The tremendous thirst for the “Come from Away” story on Broadway has been tapped for a different kind of production tying together New York and Newfoundland and Labrador — a special beer.
Islander Pale Ale is a co-creation of Brooklyn-based brewery Five Boroughs Brewing Co. and St. John’s brewery YellowBelly Brewery, after the Tony Award-winning musical partnered with New York personalities The Happy Hour Guys for the concept. A portion of the sales will benefit charity.
After it was launched in New York this month, the first brewing — 3,000 litres in 4,000 cans of beer and some in kegs — sold out in two days, said YellowBelly’s Craig Flynn, who was in the Big Apple for the recent brew day with his wife and business partner, Brenda O'Reilly. The cast and crew of “Come From Away” were also at the launch.
“As soon as I tasted it, I said, ‘yummy,’” Flynn explained of the first sip in New York. “They looked at me a bit funny and I told them it tasted moreish. ‘What do you mean by moreish?’ they asked. I said, ‘You drink it and you want more.’”
The back story, of course, on “Come From Away” is the incredible generosity the small town of Gander and neighbouring communities showed thousands of stranded passengers from diverted planes after terrorists attacked the twin towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and American airspace was shut down.
The musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein has taken North American theatre by storm and now has productions in a number of cities, including Toronto.
But back to the beer. Islander is part of the Broadway Brews Six Pack project conceived by The Happy Hour Guys to pair unique brews with hit musicals, including “Hamilton” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
Each beer helps support a different charity, and a portion of Islander sales supports Tuesday’s Children, which provides programs and healing for children whose lives have been changed by terrorism and loss.
The Happy Hour Guys are two professional actors — James Ludwig and Mark Aldrich — who produce a blog and shows about craft breweries and distilleries.
Their Broadway Brews project is about getting a show together with a brewery.
And that’s where Five Buroughs and YellowBelly come in.
Flynn said in the next couple of weeks YellowBelly will begin brewing Islander in St. John’s. It will be available to beer drinkers in Newfoundland and Labrador this summer in bottles, and the plan is to eventually export it elsewhere in Canada.
“Part of the collaboration is we get to brew the beer up here in Newfoundland,” said Flynn.
“We’re very excited at the opportunity. We’re a very small brewery and these guys (Five Boroughs) are much bigger. To go to the Big Apple and brew a beer and see it go around New York is very neat, for sure.”
He said Five Boroughs will put on another batch as well.
“It’s very what I like to call a crushable beer — you can drink a lot of them,” Flynn said, describing the taste as fruit-flavoured, forward hoppiness and citrussy.
There’s no bitter aftertaste.
“It’s a nice, easy drinking, very good beer,” he said.
Ludwig — in Florida for a production of “My Fair Lady” while his Happy Hour Guys co-host is in New York working on a separate “My Fair Lady” production — described the beer in similar terms during a phone interview Tuesday.
“It’s terrific. It’s really good,” he said, classing it among new IPAs that are hazy and juicy. “It’s a soft, easy beer.”
He said Islander’s popularity is competing strongly with the one paired to “Hamilton,” a huge hit show on Broadway, but they are different beers — the “Hamilton” brew, Rise Up Rye, a rye saison brewed by Gun Hill Brewing in the Bronx, is spicy.
The idea behind the Broadway Six Pack concept by the Happy Hour Guys is to benefit charity, craft breweries and the shows in some way that they all get something from it, Ludwig explained. Islander is the fifth beer launched in the six-pack.
“It’s been wonderful,” Ludwig said, laughing, of the response to Islander. “We had no idea it would be this popular. (Five Boroughs) is scrambling to get it together again.”
The beer’s name is a nod to the islands of Newfoundland and Manhattan.
But the Islander deal nearly sank.
“We almost walked away from the project,” said Flynn, explaining at first Five Boroughs was pitching a spruce-tip beer.
YellowBelly contended that’s not really what modern-day Newfoundlanders and Labradorians drink.
When Flynn told his dad, Appleton Mayor Derm — who had a role to play in the 9-11 story, as his town welcomed passengers, and is portrayed in the musical — that the commemorative beer deal might have soured, the news didn’t go down smoothly. Appleton also features a Twin Towers Steel and Peace Park and is forever linked to the “Come From Away” story.
“When I told father, geez, he was off his head,” Flynn said of the reaction.
However, the story ended happily and hoppily after Flynn said the YellowBelly and Five Boroughs folks went to a “Come From Away” performance together in New York.
“The story of the play brought us together,” Flynn said.
“They got it right away.”
Brewmasters from both breweries contributed to the resulting recipe.
Eventually, Flynn said, YellowBelly hopes to make Islander available in cans.
“It’s something we hope will be a beer in our portfolio that sticks around,” Flynn said.
The concept and making of Islander — as are all the Broadway Six Pack beers — is the subject of three episodes on theatre streaming service The Stage Network.
Ludwig said he and Aldrich hope to visit Newfoundland this summer, based on stories they’ve heard from Flynn and others.
“We’ve developed such a love for Gander and Newfoundland,” Ludwig said.