Robert Earl Keen and Lee Hereford check on a batch of the new Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils. Photo by Phil Houseal
Robert Earl Keen pops top on new Honey Pils
by Phil Houseal
What do you get when you cross a Fredericksburg brewery with a Kerrville singer, and stir in some Llano honey?
Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils, a new line of craft beer developed in partnership with Pedernales Brewing Company in Fredericksburg.
The brainstorm began earlier this year when Lee Hereford, CEO of Pedernales Brewing Company, sat down with Robert Earl Keen, the Texas Hill Country singer/songwriter known for such hits as The Party Never Ends, Levelland, I Gotta Go, and Merry Christmas From The Family.
This was not an idle undertaking for the musician. When I sat down with him at the picnic table outside the tasting room, Keen confessed to a long and abiding relationship with the golden elixir, that goes all the way back to his daddy’s knee.
“I love beer,” Keen told me with a grin. “Now I don’t know if you want to write this, but my earliest memories are sitting in my dad’s lap when I was 5 or 6 years old, and seeing that great big beautiful mountain on a Busch Bavarian beer. My dad handed it to me, and I thought, wow, this is so much better than apple juice.”
Ah, but what beer would be worthy of the “Keen” brand? To find out, Hereford went to the local HEB and bought 15 different kinds. Keen tasted them in groups, making comments and defining his preferences while the brew crew took notes. It didn’t take long for a pattern to form. While Keen is a fan of all kinds of beer, he still remembers his first sip of pilsner beer during a trip to Austria. “I loved that taste. That’s how I decided this pilsner was the way for us to go.”
No problem for Hereford and the crew at PBC, who have been racking up awards in the relatively brief time since they were formed in 2009.
“He’s not kidding,” Hereford said. “He really likes pilsner. Our Lobo Lito is a pilsner, and our Lobo Texas Lager is technically a lager, but on the light side of lager. And pilsner is just the lighter end of the lager category. We said, we can do that.”
Hereford turned to his brewmaster, Peter McFarland, one of a handful in Texas with a Master’s Degree. While McFarland tweaked, Keen, who is an accomplished cook, tasted.
“Tasting beer is just the same as cooking,” Keen said. “I would note it’s a little too heavy on this, or a little too sweet here, or a little too bitter there.”
Hereford was impressed.
“Robert was able to tell the brew crew what he wanted in this beer,” Hereford said. “You tell Peter what you want; he will give you that beer. That’s what we did.”
Hereford is excited about the new beer on several levels. While there are honey wheats and honey brown beers, this will be the first honey pils.
“Honey is the hot new taste,” he said. “So we have the opportunity to be the first brewery to come out with a honey pilsner. That is Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils!”
Hereford revealed that this will only be the first in a line of Keen beers. Next on tap is a Raspberry Hefe-Weizen to be released next spring. Whatever they come up with, Hereford is gratified these are products that reflect the style and flavor of the Texas Hill Country.
“We are all about ‘local,’” he said. “Robert lives in Kerrville; we are a local brewery in Fredericksburg, and Fain’s honey is right up the road in Llano.”
PBC is rolling out the new brew beginning October 15 in conjunction with concerts by Keen. In February the recording artist is releasing a new album of traditional bluegrass music, called Happy Prisoner. It features traditional songs such as those of Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, with musicians that include Peter Rowan, Lyle Lovett, Sara Watkins, Kym Warner, and Danny Barnes, “the greatest banjo player in the world.”
“I don’t usually brag on my records, but it’s just badass,” Keen said. “Whatever you think of my singing, this record sounds great!”
PBC’s event specialists will set up in-store tastings at major retail outlets during the days before Keen’s concert in those communities. Local clubs will also offer “Pint Nights”–events where patrons can buy a pint of beer and take home the commemorative beer glass.
Unlike for his music, the target audience for Honey Pils is a little older than Keen was when he first fell in love with beer. But not much.
“My joke has always been that I’m the Milton-Bradley game of entertainment,” Keen said. “I’m good for 8 to 80. For the new beer, let’s say 28 to 80!”