Freshly Tapped spotlights one recently released beer, whether it be a flagship, one-off, seasonal, or modified recipe.
Today, our beers come from 3 Stars Brewing’s new Car Series, a celebration of ’90s hip-hop and automobile culture. The series kicks off with 808’s, the Finback Brewery collaboration Low Riderz, the Captain Lawrence collaboration 77’s & Bonnevilles, and two Interboro Spirits and Ales collaborations: Hooptie Rollin’ and Tailpipe Draggin’. All five beers will be released as part of the brewery’s Hip Hop Showcase this Saturday.
Dave Coleman’s first car was a clunky, black, 1981 Toyota Corolla just five years his junior. It had belonged to his father, and then to his big brother, and by the time it was handed down to Coleman in the fall of 1991, the vehicle had taken its fair share of licks. Rope kept the back bumper attached. Approximately eight layers of house paint covered its exterior, hiding the ghosts of bad ideas past: the Irish flag on the roof, the Primus fly on the hood, the shamrocks everywhere. His brother had locked his keys in the car and crowbarred his way back in so many times that padlocks and hasps held the doors closed.
“That was the shitbox,” the 3 Stars Brewing co-founder reminisces, sitting at a wooden picnic table in his brewery on a Monday evening. “That was my first car.”
This shitbox wasn’t without its charm. With a 6×9 speaker in the back dash, a bass tube in the trunk, and a Blaupunkt receiver, it was essentially a boombox on wheels. All of these features had been installed by Coleman using his family’s steak knives to peel back the car’s wires and jerry-rig the sound system. In fact, this is how Coleman would bolster the stereos in all of his subsequent cars: another hand-me-down Corolla, an ’81 Chrysler LeBaron hardtop, and an ’88 Prelude – his dream car, which he leased with a salary from a neighborhood chicken shop. Coleman broke so many steak knives that his dad was forced to scold him repeatedly for it.
“You’d have wires going through the backseat, so when your friends got in the car, you’d be like, ‘Don’t trip over the wires – you’re going to disconnect my 6×9!’” the Ohio native recalls. “It wasn’t until I was probably 18 that I learned to do it right – to take out the kickboard and run them underneath the molding.”
From behind his trademark Old Dutch beard, Coleman lights up in a discussion of automobiles. He remembers every detail of not just his cars but everyone else’s cars. There were the flashy ones that the high school drug dealers drove – the ‘81 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes and the ’77 Cadillac Sevilles. There was his buddy’s baby blue El Camino, a beauty chromed out with deep dish Daytons. There were the Jeep Grand Cherokees that his wealthier college friends were gifted as graduation presents.
“Growing up in Cleveland Heights, car culture was a huge part of our lives,” Coleman says. “If you had 45 minutes free on a Saturday, you’d wash your car before going out with your friends. You always put Tire Wet on. You always Armor All’ed your dash. You always had a tree hanging from your mirror. It was a thing.”
An equally important component of that thing was the music feeding the tape deck. Coleman was raised on his father’s collection of ‘70s psychedelic rock – Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Psychedelic Furs – but his tastes shifted irrevocably with the purchase of the Beastie Boys’ classic License to Ill at ten years old.
“That was my first major exposure to hip-hop, and it was like discovering a sound that allowed for creativity in a way that I could have never imagined,” says Coleman, who helped paint that album’s airplane image on a neighbor’s quarter pipe. “Hip-hop was an expression of individualism. It was also a middle finger to everybody. It was a big ‘fuck you.’ It was like punk rock music that wasn’t just angry English people. My mind was blown.”
Beastie Boys led to Public Enemy led to Gang Starr led to Cypress Hill led to Outkast. These were the cornerstone artists of Coleman’s formative years. Of course, this dovetailed with his other obsession: Hip-hop was music not just for riding around in cars but often about riding around in cars. Each interest fueled the other.
Since founding 3 Stars with Mike McGarvey in 2011, Coleman has consistently incorporated his affection for hip-hop into the brewery. The de facto creative director, he’s named beers after Gang Starr songs (Above the Clouds), Aesop Rock lyrics (Two-Headed Unicorn and Jabberwocky Superfly), and the portly, braggadocios rapper Rick Ross (Ricky Rosé). A visit to the brewery’s Urban Farmhouse tasting room is typically soundtracked by the steady knock of East Coast boom bap from Coleman’s record collection. (The co-founder keeps the entirety of his vinyl at the brewery lest his cat scratch it up.) And nuggets from the rap vernacular pepper almost every 3 Stars social media post penned by Coleman.
But recently, almost three decades after he customized his first Corolla, the idea of bringing together all three of Coleman’s passions – cars, hip-hop, and beer – came to him in an “insomnia moment.”
“I’m not a good sleeper, so I get ideas in the middle of the night,” he explains. “I just came into work the next day, and I was like, ‘Mikey, here’s my idea: ’90s hip-hop car culture beer releases.’ And he was like, ‘Fly that bird, baby.'”
On Saturday night, 3 Stars will roll out the first wave of entries in the series: 808’s, Low Riderz, 77’s & Bonnevilles, Hooptie Rollin’, and Tailpipe Draggin’. All five beers will be released as part of the brewery’s Hip Hop Showcase, a concert headlined by The Perceptionists, a duo of Boston rappers Mr. Lif and Akrobatik who were rostered on El-P’s seminal underground hip-hop label Definitive Jux during the ‘00s. As fate would have it, that label’s old manager, Jesse Ferguson, will be in the fold, as well: His Brooklyn brewery, Interboro Spirits and Ales, collaborated with 3 Stars on Hooptie Rollin’ and Tailpipe Draggin’.
These two boozy beers – one an imperial stout, the other a double IPA – nod to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1989 ode to shitboxes “My Hooptie”. (Opening line: “My hooptie rollin’, tailpipe draggin’ / Heat don’t work, and my girl keeps naggin’.”)
“You either had it or you didn’t,” says Coleman. “My buddy’s El Camino was the opposite of a hooptie rollin’. His car was mint. But then there were the kids who drove pieces of shit like I did, and sometimes your tailpipe would drag.”
(Ferguson’s initial proposal to release Hooptie Rollin’ and Tailpipe Draggin’ as a pair of cans hit a snag when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which must approve the names of beers that cross state lines, vetoed Hooptie Rollin’ for reasons unknown to Coleman. Nevertheless, 3 Stars brewed the imperial stout on its pilot system and will serve it at Saturday’s party. Like last year’s collaboration Prophet of Rage, the beer eschews the “pastry stout” trend towards lactose milk sugar and other adjuncts in favor of a hefty chocolate malt grist.)
Like the forthcoming ’77 Seville – another entry in the series being brewed next week – 77’s & Bonnevilles and Low Riderz draw inspiration from the car iconography of Outkast songs.
“There’s a big riff on Outkast in these beers,” Coleman explains. “Outkast was a big part of my ‘90s hip-hop experience. In Cleveland, a lot of people were listening to Bone – I was also listening to Bone – but when Outkast came out, man… Between Big Boi and Andre there was this duality: One’s a gangster, one’s really kind of a poet. And when that happened, it was like the meeting of two parts of my own head. You could be hard but still be thoughtful. You could be sensitive, but you could still spit fire. I mean, rolling around, smoking weed, listening to Southernplayalistic – ‘Player’s Ball’ was the anthem, and it was for a long time.”
Low Riderz and ‘77s & Bonnevilles are collaborations with two other NYC breweries: Finback and Captain Lawrence, respectively. In the wake of collaborations with LIC Beer Project, Other Half, and Interboro last year, there appears to be a bit of a trend emerging for 3 Stars. Coleman attributes the budding love affair mostly to coincidence.
“At the festivals, you run into a lot of other breweries, and it’s just about: Who are you vibing with?” he says. “We hung deep with Finback. And at a festival in Boston, we were at a booth next to Captain Lawrence, and we just totally vibed with them. We rocked out together. They were like, ‘When the fuck are we doing a collab?’ And we were like, ‘Oh, you wanna do a collab?’”
Vibes aside, there are also strategic considerations that go into these cross-marketing opportunities. For a D.C. brewery trying to sell beer in New York City – and vice versa – the right associations go a long way.
“Captain Lawrence was like, ‘We’re trying to increase our presence in D.C., so we want to work with the best D.C. brewery,’” Coleman shares. “And we were like, ‘Alright, well, we’re trying to increase our presence in New York, so that makes sense.’ That’s a big part of it for us: New York is one of our markets, and working with all of these guys helps in a way. Every market is so hyper, hyper, hyper local now. It’s hard to break in. You go to a bar, and they’ll drink your beer and be like, ‘This is awesome, but why am I buying D.C. beer instead of New York beer?’ But when you’re doing a collab, it’s like, ‘Oh, I love Jesse at Interboro, of course I’ll bring it on.’ And then you get your foot in the door, and it’s like, ‘What else do you have?’ Now, you’re an actual account. Now, you’re accepted.”
Finback, Captain Lawrence, and Interboro all have reputations for producing excellent hop-forward beers, so it’s not particularly shocking that Low Riderz, 77’s and Bonnevilles, Tailpipe Draggin’ cover the spectrum of IPAs: session, regular, and double. Again, this is a combination of personal preference and practical consideration.
“Honestly, when we started talking to these guys, Finback and Captain Lawrence were like, ‘Let’s give the people what they want: more hops,’” shares the co-founder. “It’s funny, because it’s partially also just what we’re all kind of drinking right now. If you had asked me two years ago what I was drinking, I wouldn’t have said IPA, but nowadays, it’s what I’m craving. And so when another brewery is like, ‘We want to do a project together, and we want it to be a double IPA,’ I’m like, ‘Let’s do it!’”
As Coleman and McGarvey discussed in last year’s The Technicolor Life of 3 Stars Brewing, double IPAs have become a steady part of the brewery’s portfolio. In addition to the occasional one-off, like last fall’s Citra showcase The Devil is Listening or this year’s agave-spiked Sonic Hummingbird, these hop bombs consist primarily of four rotating offerings: Two the Dome, Star Dust, #ultrafresh, and Pounding Trees.
“Each one has its own character,” says Head Brewer Brandon “Millhouse” Miller, speaking with me from New York, where he and McGarvey are brewing another collaboration IPA with Finback on its system. “Two to the Dome is the quintessential double IPA: a little bitterness, good hop flavor, clean finish. Star Dust is lupulin powder throughout the whirlpool and dry-hop. #ultrafresh is whatever hops we have – it’s always changing. And then Pounding Trees is just that bitter-flavor, hop-aroma, kick-you-in-the-drawers IPA.”
But while each member of this quartet distinguishes itself, they’re also cut from the same cloth. Ever since former Lead Brewer Nathan Rice revamped the original Two to the Dome recipe in 2016, the construction of 3 Stars’ double IPAs hasn’t changed all that much: a lean grist of typically pilsen malt and red or white wheat – “just enough… to hang all of those hops on it,” Rice told me – which is fermented with California Ale yeast. Hop varietals and their form change, but the rest is more or less consistent.
What’s notable, therefore, is that each of the three collaboration IPAs deviates from the established formula in notable ways, and possibly signals what’s the come from the Takoma brewery.
To start, the brewery is playing around with its malt bills. Low Riderz contains malted and flaked oats, while Tailpipe Draggin’ has flaked oats and flaked wheat – the first time these adjunct grains have ended up ina 3 Stars double IPA. As mentioned in December’s Freshly Tapped: Ocelot’s Hope, oats are high in protein and oil content, and they often add a silky, creamy “mouthfeel” to a beer, in addition to a slight haze.
Both IPAs were fermented with a blend of California Ale and English Ale yeasts. Use of the latter strain is becoming increasing popular in American IPA production because it attenuates less, meaning that the yeast leaves behind more residual sugar, resulting in a slightly sweeter beer with, again, a fuller mouthfeel. In contrast, California Ale yeast is a workhorse, fermenting beers dry, clean, and slightly fruity. Pitching with both strains, in theory, allows you to capture a bit of both strains’ personalities.
“That was a true collaboration with Jesse at Interboro – that’s his ‘house strain,’” Miller says of the blend. “We’ve come to find out that it’s what a lot of the Brooklyn and NYC breweries are using. It’s nice mix of both: You get the clean accentuation of the hops, but we’re also getting that English dryness.”
Before that Interboro collaboration could finish fermenting, though, 3 Stars dry-hopped the beer. This is another increasingly popular procedure. As outlined in last October’s Trash Pandas, Madmen, and Hysteria in Columbia, Maryland, there are brewers who argue that dry-hopping alongside active yeast helps facilitate “natural mixing” and leads to the “biotransformation of hop oil compounds.” So, because the yeast is moving around so vigorously, it’s moving the hops around with it, which helps better integrate them into the beer.
“The yeast bonds with the hop oils, and you get this real creamy fruit flavor that you’re getting in a lot of the New England-style IPAs,” Miller explains. “And then when the beer hit terminal, we did the second leg of the dry-hopping. But even before that second leg, it had this crazy tangerine, creamsicle flavor. It was already showing some neat layers of flavors from that first round.”
For 3 Stars’ collaboration with Captain Lawrence, 77’s & Bonnevilles, a similar form of “pseudo-biotransformation” was employed at the last-minute suggestion of visiting founder Scott Vaccaro on its brew day.
“That morning, we had already talked about the recipe, and we were going to do this crazy big whirlpool, but Scott was like, ‘We’ve been doing this cool thing. What do you guys think of doing half of the hops in the whirlpool and putting the rest of the hops in the fermenter, and then knocking out onto the hops?’” Miller recalls. “Of course, that wasn’t planned. But we all looked at each other, and we were like, ‘Hell yeah, that’s what we’re going to do.’”
When the dust settles on the party, the 3 Stars Head Brewer says he plans to sit down with Coleman and McGarvey to taste the beers and discuss what the brewery should incorporate into its double IPA recipe formulation going forward.
“These collaborations – with the different techniques and different yeast strains – are really going to catapult us to the next level of our one-off IPAs,” Miller says. “We’re at this neat crossroads. We have an opportunity to taste four IPAs that are fresh all at the same time, and figure out what our next steps are.”
An 8% double IPA, 808’s is named after the Roland TR-808, a relatively rudimentary drum machine that was only manufactured from 1980 to 1983 but had a lengthy second life in the production of hip-hop.
“It was an affordable, entry-level drum machine that didn’t just do samples or pre-programmed beats,” Coleman explains. “It was something that you could actually program to make your own beats, so it became really popular in early 80s hip-hop – stuff like Afrika Bambaataa and Sir Mix-a-Lot. The Beastie Boys loved it. It’s funny because it was so flawed. It was not a really good machine. But it was affordable, so you could get into the game and start making music. It was utilitarian.”
The former Big Hunt general manager sees a parallel between the drum machine and his brewery’s own humble origins: For over four years, 3 Stars brewed beer on a refurbished dairy mash tun and a direct fire kettle. That means for almost half a decade, every pint of Peppercorn Saison came from a vessel designed to produce milk and cheese products.
“If you can make good music on an 808, just imagine if you get a full mixing board,” he continues. “If you can make good beer on a piece of shit, what can you do when you have the technology? So, 808’s speak to me in that way: You’ve just got to make it work. As everyone knows, 3 Stars awakened on a shoestring and a dream.”
In constructing a double IPA inspired by the drum machine, Miller focused on its utility, which led him to the citrusy Pacific Northwest hop Amarillo.
“An 808 is that quintessential basic bass; it’s that drum beat,” the brewer says. “We use a lot of Amarillo around here. It’s in Above the Clouds and Ghost. I love that hop, but when I’m doing double IPAs, it’s one that I normally take out of the equation because it’s such a part of the brewery and our other beers. But it made total sense here We went Amarillo, Azazza, and Simcoe lupulin powder, and just straight pilsner malt. It’s a nice and simple IPA, and it’s very much in our style.”
Coleman is proud of everything 3 Stars produces – you’ll never hear him admit that a concept or beer missed the mark – but there’s an even more tangible sense of satisfaction evident in discussion of the Car Series, which will continue through the summer.
“As a business at five-and-a-half years old, I needed to do something to change it up,” he tells me. “With the Car Series, at least the first couple legs of it, Mike has really let me take free rein. He’s gone, ‘This is your crazy idea. Go ahead and run with it.’ So, I’ve been working with Kendra [Kuliga], and she’s been doing all of our label designs. As far as IPAs go, we got Pounding Trees, we got Two to the Dome, we got Star Dust, we got #ultrafresh, and they’re all fucking awesome, but I want to keep challenging our team in the creativity department.”
As Coleman sees it, hip-hop and beer are equally about one thing: teamwork.
“You could have a great solo MC, but you pair that solo MC with a killer DJ, and the two together become better than the sum of their parts,” he opines. “That could be said of Erik B and Rakim, EPMD, Tribe Called Quest. That’s what I’ve always taken from hip-hop: It’s all about who your team is. Who are you assembled around? I mean, shit’s like Voltron. Who do you have? And we have an awesome here. We’ve got some talented-ass kids. We’ve got some nice mentors and leadership figures. We’ve got a full sales team now.”
Coleman catches himself here. He’s been waxing eloquent about creativity and risk taking and hip-hop for over six minutes uninterrupted.
“I don’t know, I’m getting old and nostalgic about shit,” the co-founder admits. “I think that’s a big part of this series, too.”
Coleman can’t go back in time and give himself the ‘77 Seville he wished he had. But he can make a beer called ’77 Seville, and maybe that’s good enough.
He’s also done well enough in life to upgrade from Toyota Corollas to a 2016 Mazda CX-5.
“It’s a nice car,” he says with a grin. “And I got the full sound system – Bose and everything.”
Follow writer (and, in this case, photographer) Philip Runco on Twitter.