By Greg Pratt
Throughout the years, Canuck prog-thrashers VOIVOD have seen and done it all. Well, almost: they've never had a beer with their name on it, so the gang decided it was time to change that. With the help of Quebec's Hopfenstark micro-brewery, a limited-run Kluskap O'kom beer (named after a song off of their excellent 2013 Target Earth album) was recently created, bottled, and offered on tap... but limited is the key word here, as the taps are running dry, and the bottles going fast. But, as guitarist Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain explains to us, there might be more next year. We picked his brain about what's in the Voivod beer, how its taste compares to the band's sound, and the current health status of vocalist Snake (Denis Belanger) and what the band's next move will be.
BraveWords: The Voivod beer sounds like an exciting concept. Where did the idea come from?
Mongrain: "Me and the brewer have been friends for a long time; we knew each other even before he was brewing. When I met this guy he crafted his beer in his own apartment 10 or 12 years ago. I used to buy beer kegs for parties, where I'd invite musician friends. We'd buy a bunch of beer from him, so we became friends. At some point three years ago, we weren't thinking about crafting this beer and actually I don't even know if I was thinking about that beer to be a Voivod beer. I came up with the idea and he suggested that we do something special, but we didn't know at that time that we would write an album with what would be the subject of this song ('Kluskap O'kom'). But we knew it would be the 30th anniversary of Voivod, so we started with that thinking, and then the album came into the process. I thought maybe that would be a good idea, to use one song from the album to give an idea surrounding the beer. So we chose 'Kluskap O'kom', which is a song about the Native people in Quebec and in Canada, or anywhere in the world. It gave the idea of using herbs from the woods, there's Mugwort in it, wild ginger, and Balsam Fir."
BraveWords: That sounds like it would create an interesting flavour. What does it taste like?
Mongrain: "It's pretty unique. But, you know, when we talked about it, everyone was like, 'It's going to be a very strong stout because it's Voivod; a very complex, hard, and thrash beer.' But it's not. It's complex, but it's very easy to drink. It's based on a Belgian type of beer, a seasoned beer. So the yeast gives a natural taste to the beer. Yeast is usually used to transform the sugar in alcohol, without affecting the taste much. But this yeast is alive and, depending on how you work with it, gives a nice touch to the beer. The brewer, it's one of his specialities, to work with that kind of yeast. With all the ingredients, it tastes a little bit like it's fresh. It's pretty dry. And you have the herbal taste and a little bit of the Balsam tree. A little bit of that taste, but not too much. It's not like you're drinking a pine tree or anything (laughs). It's all in the subtlety; it's complex, but it's subtle. I think that's a good match with Voivod's music: it's nothing extreme, but it's very complex, and it's well done. It's intricate and well-balanced."
BraveWords: I was just listening to Target Earth and your description of the beer actually sums up that album pretty much perfectly.
Mongrain: "We had lots of fun writing that music, and hopefully we'll write some more."
BraveWords: Are you working on new material?
Mongrain: "We worked earlier in 2013 on some riffs and songs, but with Snake being sick [with digestive disease diverticulitis], and the surgery, he's getting better now, he's back on track. We had our first rehearsal last week and it went pretty good. We'll start from there and see what happens next. We have some shows in Japan soon, and in Chile. We have a couple of shows in Quebec as well, so we'll see how it goes."
BraveWords: So, have you spent much time drinking this Voivod beer, or what?
Mongrain: "(laughs) Actually, I still have one bottle left in the fridge, I don't want to open it but the thing with the seasonal beer is it gets to that climax of taste and then it goes down, so you have to drink it at some point. So probably now is the best, the taste is getting less and less... it's not that it's not good, but it's not at its best. But the brewer and I are talking about redoing the whole thing, but we have to wait for the ingredients to be ready in nature. So we have to wait until next summer, maybe July, to pick up all the herbs and everything."
BraveWords: So, what next? Voivod's done beer now, are you going to make hot sauce or something? What's the next step?
Mongrain: "Hot sauce! (laughs) I don't know, I think we're going to concentrate on music. But this was cool, we organized the launching of the beer in Montreal, and lots of Voivod fans from Montreal and even the States came out that night, and watched the new video, which was not out yet, for the song 'Kluskap O'kom', which is the same song we named the beer after. It was kind of a 360, plus the 30th anniversary of the band, so all the members of the band were there, and it was just days before Snake went into surgery, so it was a big event for us, to hug each other before he went under the scalpel. It was pretty scary, because he almost died. His guts exploded, and he was close to... it was pretty serious when he went to hospital. So he was taken care of, and it was kind of a magical night and was very enjoyable."
BraveWords: Hopefully I'll be able to get my hands on this Voivod beer somehow.
Mongrain: "We'll try to have more next time. We didn't know if any people would be interested, and we had demands from Europe and the States and pretty much everywhere in the world, and the brewery is pretty small. The idea was not to do a commercial beer. We're not interested in doing that. It's a unique product, and if you're lucky you have a bottle. If not, too bad. (laughs)."
BraveWords: As a huge Voivod fan, I just love the idea that there was a Voivod beer.
?Mongrain: "Thanks a lot, and I understand how you feel because I'm a Voivod fan (laughs)."
?BraveWords: We're Canadians; growing up here, Voivod means a lot to us.
Mongrain: "Yeah, that's true, eh?"