“Hamilton” Beer & “Hamilton” Trivia with Gun Hill Brewing’s Dave Lopez
Every sentient being on the planet says it: If you’re in New York, you just HAVE to go see “Hamilton,” the musical currently taking Broadway by storm. (And it’s ridiculously difficult to see if you don’t purchase tickets way in advance.) It’s life-changing, they claim. It manages to make Americans talk enthusiastically about two things that have NEVER been so universally beloved: history and musical theater.
I did see “Hamilton” last month in New York, and all the hype is true. It’s fantastic. Lin-Manuel Miranda (the star/writer/composer) and the cast are extraordinary performers, and the way the show is staged tells a story worth hearing in a bold way unlike anything I’d seen before. I’m one of those people now. “Hamilton” is like veganism – you’ll know a friend of yours has seen it because they insist on telling you all about it. After seeing the show, I immediately followed some of the cast on Twitter, including Miranda’s alternate Javier Muñoz, who played Alexander Hamilton on the night on which I saw the show. And I was intrigued to see Muñoz talk about his involvement in a group creating a craft brew based on the show.
That’s right. There’s “Hamilton” beer.
Gun Hill Brewing in The Bronx has created “Rise Up Rye,” a limited rye beer (4.8% ABV) inspired by “Hamilton.” And just like I immediately went on the hunt for “Hamilton” tickets when I first heard the soundtrack, the revelation that a “Hamilton” beer existed sent me on a quest. And while “Rise Up Rye” isn’t available to me in LA (yet), I wanted to know more. This is where Dave Lopez enters.
Lopez is a co-managing partner at Gun Hill Brewing Co, which has had a Colonial-America look and feel about it since it opened in February 2014. Everything from the website layout to the labeling on their bottles looks like what you would’ve seen in the 1700s. And when you consider that the biggest thing in pop culture right now is the story of young, scrappy, and hungry New York revolutionaries with a vision, it’s easy to see how Rise Up Rye was a natural fit for Gun Hill.
Lopez generously agreed to talk to me about how Rise Up Rye came to be. And then… I put him to the test with a pop (culture) quiz to find out just how well he knows “Hamilton.”
You grew up in New York. Born in Manhattan, schooled in the Bronx, off to college at Penn, and then back to the Bronx. Did you know you wanted to come back to the Bronx to be part of a beer revolution?
I always wanted to start my own business, but a brewery really wasn’t on my to-do list when I was in college. My priority was making it in the sports industry, actually. I’m a Mets, Jets, and Knicks fan. While I was in college, I did an internship with the Mets. My partner [Kieran Farrell] and I met playing baseball. Our teammate was the one who got us into beer. He was a home-brewer. When we tried the beer he brewed for his wedding, we realized there was an opportunity to do something really cool. We started working together as a threesome; that didn’t really work out, but my current partner and I put Gun Hill together.
“I STILL GET PEOPLE IN HERE WHO THANK US… THAT WE WERE ABLE TO BRING BEER TO THE BOROUGH”
You guys are in the Bronx. And I see on your website that the Bronx didn’t have any brewing for a few decades there. What’s it mean to you guys to be the first to bring it back?
It’s definitely a source of pride for us. There’s lots of New York pride all over the city, but I don’t think any borough has greater pride than the Bronx. The people here now have a brewery that they can call their own, which is a big deal for them. We’ve been doing this for a while, and I still get people in here who thank us for this. You know, they’re really grateful and proud that we were able to bring beer to the borough.
Do you feel any sort of borough rivalry with Brooklyn to take over the hip craft beer scene?
Not rivalry, no. Look, realistically… the Bronx is behind in some ways. Look at the real estate prices in Brooklyn – they’re almost at the same level as Manhattan. It’s not a rivalry. I think right now in the Bronx, there’s maybe three brewing companies. Over in Brooklyn they have… I wanna say… three or four times that, at least. But we have a lot of hometown pride here.
AB-InBev has been buying up a lot of craft breweries. Are you guys open to getting acquired, or are they like the evil empire to you?
That’s impossible to say in the hypothetical sense. We’re pretty happy. But anyone who tells you they wouldn’t have that conversation is lying.
You guys had a Schuyler sisters [who are characters in “Hamilton”] beer before the musical even opened, right? Who’s the history buff there?
Yeah, yeah. The Schuyler beer was actually one of our first – Schuyler’s American Wheat. It’s actually named after the Schuyler sisters’ mother. I’m the history guy. I majored in history at Penn, with a concentration in international relations. So I’m really into the history of wars. That’s actually why we called ourselves Gun Hill – that’s the name of an important event from the Revolutionary War that took place here. We sort of built our look on that era. As for the Schuyler beer… during the war, the British were marching on the Schuylers’ land, and Mrs. Schuyler burned her wheat field so they couldn’t profit off taking her land.
Wow, I had never heard that story.
Yeah, it’s really cool. And so when we were naming our wheat beer, with us being in New York… what a perfect way to honor that. So that’s where we got Schuyler’s American Wheat.
So, let’s just get this annoying question out there… have you seen “Hamilton?”
No, I still haven’t seen it! This whole thing… it was started by Jimmy Ludwig, for this project called Happy Hour Guys. It was their idea – pairing a Broadway show with a brewery. It’s just kind of fortuitous that we had connections and wound up making it with “Hamilton.” Jimmy wanted to get a show and a brewery on board, and he had been turned down a few times. And it just so happened that “Hamilton” said yes. And then, I knew Jimmy. He had been here before. So he put it together. I had no idea it – the show, but definitely the beer project – would grow so much. It was the best and the worst case scenario possible. As “Hamilton” got bigger, it got more intense and time-consuming. While we were in the midst of this whole process, we see them winning the Grammy and performing for the Obamas and everything. It was bigger than I could imagine.
Once the “Hamilton” team said yes, how involved were they? Did they have a lot of input on creating the beer?
Jimmy and I sat down with the “Hamilton” PR rep and the cast manager. We had dinner with five of the cast members to go over the idea. What we needed at that point was a name and their input on the style concept – the idea of the beer. I will say we encouraged them. We all came at it from the same place, and they were really involved in suggesting the name. And they were instrumental in naming it Rise Up Rye.
“[THE ‘HAMILTON’ CAST] WERE INSTRUMENTAL IN NAMING IT… THEY POURED THE HOPS. THEY ADDED THE YEAST TO THE FERMENTATION TANKS.”
And then the time came to actually brew it.
A week before brew day, Jimmy and I hung out in the dressing room at the show. We brought some beers with us, and we were drinking with the cast after a matinee performance. And we wanted to get them to come to brew day a week later – which was on their day off. A few cast members came – it probably would have been more, except that it was their first day off in weeks. But then they were physically involved. They poured the hops. They added the yeast to the fermentation tanks. And then they were at the release party. A majority of the cast came after the show on a Saturday.
When you launched, a lot of the cast showed up. What were their reviews?
I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t love it. It really is a beer that’s approachable and satisfying. It reaches a lot of palettes. We wanted something sessionable so people could have more than one without feeling drunk or full. It was our goal to appeal to everyone. There were some ideas for a really heavy stout or some other ideas, but we wanted to make a beer that anyone could enjoy. And then, of course, we wanted to tie it all into the theme – which is why we incorporated rye.
Yeah, about that. Why decide to make a rye for “Hamilton?”
We used rye because it was a staple in the agriculture of the Revolutionary War era. And all the rye we use in the beer was grown here in New York, where “Hamilton” takes place, and using a crop that was prominent at that time.
What should I pair Rise Up Rye with?
Going along with how approachable we wanted to make Rise Up Rye, it pairs well with anything. It’s very crisp, with a little bit of spice.
Alright, you’re a history buff, and you know the soundtrack of “Hamilton” pretty well. If you could sit down and enjoy a Rise Up Rye with any character from “Hamilton” other than Alexander Hamilton himself, who would it be?
That’s a good question. You mean the character, right?
I’d want to have a beer with George Washington. There’s just so many questions for him. Or Aaron Burr, because of one specific question – I’d want to know what the hell he was thinking in the moment he killed Alexander Hamilton
[AUTHOR NOTE: Oops. Spoiler alert!]
Where is Rise Up Rye going next? Are you going to serve it inside Richard Rodger theatre [where “Hamilton” is performed]? Are there plans to bottle or can it and distribute? Will any of us on the West Coast have a chance, or is it going to be like the Hamilton tickets all over again?
We made the first batch available to a bunch of bars in New York. And we’re brewing a second batch one week from now. Much of that batch will be canned. And the cans will be available in the theater. And we’re also working with a company in Washington state that has an online platform to distribute it. So this company will be picking up some Rise Up Rye, and that amount will be available in six states out West.
That’s fantastic. So, you said you know the “Hamilton” soundtrack. Do you know it pretty well? What’s your favorite song?
Probably a tie between “My Shot” … and “The Room Where it Happened”
Very good choices. Do you think you know the soundtrack well enough to take a pop (culture) quiz on the lyrics?
Sure! Let’s do it!
Alright, round one. Let’s just name some characters. I’ll give you a lyric, and you tell me who it’s describing.
Okay, I think I’ve got this
Six out of seven on that round. Not bad!
But the next round is a bit harder. I’m going to give you a lyric, and you fill in the blank with the missing rhyme.
Only two out of five on that round
Yeah, that wasn’t so good
But luckily, points are tripled in this next round. So you can make up some ground here
So there’s this recurring theme in “Hamilton” where they rhyme stuff with “Burr, Sir.”
I’m going to test whether you can tell the difference between rhymes they actually use and some lines they don’t use
Aw, man. Okay, let’s do it.
Eight out of thirteen there!
So you win our prize which is… um… actually I don’t have a prize!
Ha! That’s alright.
You did pretty well!
My wife would’ve done better.
Our thanks to Dave Lopez for sharing his time. Check out Gun Hill Brewing online, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.
Dave Lopez’s wife has not taken our quiz yet, but Jimmy Ludwig from Happy Hour Guys did.
I’ve graded him. Jimmy gets a perfect score.