Ink. Black. Permanent. Tattoos and body art date back several millennia, making the United States’ “Tattoo Renaissance” of the 1960s a comparatively recent occurrence. What was once a rare sight, usually only common among sailors and aristocracy, has now become a socially accepted norm. People are always looking to express themselves, and tattoos are a permanent and highly individual form of expression.
I rang up my good friend Matt, a fellow craft beer obsessive, who, for the last ten or so years has dedicated most of his body, and spare time, to this needle art. We sat down to discuss his experience and view of tattoos and tattoo culture. And, like any good host, I supplied the beer, Rhinegeist’s Ink Double Imperial Stout. A beer as black as the name signifies.
When was your first tattoo?
Damn. My first tattoo. I’d have to say it was the summer of 2009. Hard to believe it’s been almost ten years.
How many individual pieces do you have? How many hours would you say you’ve spent in the chair?
I used to keep track of this stuff a little better, but I’d say I have an even thirty pieces. Two (almost) complete sleeves, back, chest, thighs, calves, and feet. Putting that into perspective of time, my back piece took upwards of six hours. Each arm sleeve was easily twelve to fifteen hours. In total, I’d say I have well over one hundred hours in tattoo sessions. I’m more than likely going to cover everything I can that’s acceptable to me. Neck and face tattoos are probably where I’d draw the line, but I would do my hands in a heartbeat if I could.
Do all of your tattoos have deep meaning, if any meaning?
Honestly? Only a few. My father got me into Clint Eastwood films a kid, and really inspired me to get a black shading Clint portrait done. I was lucky enough to have an extremely talented friend named John, who could do tremendously detailed portraits. After he drew it up, I had the piece done on my calf, and really fell in love with it. Clint Eastwood always played that quintessential anti-hero role, and it seemed to me he was always doing the right things for the wrong reasons. He was also very stoic in his films, never really saying much. I have a tendency of being a big talker, so I have always appreciated quiet, methodical people. Sadly, John doesn’t tattoo much anymore, and it’s special to me knowing I have a piece of his art on my leg.
As a lover of tattoos and craft beer equally, do you see many similarities in these avocations?
Of course. On my drive over here that exact thought popped into my mind. Craft beer is all about independence and uniqueness, right? No two breweries are the same, and beer is really an expression of its creators. I think tattoos can be thought of in the same way. People want to express themselves in unique ways through their tattoos, and usually no two tattoos are exactly the same. Back in the day, tattoos were always reserved for either military, bikers, prisoners or other fringe elements. Tattoos are huge in the punk scene especially, always wanting to go against the norm. If you look at breweries like Stone, 3 Floyds, and even Dogfish Head, they all have this punk mentality of going against convention. These brewers want to express themselves through their product just as tattoo artists express themselves through their pieces.
It’s also worth mentioning that people have favorite beers and breweries, and people in the tattoo community will have a favorite artist or prefer a specific style of art. Some breweries are so good at leaving an impact, that their beer is instantly recognizable either through the taste or the artwork on the bottles. The same can be said about these tattoo artists. Scrolling through social media, a tattoo nut like me can pick out artwork from specific artists just by their signature style. When I go to my main tattoo artist, I have little apprehension that his work will be anything but stellar; the guy’s got steady hands. The same can be said about my favorite established breweries. I know these beers are consistently so damn good; I have no doubt that a new release is going to be great. New breweries are like new tattoo artists; they’ve really got to do good work and find ways to differentiate themselves.
Since you see many similarities between craft beer and tattoos, what do you think attracts you most about them?
I love metal music, and I know that many tattoo artists take inspiration from metal and darker themes. I find myself more attracted to music, tattoos, and beer with darker, almost sinister styles. Artwork and beer names from 3 Floyds, Anchorage Brewing, Stone, and even Mikkeller all have pretty dark themes, and usually have metal lyrics or bands for titles. My tattoos also reflect the darker, more evil parts of tattooing.
What beer styles have been really catching your attention lately?
I know they’re all-the-rage right now, but I have really been loving hazy, juicy IPAs. It seems like almost every brewery now is putting out their variation of these New England-style IPAs, and I can’t get enough. I’ve really been loving these IPAs brewed with lactose. These “milkshake” IPAs just have a smooth, almost creaminess to them that really satisfies me. Also, I’ve been really loving Belgian-style pale ales, and Belgian sours in general. I’m loving farmhouse Saisons more and more. Especially with fall approaching, I’ll start drinking more Belgian dubbels and tripels.
Finally, give me your expert tasting on the Rhinegeist Ink.
My expert tasting? Geeze, really putting me on the spot here.
The beer pours extremely dark, almost black. The aroma is a strong coffee and chocolate. First impressions, the beer is very tasty. I’m usually not a huge stout guy, especially in the dead of summer, but this is damn good. Chocolate and coffee are prevalent, I’m picking up some molasses and vanilla as well. This beer is surprisingly medium-bodied; I was waiting for it to be much thicker. For a 10% abv. stout, the alcohol is hidden very well. At 57 IBU, this beer definitely has some bitterness on the finish. Almost like a bitter dark chocolate. Overall, this is a great example of an imperial stout, and I really look forward to trying more of Rhinegeist’s beers.
Individuality, as Matt describes, can be personified in many forms. Tattoos, craft beer, music or any other expression is critical to everyone’s search for self and uniqueness. Matt has found his expression of self in the ink on his skin and the Ink in his glass.