Wingman Brewers and The Rusty Cleavers collaborate on Old Plank Pils, release it Friday

By Ron Swarner on March 17, 2015

Friday night I'm headed to the happiest place on Earth - and no, I don't mean Disneyland, which calls itself "The Happiest Place on Earth" because it has bathrooms cleaner than yours will ever be and employees who are happier than you'll ever be ... unless you contract the measles.

No, to reach the happiest place on Earth I won't even have to leave Tacoma, because Wingman Brewers is a hop, skip and stumble away from the Tacoma Dome. The Tacoma brewery will introduce the Old Plank Pils to the world, a beer head brewer Ken Thoburn and crew brewed especially for Tacoma punkgrass band The Rusty Cleavers.

Several reasons factored in Thoburn's decision to make The Rusty Cleavers his muse. First, bluegrass screams beer. You see, back in the day in the deep South the bluegrass musicians played in church halls and school auditoriums, but that changed as the musicians eventually made their way up North and pushed opened the bar doors. Instead of just playing those nostalgic songs about the cabin on the hill and mother's grave, they started adapting drinking and cheating songs from mainstream country and arranging them for bluegrass. How could they not? The urban bars in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago were tough places full of tough people. When you walked in the door, you walked onto a floor of sticky beer and into a cloud of cigarette smoke. Bluegrass wasn't meant to be sterile and healthy. It was meant for working class and beer joints.

>>> The Rusty Cleavers, from left, Forest Beutel, Zach Bernard, Luke Sumerfield and Kevin Shintaku, will perform at Wingman brewers Friday, March 20. Photo courtesy of Kyle Peirson/Facebook

The Rusty Cleavers is a working class kind of band, combining the world bluegrass, punk and beer magnificently - with all manner of mandolin, banjo and backyard clatter coming together in a cacophony of spirited group-singing and hoops and hollers. The band writes rowdy songs. They take their musical influences - folk, country and bluegrass - and punk them up. They add growls, and serve them with a cold Wingman beer.

The second reason why Thoburn and The Rusty Cleavers collaborated has more merit than the music genre. The Wingman head brewer and the punkgrass band share roots in the Tacoma neighborhood of Parkland. Thoburn is a Pacific Lutheran University alum, the university where The Rusty Cleavers were Big Bluegrass on Campus. Cleavers' bassist Zach Bernard and washboard/percussionist Luke Sumerfield shared classrooms with Thoburn. A mini college reunion was held when Thoburn attended The Rusty Cleavers' recent "Cave Sessions" recording, a live, in-studio performance produced by MountainHouse Recordings in Tacoma.

"During a Cave Sessions break, Ken asked us if we would be interested in working on a beer collaboration," says Forest Beutel, banjoist with The Rusty Cleavers. "We were like, ‘Uhhh ... YES!'"

"The Rusty Cleavers guys came up with the pilsner idea and the name Old Plank Pils after their song 'Old Plank Road'," says Thoburn. "They're big pilsner fans so we made it happen."

"Old Plank Road" is a drinking anthem.

"It seemed appropriate to name a beer after one of our drinking songs," adds Beutel. 

Indeed it does.

The Old Plank Pils, or OPP as Thoburn called it, is a straight up no frills kind of pilsner. The malt bill is almost entirely pils malt, which has a continental European color and quality to it despite being grown locally. 

"We use US Saaz hops, which are a variety originally from the Czech Republic," explains Thoburn. "The ABV is 4.8 percent and the IBU is slightly under 30, which puts it right in the middle of the stylistic guidelines. For those who do enjoy craft beer the OPP is a super refreshing pils that is awesome for those days when your palette is worn out from imperial stouts, IPSs or sours. We feel like the beer is something people who don't normally drink craft beer can get behind for the sake of supporting the YWCA and drinking local. It's the perfect backyard barbecue or bluegrass kitchen party kind of beer."


The Old Plank Pils will be released Friday at Wingman Brewers. The Rusty Cleavers will sing drinking songs, with 25 percent of the proceeds benefitting the YWCA Pierce County.

"We see the YWCA doing a lot great things in our community and the guys from The Rusty Cleavers identified them as the group they wanted to benefit from the beer collaboration," says Thoburn. 

The Old Plank Pils pegs Wingman's second band-beer-benefit collaboration. Last year, Wingman teamed up with local reggae band Mighty High to produce the Mighty HighPA. The musicians picked Elements of Education as the benefitting organization. This year, The Rusty Cleavers chose the YWCA. And, just like last year, 10 percent of all sales of the beer will benefit the nonprofit organization.

"So drink up!" stresses Beutel.

The Old Plank Pils release party will begin at 8 p.m., with the band hitting the planks at 8:30 p.m. for a two-hour performance. I can guarantee you Wingman Brewers will be the happiest place on Earth that night ... and the bathroom is cleaner than yours.

OLD PLANK PILS RELEASE PARTY, w/The Rusty Cleavers, 8 p.m., Friday, March 20, Wingman Brewers, 509 1/2 Puyallup Ave, Tacoma, no cover, 253.256.5240