Food - Craig Finn talks beer

The Hold Steady’s lead singer describes his life with beer

“Gonna walk around and drink some more,” Craig Finn sing-speaks on one of the Hold Steady’s many anthemic songs about young people hoisting cold ones, before pivoting slightly into a phrase best chanted while hoisting: “Gonna walk around, gonna walk around, gonna walk around and drink.” It’s no surprise that the man who wrote these words now has his own beer. Earlier this year, U.K. brewpub Signature released 6,000 bottles of Clear Heart IPA, named after Finn’s debut solo album, Clear Hearts Full Eyes, that are available for purchase in four-, eight-, and 24-packs via “All they needed was a tasting and I said that sounded awesome,” Finn tells Creative Loafing. “So I went to the tasting and Ricky, my pedal steel guy that was traveling with me, went with me and we tasted like 24 beers starting at 11 in the morning.” CL spoke with Finn to discuss his relationship with beer from his high school days up until earlier this year when his name was printed on a few thousand bottles.

Do you remember your first beer?

I was in my early high school years. I think it was Budweiser. We got a Budweiser case and drank it in the back of my friend’s car. That’s probably the first. I think I drank liquor before that, but that was the first time I really drank beer. I mean, it was the first beyond just a few sips here or there. We were down by Lake Harriet near Minneapolis. We would have gotten arrested if we were out of the car, so we just sat inside and drank it. I remember liking it. It was the kind of thing where the first can was hard, but then the second was easier.

Was drinking a regular part of your high school life?

Not so much, really. I sort of didn’t drink until I went to college. After a couple of tries I was sort of like, “Eh.” I was getting into punk rock and there sort of seemed to be this mainstream high school activity of standing outside of somewhere trying to get beer. It just seemed like this massive time suck. I kind of stopped and I didn’t really drink until I got to college. Then, of course, it was tons.

How did you first get involved with Signature?

It was actually my English label, which is called Full Time Hobby. I think that Mike, one of the guys that works there, knew the Signature Brew people and they had done a beer for a band called the Rifles. From what they were saying, the Rifles had a much younger audience and they really made a very-much-drinking beer like a lager for them. For my audience that was a little older, they wanted something more sophisticated. I thought that would be pretty cool, but the one thing I didn’t want, due to my personal preference, was something that was high in alcohol. I needed it really low. That was my bigger request.

They suggested an IPA, and I do like IPAs as far as the nicer beers. We tasted some, but I can’t remember which ones were in the top five, and they came back with this low-alcohol IPA that was still pretty drinkable. I wanted something I could drink on stage and not feel like I had a mouthful of oatmeal. It ended up being really good. We were pretty psyched. In fact, we were on tour with the Felice Brothers and we had a couple of cases to bring on the bus and it was a huge hit. Not because of the novelty, but because it was actually a good beer.

Is it weird to have a beer on the bus with your name on the bottle?

It was funny, because I wanted to call it Clear Heart Ale to tie in with the album, and we used the graphic from the album. Drew from my management told me about the label, and it said “Craig Finn’s Clear Heart Ale.” I was like, “Oh, man, I don’t know if I want my name on it.” And Drew looked at me and said, “Dude! You want your name on it.” I wasn’t going to get this chance again. It’s cool, especially when you see it on the case. I think those guys hit on a really cool idea and I think a year from now there’s going to be a lot more bands with their own beer and even more that want it. C

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