they'd nailed it on the first try. Since Mustang isn't far from their native Tulsa, they even helped out on brew days, carrying sacks of grain and getting their hands dirty.

"When we first started [thinking about beer], we were like, should we just find a great company, license it, and hand it off?" Zac says. "But we realized that's not where we wanted to be. It's just way too much fun and too important for us. We wanted to find a partner close to home, and just like when you go to San Diego, you go to Stone. You get that trek to the place where it's from. It's from your backyard. If you're in downtown Tulsa, bartenders and bar owners know us by first name. Our beer is going to be in those bars."

Zac and Isaac Hanson backstage at the Variety Playhouse
  • Jason Travis
  • Zac and Isaac Hanson backstage at the Variety Playhouse

Fittingly, the band turns 21 this year. Asked if timing the beer's release to the band's legal drinking age was a purposeful move, there's a brotherly quibble.

"It was by chance," Zac says.

"I wouldn't say it was completely by chance," Taylor counters.

"What I mean is," Zac says, "we started talking about the beer for the first time two years ago, but - "

" - I will say this," Taylor interrupts. "We really wanted it to come out this year - "

" - because of that," Isaac finishes the sentence.

"That's one more reason," Taylor says. "'Come on. We're 21. If it's gonna happen, let's get it done this year. We're never going to be 21 again. Let's make it happen.' We've been making stupid jokes about it ever since."

The brothers are striving to have the beer in 10 states this year, and are optimistically hoping to even have it available at some some shows later in their current tour. (Various state laws and permits have gotten in the way so far.) Every bottle will have a QR code on its neck that links the drinker to a downloadable song, and a portion of every beer sold will contribute to clean water wells in Africa. They're calling Mmmhops the flagship of what could become an ongoing project with subsequent beers, assuming their fans are as into it as much as the Hansons think they'll be.

"You kinda get addicted to the idea of creation, of ownership," Zac says. "My flavor, my take on the world. I think the beer, in so many ways, is an extension of that. Beer and music, obviously, go really well together. It's a great companion for what we already do and love. It's a new creative outlet, a new business to tackle and be challenged by. It's exciting. If you're a craft brewery in America, you're a little guy, you're busting your butt. We've run our label for the last 10 years. It's the same thing. You're not getting rich tomorrow. You're up against that guy who has a million more dollars to spend than you do, and you've got to find a way to break through the clutter."

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