Brewer's Play List Volume 2: Greg Passmore of Back Pedal Brewing
In our second Brewer's Play List we interview Greg Passmore, Head Brewer at Back Pedal Brewing in Portland, Oregon. This column explores how music influences brewers in their quest to produce unique and delicious beers. At the end of the interview, a curated Spotify Playlist from Greg is available for the public to listen to. Enjoy.
Q. How did you get into craft beer?
A. I have loved cooking since I was old enough to stir a wooden spoon in some cookie batter. As I grew up, I cooked more and more and developed a love for all ingredients and flavors. I grew up eating at McMenamins with my family and being surrounded by the beer culture of Widmer, Bridgeport, and Rogue. I never really had a macro-beer phase in my life, and appreciate a good High Life now and then more than I ever did back then. I liked the idea of craft beer as an extension of cooking, and really got into the flavors of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Fat Tire in my early 20s, and eventually decided to start brewing on my own, as a form of large-batch cooking. It was this foray into home brewing that really opened my eyes to craft beer and finally got me to like styles like IPA and Wits and Sours.
Q. How has music influenced your brewing?
A. Rather than directly influencing beer recipes or flavors, listening to and playing music has influenced my processes and approach a lot. I’m a voracious consumer of new music, listening to music blogs and reading about how songs are made and why, and this is much how I approach trying new beers, trying to find classics I have never had before, new beers that are pushing boundaries, and getting recommendations from friends. I’m not much of a music “collector” and also not a collector/trader of rare beers and bottles - I find there is already too much good beer (or music) that is easily available, and I don’t need to go to the end of the earth or spend top dollar to experience an extremely rare beer or listen to a small print 45 EP. Of course, there are always exceptions, like spending $30 for that first try of Westvleteren 12 when I found it on Copenhagen.
I find recipe creation, whether it is for cooking or brewing, to share quite a bit with music production. The most important concepts for me are layering and careful consideration of the ingredients. You’ve got to have the drums (or something drum-like), the bass (or something bass-like), and some melody to float on top. In great music, and in great food and drink, these layers complement each other, either in a harmonic way or in a curiously dissonant way that gets your attention. And just like in music, you can use a humble instrument, or humble ingredients to create something singular and special, or you can carefully highlight top quality ingredients, treat them with respect, and make them sing. Likewise, it’s very easy to make a terrible song with great instruments, or terrible beer with the best hops in the world.
Q. What type of music do you like to listen to while you brew?
At Back Pedal we tend to listen to a mix of upbeat dancey stuff, alt rock and rap from our youth, classics from the past, and whatever new music is out this week. I track the album releases pretty closely and like to give whatever is new a listen. If I get to the iPad first in the morning, I tend to put on something like one of my favorite BBC Essential Mixes, some Mount Kimbie, Major Lazer, some OutKast, or maybe some indie rock. Chris tends to listen to some Red Hot Chili Peppers, some 90s jams, or some classic Brazilian music. As the day goes on, our conversation often leads to putting on a particular album, often veering into the nostalgic or something very current that just came out. We even like to listen to Hamilton the musical.
Q. Do you listen to a certain type of genre of music?
A. I’m all across the board and Chris is too. I like to start out bouncy and dancey and loud to wake me up, then when we have some downtime during mash or vorlauf or boil, I tend to the more introspective and quieter, more lyrically driven stuff. I’d say I’m game for almost anything except the Hey-Hey-Claps of bands like the Lumineers. The formula of that kind of music drives me crazy. The safe musical spaces for me that I always love are electronic/synth and sampler driven stuff, rap, 80s rock, alt/new country, and indie rock.
Q. Have you ever brewed a music oriented beer before? If so, please explain what and why?
A. Not exactly. Music is more of an inspiration for us when naming beers, or describing a feeling that a beer is trying to convey by relating it to music. Our best example is probably our Summer Breeze (an English Summer Ale), which is a very relaxed, chilled out beer. Our hope is that this beer evokes thoughts of being riverside, or on a boat, or just hanging on the lawn enjoying the freedom and carefree vibes that summer inspires.
Sweet days of summer, the jasmine's in bloom. July is dressed up and playing her tune. And I come home from a hard day's work. And you're waiting there, not a care in the world. See the smile a-waitin' in the kitchen, food cookin' and the plates for two. Feel the arms that reach out to hold me, in the evening when the day is through.
Q. Do you play any instruments? If so elaborate.
A. I started playing the piano when I was quite young, and guitar when I was in High School, and now also love to play drums, synthesizer, and especially samplers, drum machines, and electronic music.
Q. Who is your favorite musician and why?
A. My favorite band will probably always be The Knife, for their unique instrumentation, unleashed creativity, and a great blend of dancey beats with dark vocals. However, right now I'm really into 4 musicians that I see as quite similar to each other. Jamie XX, Panda Bear, Nicolas Jaar, and Morrisey. All of these guys play in bands, and with other people, but they really shine in their solo work. They all don’t take themselves too seriously, and they do a really good job of blending the lyrical, the thematic, and the sonic aspects of music. They each have a very different way of doing it, but they are great at balancing the funny and the playful and dancey with the sadness of life - kind of like The Knife.
Q. What was the first concert you went to?
A. I didn’t go to a lot of shows until I was in my 20s. The first show that made a very memorable imprint on me was a complete surprise. Tenacious D were opening for Weezer in 2001 at the Rose Garden in Portland. I had no idea who Tenacious D were, or what their schtick was, and they absolutely stole the show. Jimmy Eat World came out as the first opener, and I don’t remember them at all. Then Tenacious D took the stage, with only Jack Black and Kyle Gass on the stage, and they immediately filled the arena with showmanship, amazing guitar skills, genuinely clever and entertaining songwriting, and true rock star performance. This was the first show of the tour, and I don’t think Tenacious D had ever played an arena of this size before, making this even more special - they nailed it. While I don’t listen to Tenacious D today (they have quite a small catalog), this remains one of the most enjoyable and magical concert experiences I have ever had.
Q. What was the most recent concert you went to?
A. I haven’t been to many shows recently. James Blake at the Roseland in Portland last year was the last big show, and it was amazing as usual. He is one of my favorite musicians to see live. His sound is so much bigger live, and he does a great job of really turning up his bassier more synth-driven songs, while still peppering in some of his R&B quiet songs. I also saw a small show right after this, Wampire at the Liquor Store basement venue, and I’m pretty sure I got long term hearing damage in that basement.
Q. What are you excited about coming up at your brewery?
A. We’ve spent a lot of our time experimenting with new beers, and will continue to do that as much as we can, but we finally have enough recipes that we love that we can really hone and iterate on. I’m excited to keep tweaking these recipes (forever) until we are thrilled with them.
Q. Spotify Playlist- Choose 10-20 songs you listen to while you brew?
A. Well, I couldn’t stop here and ended up with 40 songs. This kind of spans the genres I tend to listen to while brewing and has a similar progression to our brew day.
Q. What are some of your favorite music sites?
A. I absolute love Gorilla vs. Bear. His monthly mixes are always incredible and put together with great care.
I also really like Aquarium Drunkard for an even more eclectic mix of music that tends to dig into the archives a bit.
For hip hop, my favorite is definitely Pigeons & Planes. They have great Spotify playlists to subscribe to.
For anyone who likes mixes, BBC Essential Mix is seminal. I have had hundreds of hours of discovery and fun listening to these.
Since these aren’t on Spotify, these are some of my favorite mixes that you can stream online:
BBC Essential Mix - Hot Chip 2012 https://soundcloud.com/jah7849/hot-chip-essential-mix-06-02
BBC Essential Mix - James Blake 2011 https://soundcloud.com/1-800-dinosaur/james-bbc-radio-1-essential
BBC Essential Mix - Nicolas Jaar No BBC Edit https://soundcloud.com/otherpeoplerecords/csp06-nicolas-jaar-essential
Diplo - Favela on Blast - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJabeXyqLxU
MIA & Diplo - Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol 1 http://www.datpiff.com/MIA-Piracy-Funds-Terrorism-mixtape.83892.html
Santigold & Diplo - Top Ranking https://soundcloud.com/m-larabee-hotmail-com/xxxtop-ranking
All of these Gorilla vs. Bear Halloween mixes are wonderful, especially 2011: