Queensryche Guitarist Signs Beer Bottles at Total Wine

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John Linn works for Fresh Beer and knows a lot about drinking beer from experience.

Pop cannon suggests that musicians -- above all other types of artists -- consume an inordinate amount of booze. It follows, then, that many of them looking to expand their entrepreneurial empires beyond selling records turn to what they know: liquor. These musician-cum-cocktailiers are all over the place these days -- rapper Ludacris is well-known for his Conjure Cognac, a fine-sipping brandy retailing at $40 a bottle; Maynard James Keenan of Tool has become an accomplished vintner; while shock rocker Marilyn Manson has concocted an equally mind-warping absinthe that won him a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2008.

Now you can add Michael Wilton to that list, lead guitarist and founding member of the trailblazing prog-metal band Queensrÿche.

Since the early 1980s, Wilton has had aspiring guitarists miming his arpeggiated licks in songs like "Silent Lucidity" and "Jet City Woman." But in addition to shredding, the veteran ax man is now hocking craft beer. I ran into Wilton (completely by accident, no less) Friday at the Fort Lauderdale Total Wine, where he was promoting his new craft beer brand, Whip Ale -- a lightly hopped Pale Ale brewed in Washington by Diamond Knot Brewing and distributed directly from the brewery to Total Wine.

I have to admit to never really listening to Queensrÿche beyond their hit singles, but seeing Wilton at Total Wine, flowing locks and all, had me giddy. A genial and cool character, Wilton posed with a few fans and beer aficionados who had gathered around his table in the center of the store. He signed bottles of Whip Ale and sampled it out and even posed for pictures with a few (see me throwing up the most awkward pair of devil horns in history in the pic above). One customer, apparently unaware that Wilton was the guitarist for one of the most far-reaching metal bands of the '80s, asked him if he was the brewer. "Kind of," Wilton said with a smirk as he penned his John Hancock onto one of his gold and black 22-ounce bottles with a silver Sharpie.

Wilton, it turns out, is a bit of an amateur homebrewer. Like most of us who first dabble in craft beer, Wilton was attracted to hoppy beers like India Pale Ales. He approached Diamond Knot Brewing to turn one of his recipes into a commercial batch, and a few tweaks later, Whip Ale was spreading around the Northwest on draft and in bottle. Thanks to Total, the beer is available in Florida (as well as New Jersey, California, South Carolina, and a handful of other states) for $5.99 for a 22-ounce bomber.

How was it? Not bad, actually. I sipped Whip Ale from a thimble-sized sample cup and first noticed the bitter, citrus-forward aroma of West Coast Cascade hops, followed by dry biscuit notes from the malt and a creamy, almost buttery finish. I took a stab at the alcohol by volume, guessing 6 percent due to the very slight lingering warmth, and Wilton corrected me after peeking at the back of the bottle. "6.1, actually," he said. I guess you don't sell 20 million records without being exacting. 

As I grabbed my bottle to leave, Wilton passed me a nifty little trinket: a Whip Ale guitar pick. I thanked him and slipped the pick in my pocket for later. I'll probably give it to my brother, a guitarist himself and admirer of fine shredders like Wilton. He'll put it to better use than I would. Wilton, meanwhile, would perform Saturday night with Queensrÿche at the House of Blues in Orlando.

Me? I was never much of a musician. But I do share their love for fine beer.

Follow County Grind on Facebook and Twitter: @CountyGrind.

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