Billy Hamilton. Bassist in the post-hardcore band Silverstein - a group many of us in our late twenties and early thirties have loved for over a decade. Lyrically and melodically, the band has always had a way of hooking you from the first note of a record to the last. But recently I learned that Billy had become quite the craft beer aficionado - travelling the world, tasting what different cities and countries had to offer and building quite the cellar of Belgian lambics and big American stouts and sours. Having been straight edge (drinking no alcohol) for most of his life, Billy was intrigued by the artisan quality of craft beer, the ability to understand something about the fabric of a locale through the beer in his glass. The fact that this product was something more. It became a search for the next small batch beer produced by the local brewery of the town the band happened to be in that night and eventually turned into an appreciation for craft as an art form that should be held to the same regard as wine and scotch whisky always had been.
On the eve of the new album "I am Alive in Everything I Touch" release and while on tour celebrating the 10 year anniversary of "Discovering the Waterfront", we sat down, had a couple beers (Funky Buddha's Last Snow and The Bruery's collaboration with Smog City, Atomic Kangarue, to be exact), and talked beer, coffee, traveling, and of course, Silverstein. What more do you need?
Here's a bit of our chat:
CC: How long has Silverstein been a band?
BH: 15 years. Silverstein formed in early 2000 and I joined in December of 2000, after seeing them play a couple shows with various temporary bassists.
CC: What's your greatest memory as part of Silverstein?
BH: We've been touring for 12 years and have played over 1800 shows in about 40 countries. It's very difficult to pinpoint one greatest memory. Some of the most memorable shows/venues that we have played are the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, Earls Court in London, and the Tokyo Dome!
CC: What's your favorite Silverstein song to date?
BH: Again, we've written over 100 original songs, so it's very hard to pick a favorite. We did a fun fast punk record called "Short Songs" that I really like and I'm pretty happy with the majority of the songs on our upcoming album called "I am Alive in Everything I Touch."
CC: You said you tour almost 200 days any given year with Silverstein. Touring has to take a toll on you mentally and physically. What helps you get through the time away from home?
BH: Touring definitely takes its toll, both mentally and physically. It's easy to feel burnt out, jet lagged, home sick, and like the days are blurring into one. The one thing that I think helps combat all of that is something a touring veteran friend of mine refers to as "Doing the Thing". There is basically something in every city in the world that you can do that is different from the last or the next. Whether it's going to see a famous landmark, eating at a specific local restaurant or searching for a locally brewed beer or cup of coffee, "Doing the Thing" makes ever day special and exciting.
CC: You were straight edge at one point. When did you get in to craft beer and what was it that got you to leave the straight edge lifestyle and move into craft as a hobby?
BH: I was straight edge from when I was about 14 until I was 26. The reason I got into straight edge was because I didn't want to conform to the norm and get into drinking, smoking or drugs in high school because of peer pressure. After traveling the world through my teens into my adult years, I felt like drinking was something I wanted to explore, more so as a hobby than a substance. I liked the idea of wine or whisky connoisseurs and wanted to discover the finer points of tasting, rather than drinking just to get drunk. I felt like it was a responsible choice that I could make as an adult that I couldn't make if I started drinking as a teenager. I look back at my straight edge years fondly and have a lot of respect for the lifestyle. There's a popular straight edge hardcore album by the band Minor Threat called "Out of Step", which shows a herd of white sheep with one black sheep running off on its own, on the cover. This imagery goes along with the lyric "I can't keep up, can't keep up, can't keep up. Out of step with the world," which is something that I based my life on for many years. I feel like that lyric and image still holds true with my lifestyle even though I'm no longer straight edge, and represents my love for craft beer in the sense that the small breweries are those black sheep going against convention and the traditional American light adjunct lagers that are shoved down North Americans' throats.
CC: What is it about craft beer that brought you in to the hobby and why do you think it's something that people become so passionate about?
BH: I have always been a collector of sorts. I have an extensive vinyl record collection and have always had hobbies that involve collecting, hoarding, and "ticking". Before I started drinking beer I got into sourcing out local coffee roasters and even micro-brewed root beers. Finding rare and regionally specific beers and aiming for freshness when it comes to IPA's and discovering aging potentials of stouts and lambics are what keeps it interesting.
CC: Any connection between craft beer and your music? Artistically?
BH: Our band has always been relatively DIY and has mostly worked with independent record labels and such. We try to do most of our business on a personal level and to be as involved as possible. While we have been successful enough to travel the world and play shows as our full time job, it's still a very underground scene that we're involved in . We have never had a huge commercial radio single and have just been plugging along at the same level we have been for the majority of the last 10 years. I think that can be compared to craft beer in a lot of ways.
CC: You have an interesting and really cool opportunity to see so many different cultures around the world through touring. You can also see "micro-cultures" throughout the U.S. What do you like most about touring with regards to your passion for craft beer?
H: I love having the opportunity to travel and discover, taste, and collect all kinds of regionally specific craft beer all over the world. It's definitely a unique and fortunate opportunity as a craft beer drinker and I have been very lucky to get to try so much great beer and visit to many cool bars and breweries.
CC: I love your daily goal of trying to obtain something truly local when you visit a new city; but, I'm sure you can better phrase the goal - what is it? Have any moments stuck out as your favorite when you've been on the search for a truly local product?
BH: I think that in our conversation before the show I mentioned the literal and metaphorical goal of finding the best cup of coffee in every city - and that can apply to beer, food, nightlife or any kind of culture. It all goes back to "Doing the Thing" as well. You never know what you will stumble across when you're out there "Doing the Thing" either. More often than not, the journey you take trying to find that cup of coffee yields results and experiences much more valuable than a tasty cup of Joe.
CC: What's been your favorite craft beer experience so far?
BH: I visited the Cantillon Brewery last summer; which was an amazing experience all around. I have also been lucky enough to visit several breweries and brew pubs while on tour, including, Russian River, Three Floyd's, Alpine, Hair of the Dog, Cascade, Stone, The Bruery, The Lost Abbey, Dieu Du Ciel, Crooked Stave, Great Divide, Midnight Sun, Founders, Kuhnheim, Sierra Nevada, the Brewdog bar in London, and the Mikkeller bars in Denmark and San Francisco. Back in 2012, I also coincidentally ended up in at Olbutikken in Copenhagen on Zwanze Day!
CC: Like we discussed, when you first started in craft beer you were straight edge. Where did "50 beer before Budweiser" come from? Did you succeed? What did you learn about the craft from this experience?
BH: I think this went back to the "Out of Step" mentality. I wasn't interested in drinking Budweiser so I challenged myself to try 50 different beers before having a Bud, and definitely succeeded. I kept a list on my phone until my friend Dylan introduced me to Untappd, which is a fantastic way of keeping track of unique beers, especially for someone who travels. After 4 years of using Untappd, I have checked in to over 2550 unique beers.
CC: What is your favorite craft beer town in the U.S.? Abroad?
BH: It's so hard to pick! Probably Portland, but California is hard to snub. Chicago is always a special place too. Abroad, I really love Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and obviously Brussels.
CC: Tell us about your visit to Belgium and the elusive 100 Euro bottle of lambic!
BH: Last summer I visited Belgium for a couple days after a European tour. I was able to visit two "Beer Nerd bucket list" type places (3, including the Cantillon brewery). The first being Verzekering Tegen de Grote Dorst', a small local lambic bar in the middle of nowhere, 15 miles west of Brussels, that is open only during church hours, Sunday morning from 10am - 1:30 pm or during Church holidays and funerals. Basically, the bar became a local tradition for decades which has been kept alive by two lambic loving brothers, and boasts a world famous vintage lambic cellar. The second was visiting 'De Heeren van Liedercke', a modest family restaurant even further west of Brussels, which is run by Joost and Jessie, down for the Geuze Cuvee J&J series of beers that were produced for their daughter's birth, Crianza Helena and a blend from 3F and Cantillon for their bar called Heerengueze. All of these bottles were available to drink on site only and I managed to share a bottle of Crianza with a friend I met earlier that day at Grote Dorst and Joost and Jessie themselves. They were nice enough to offer to sell us some bottles of J&J Cuvee to go but I regretfully declined the 125 Euro price tag. Apparently, those bottles are valued closer to $400-500 these days - so, maybe I should've ponied up the cash when I had the chance!
CC: What is your "white whale" in craft beer?
BH: I think the short list would include: Cigar City - Double Barrel Hunahpu; 3F - Millennium Geuze; 3F - J&J Cuvee Blauw or Rose; 3F - Armand'4 Lente; and, Toppling Goliath - Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout. Others might include: The Lost Abbey - Cable Car Kriek; Russian River - Toronado 25th Anniversary; Russian River - Deviation (Bottleworks IX); Cantillon - Don Quijote; Three Floyd's - Murda'd Out Stout.
CC: At the Fort Lauderdale show the band was drinking Cigar City Jai Alai on stage. Do you like to drink the "locals" while on stage?
BH: Always! Obviously, the Jack White rider has been a hot topic in the media these days, and while we also like our Guacamole chunky, the most diva demand we have on our rider is local craft beer! Sometimes we get some pretty questionable "Craft Beer Mix 6 pack" or something that usually sucks, but for the most part we get decent IPA's like Jai Alai or Stone IPA. More often than not Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the easy bet.
CC: Like me, having Pliny the Elder for the first time was one of those moments of craft beer epiphany for you. What about Pliny was so eye-opening to you?
BH: When I first tried Pliny, my friend Charlie brought a bottle that was straight from the brewery and bottled only 4 days prior. Not only is Pliny a very special and delicious beer, but the idea that it was rare and sought after (and so freshn) played into what really had me hooked.
CC: What have you learned from 15 years in Silverstein?
BH: I think it's safe to say that I have learned the majority of what I know about myself and the world through the band.
CC: You've been a part of a band that many in our generation have loved for over a decade now. Any words for the fans who may be reading this?
BH: Thanks for the support over the last 15 years! 2015 promises to be a very busy year for Silverstein, including the rest of our "Discovering the Waterfront" 10 year anniversary tour, releasing our album 'I am Alive in Everything I touch' on May 19th via Rise Records, and plans to tour all over for the remainder of the year. Check us out at www.silversteinmusic.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever social media is cool this week. Come out to a show and hopefully we can grab a beer!