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The Mary Sue Interview: The Brewmaster Of HBO’s Game Of Thrones Fire and Blood Red Ale

I have drunk deep of the latest Game of Thrones inspired beer from Brewery Ommegang and have found I want to take what is mine. It’s called Fire and Blood Red Ale and as you probably already guessed, it takes its inspiration from House Targaryen. We recently got the chance to speak with Ommegang’s Brewmaster Phil Leinhart on their partnership with HBO, the latest release, and what’s coming up for the line. 

The Mary Sue: When I first heard about Ommegang pairing with HBO to produce a Game of Thrones line of beers, I thought, “That has to be one of the best marketing ideas I’ve heard.” Have you heard a lot of the fan reactions?

Phil Leinhart: When the partnership was first announced, our read on social media was that about 80-90% of the reaction was extremely positive. There were a handful of people who expressed concern the beers would made too easy-drinking or too accessible so as to be more broadly appealing, but I think after the first, Iron Throne Blonde Ale, and definitely after the second – Take the Black Stout – came out, beer connoisseurs recognized we maintained a commitment to creating serious and adventurous craft beers.

TMS: What about from the actors on the show, have they gotten to taste them?

Leinhart: Through HBO, the beers in the series are regularly available at events featuring talent from the show and we hear anecdotally that they are well received.

TMS: Tell us a bit about the process of creating the beers. Do you decide on themes first, then figure out what kind will work best, vice versa, or something else? Is watching the show or reading the books a part of the process at all?

Leinhart: The team focused on the Game of Thrones beers at Ommegang are very big fans of the show. A few even read the books before the deal even came to be. That makes the discussions with HBO a lot easier because there is contextual understanding of themes and characters. Typically we will discuss with HBO the main plot points of the season and what everyone agrees will be particularly resonant with the fans. Then we draft a concept – an articulation of the reasoning and rationale behind the beer. Finally, our brewers draw on their technical knowledge, skill and expertise to bring those themes to life whether it be through ingredients, style, process, what have you.

TMS: I asked Twitter if they had any questions for you, one person wanted to know if there’d be any gluten free beers in the Game of Thrones line? Some were curious if international shipping was something you were looking at, and also if the previous releases would be released again down the road?

Leinhart: Ommegang doesn’t brew any gluten-free beers and we’re not exporting these beers (except for Canada) because the demand in the States is so high. As for brewing previous releases again, there is a definite possibility that some of these beers will come back in some shape or form. We continue to discuss this idea with HBO.

TMS: I must admit, I’m partial to House Targaryen so I was very much looking forward to the latest release, Fire and Blood. I’m also partial to reds so this was a perfect match for me. Tell us a bit about the new release and are there any more special events planned for this one?

Leinhart: The inspiration for Fire and Blood is two-fold. Of course from the three unique front labels, it’s evident that Khaleesi’s dragons, which are front and center in the plot of the show at the moment, are the primary inspiration. De-seeded Ancho Chiles used in spicing are a reflection of their fire-breathing nature. The nomadic Dothraki tribes-people that Khaleesi is leading, also proved an inspiration – the use of Midnight wheat, flaked rye and spelt alludes to their traditional wandering across the plains. The House Targaryen motto, ‘Fire and Blood,’ adorns the label in a weighty and truly ominous manner.

We have several special events planned to celebrated the launch of Fire and Blood Red Ale and the return of Game of Thrones including pre-release launch events in Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. I’m sure there will be additional events nationwide for the retail release on March 31.

TMS: Have you and HBO decided on a set number of releases or are you going to keep them going as long as they’re successful?

Leinhart: Our initial plan called for two unique beers per year for the first two years (2013 and 2014). We are in the process of discussing a plan forward with HBO for coming seasons and the number of releases is still to be determined.

TMS: Is there a character you’d personally like to see get their own beer but probably wouldn’t make the cut for one reason or another?

Leinhart: Ned Stark was a favorite character after the first season but Tyrion Lannister is definitely the one most discussed around our conference table now. There are risks in linking a beer very specifically to a particular character – that can be polarizing for fans – but there are so many wonderful twists and turns in the story that we are certainly not lacking for inspiration. That said, a ‘Ho-Ho-Hodor’ beer would surely do well around the Christmas season.

TMS: We surely hope that last one comes to pass. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Phil!

Find out more about Fire and Blood at Ommegang’s website.

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