Keynote speaker Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden at the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Denver. photo © Brewers Association
By Tony Forder
I didn’t get to meet Bruce Dickinson – he didn’t do a meet and greet after his keynote speech, but if I had the chance I would have mentioned a few things we appear to have in common. I’m a Brit, like him; my father was a commercial airline pilot, like him; and my brother had throat cancer, but he was not a survivor like Bruce. No musical connections (that I know of), but we share a love of beer.
That love of beer was at the heart of Dickinson’s presentation and was no doubt the driving force behind Brewers Association’s decision to have the lead singer of Iron Maiden bat leadoff at the 2019 Craft Brewers Conference held in Denver April 8-11. It was actually Ska Brewing’s (CO) Dave Thibodeau who came up with the idea, inspired by Dickinson’s book What Does This Button Do? And he got to introduce the energetic 60 year old.
Dickinson of course shot to fame with Iron Maiden at the ripe young age of 22 (or was it 23, he wasn’t sure). He said he wished it had been a more gradual thing “God, did you have to give me everything all at once?” Complacency however is anathema to this serial entrepreneur. He somehow found time to hold down a job as a commercial airline pilot when not touring (he later flew Iron Maiden’s own touring jet) and started building guided missiles just for fun, not to mention being a world-class fencer. He introduced the audience to the creative mosquito – the one that bites you with ideas.
One of these ideas was to make a beer. This evolved from a salesman trying to talk him into making an Iron Maiden red wine. Well, that was not an idea that attracted him, but what about a beer? He described the circuitous route that, after many rejections, led him to Robinson’s in Manchester and a quite intensive beer audition. After they were convinced that Dickinson knew his beer and was serious about making a beer with integrity and not just a label, they set to work creating a recipe for Trooper. It was based on a beer that Dickinson had discovered a few years before – Doom Bar by Sharp’s of Cornwall (before it was bought by Coors). He described it as an “Everyman” beer – tasty, but not too strong (4.1%). He said the idea was to create a “go to” beer, with the feel of a traditional cask beer in a bottle. It was a huge success. Subsequent brews followed – an imperial stout, Red & Black Porter (6.8%), and a Belgian hybrid – “that’s our Brexit beer,” he joked. The latest is to be a dry-hopped lager. Why not a double fermentation adding Sake yeast? The creative mosquito strikes again!
If the mosquito is absent though, it doesn’t matter. “Ideas are everywhere,” he said. “You don’t have to create – you just have to discover what’s out there.”
Dickinson’s used to speaking…and pacing – he certainly logged a lot of steps in his hour-long ramble. He’s often invited to speak to corporate groups, and he knows well the ways of big business. He told the audience, “The big guys are jealous of you.” Why? Because they’re focused on creating customers, but craft brewers have something more important – fans. “A customer is someone who can walk away. You want fans – friends.”
He cited an example from his own musical experience. Why would 30,000 people stand in a muddy field for three days – because they’re fans and they like being with other human beings. It’s a community that listens to music – he described it as “contrarion” rather than alternative. “It’s similar to drinking beer.”
“Beer is one of the fundamental reasons people get together,” he said. “This sense of community is getting more and more unique.” He cited the Samuel Smith’s pubs in England with no TVs. “These pubs are places to switch off social media and enjoy warm, fuzzy, unpredictable humans.”
Integrity is at the heart of all Dickinson’s endeavors. They might not all succeed he said but when they do, be prepared for the “unintended consequences of doing something with integrity.”
For Iron Maiden fans the show goes on, constantly evolving. “We’re always making new music, new albums, otherwise we’re just a karaoke band – well, yeah a well-paid one. It’s like plywood – there’s layers and layers.”
For beer, well, he said he’d like to make a beer in Brazil – “they have a tremendous beer culture there.”
And lastly, be open to ideas, he said, “You never know when the creative mosquito is going to bite you on your arse.”