When OLN heard of a new beer called Piledriver, the initial reaction was that, in the head-pounding stakes, it would rival Snake Venom, the 67.5% abv monster from Brewmeister. But it is actually a smooth, hoppy, amber ale created by Wychwood – the brewery behind Hobgoblin – and weighs in at just 4.3% abv.
Such is the popularity of wrestling that the violent move is the first result Google yields when you search “piledriver”. The next result offers a definition of the mechanical device used to drive poles into soil to support buildings.
But the eighth result reveals all: Piledriver is a 1972 album by rock legends Status Quo, which peaked at number five in the UK chart and featured such hits as Paper Plane and Big Fat Momma.
When Wychwood met the band to discuss a collaborative beer, they agreed Piledriver would be the perfect name.
“Like the name would suggest, the beer is powerful,” says vocalist and guitarist Rick Parfitt, driving a fist through the air to hammer home the point. “I’ve had half a pint and I can really feel it. I’m struggling. I can hear myself starting to slur.”
Parfitt is not a big drinker nowadays. He once boasted of spending £1,500 a week on cocaine and vodka, but now he never performs with a hangover and the odd white wine is the extent of his hellraising.
Piledriver may be powerful in taste – dark crystal and chocolate malts blend with various hops to create a bold, biscuity flavour – but it is certainly not powerful in terms of inducing hangovers and sparking Daily Mail headlines.
It is mild and sessionable, yet lead singer Francis Rossi is not doing much better at handling it. Dressed like a human barcode in black suit, white shirt, black tie, white socks and black shoes, he wobbles as photographers attack him with an epileptic barrage of flashes.
Parfitt smiles and says: “We never drink during interviews, so to do it here is a very good excuse. Even Francis has had the best part of a pint and I haven’t seen him have a drink for 21 years.”
Rossi once rivalled Parfitt on drug- ingestion stakes and was known to polish off a tray-load of tequila shots in a few minutes, but now he too has opted for clean living. He sits down on the edge of his seat, speaking rapidly, the best-part-of- a-pint loosening his already notoriously loose tongue.
“I grew up with Italians and I only ever drank Lambrusco,” he says. “But every time I ever looked at a beer I thought: ‘I would love to drink that. I would like to savour a pint.’ So when the opportunity to work with Wychwood came up we said we were interested.”
Parfitt explains they visited the brewery last year and were given six brews to select the future Piledriver from. “I chose number four,” he says. “Francis chose number one. They brought in an adjudicator and he went for number four.
“I don’t know how I chose it. I don’t drink ale, so I must just have the palate.” The trip made a strong impression on Rossi. “The hops smell like skunk, so you’ve immediately got my attention,” he says. “What impressed me was the brewers were just so into it. They are into it as much as we are into music. It’s almost like their porn, these real ales.”
Status Quo are the latest in a long line of bands to release an ale – Iron Maiden, Elbow, Madness, Maximo Park, Motorhead – but it isn’t the first time Rossi has dipped a toe into the drinks industry.
In 2010 he started a company called Brand Cellar, which bought the Glen Rossie whisky brand from the collapsed First Quench group.
Rossi, who put up a 30% stake in the company and became its chairman, took an interest in Glen Rossie when it was served to him on tour in a Rusty Nail cocktail by a PA who thought he would be amused by the similarity with his surname.
“Glen Rossie is tricky at the moment,” says Rossi. “It’s not currently available in the UK. It almost went into China but the deal fell through. We may bring it back.
“If I take a fancy to a project I go for it – the whisky, the film [Bula Quo, a 2013 crime caper] and Rossi Ice Cream in Southend, now the beer.”
When OLN spoke to Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson about his Trooper ale his love of beer shone through, so it may seem strange for a band that has little affinity with beer to release an ale.
Rossi delivers a blunt response: “We are in a capitalist market. Some musicians may be embarrassed about that. But we have a lifestyle dependent on success so we go for projects we think will be successful. Retailers should stock this beer because it will be successful, and people want to be on the back of successful things.”
Parfitt adds: “The rock star angle provides the hook. There’s room for all these beers because these bands have many fans. But the beer needs to taste good to keep people interested. Ours does.”
If Iron Maiden’s success is anything to go by, Status Quo should be laughing all the way to the bank. But Rossi and Parfitt seem genuinely proud of the new beer.
“It’s absolutely delicious,” says Parfitt, sweeping his famous hair from his face. “It looks lovely and it’s so smooth. I am going to be a fat bastard because I like it so much. I can’t wait to wander into a pub and see Piledriver on the bar. That will be a great sense of achievement.
“The label looks fantastic. You wouldn’t believe you could come up with this soppy idea of a gorilla on a bomb for an album cover and 40 years later it’s in shops and pubs in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland on a Status Quo beer.”
Rossi adds: “I like the beer. I like it with tonic water. A Pildedriver and tonic. That’s a good one.”
Rossi has previously said he doesn’t like drinking, but his brush with the ale set has altered his perception of alcohol.
He waves a hand at drinkers in the bustling Wetherspoons where he is talking to OLN and says: “What I don’t get is that all these people are drinking beer but nobody is rat-arsed or abusive. Ale drinkers look like they’re enjoying themselves. It is a fantastic atmosphere.
“I am used to seeing people get hammered. Moderation, having a few beers, is nicer. I am used to seeing people in rock ’n’ roll being stupid drunk, but now I am seeing people enjoy a few beers I have changed my mind.”
Parfitt adds: “The beer business is nice. It’s all about striking up nice relationships with people. It’s very nice to genuinely be able to say to people: ‘Try this beer, you will like it.’”
If retailers buy into Parfitt’s passion, Wychwood and Status Quo could even end up knocking The Undertaker and his wrestling fraternity off the top of the Google charts.