Well, this one was a gimme for Beer and Metal. I’m not gonna go all remedial on you here—Iron Maiden is one of the most popular and successful metal bands of all time, so we can get straight to the beverage in question.
Front man Bruce Dickinson, who describes himself as a “fan of traditional English cask beer,” devised the recipe for the Trooper in collaboration with Robinsons, a family-run brewery in the Greater Manchester town of Stockport. Iron Maiden has put out 15 studio albums since forming in London in 1975, but Robinsons outdoes that handily—it’s been making beer since 1838.
Iron Maiden released “The Trooper” on June 20, 1983, as the second single from the LP Piece of Mind. The beer’s label borrows the image from the single’s sleeve: band mascot Eddie the Head as an English soldier, charging grimly with a tattered Union flag in one hand and a bloodied saber in the other. As a beer the Trooper launched on May 9, 2013, in the UK; it first appeared in the States in August. It’s a special bitter (what we Yanks usually call an ESB), and even for the style it’s an easy drinker at 4.7 percent.
The Trooper moved a million pints in its first eight weeks to become Robinsons’ fastest-selling beer ever; so far it’s reached more than 30 countries, and exports passed the million mark earlier this month. David Davies, managing director of Robinsons’ exporter, Sovereign Beverage, says the launch is “the most successful we have ever seen from the UK.” The Trooper’s dedicated website (ironmaidenbeer.com) and Twitter account (twitter.com/IronMaidenBeer) don’t mention Robinsons or even the beer’s proper name in their URLs—a pretty clear demonstration of the power of the Iron Maiden brand.
Of course, a beer that people will buy because it’s got Eddie on the bottle isn’t necessarily a beer that’s actually worth drinking. There’s nothing for it but to pop the damn cap and get down to business.
The Trooper’s aroma is encouraging. Malty and yeasty, it’s dominated by caramel, toffee, crusty brown bread, and butterscotch. I can also smell lemongrass, green hay, violet, bitter orange marmalade, baked apple, and stewed raisin—all of which come further forward as it warms.
Unfortunately there’s less going on once you get the beer in your mouth. I taste toasted grains, toffee, and honey, but the complexity in the malts gets kinda bum rushed by the grassy, peppery hops. (The label identifies them as Goldings, Cascade, and Bobec, by which it probably means Bobek.) Despite its rich, almost desserty aroma, the Trooper has a surprisingly bitter, dry, biscuity finish, with flavors of rye cracker and hard-water minerals.
Like many traditional English ales, it also contains a perceptible level of diacetyl, a normal byproduct of brewing that the yeast usually dispose of late in the game; I’m oversimplifying vastly here, but it can persist in the finished product when fermentation is slow or incomplete. Its presence imparts a faint buttery flavor, which would work better in this case if the caramel malts were more aggressive. The Trooper has a silky mouthfeel (probably also a result of the diacetyl), but it’s a bit on the thin side—perhaps to be expected with a relatively low-alcohol beer.
Quite a few online reviewers have said that they appreciate this beer because it’s “true to style.” Myself, I’m underconfident when it comes to asserting what’s true and what isn’t in an English ale. I find the Trooper tasty but unspectacular—and probably not worth the money, unless you’re trying to impress an Iron Maiden fan. (I’ve seen these 16.9-ounce bottles retailing for as much as ten bucks apiece online, but don’t pay more than six. Binny’s sells it for $4.99 before tax.) That said, I’d still jump at the chance to try it on cask, the way the good Lord (and Bruce Dickinson) intended me to drink it.
You can’t buy the Trooper directly from Robinsons in the States, but Windy City distributes it in Illinois. At least in the near future it promises to be a frequent presence on local shelves, if not a consistent one.
Now then. I reckon it’s finally time to listen to some Maiden. Founding bassist Steve Harris wrote “The Trooper” about an 1854 Crimean war battle near Balaclava, which Lord Tennyson had already immortalized with his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”—both describe an assault by 600 British cavalry, who were gallantly if suicidally following a misconstrued order and galloped into massed Russian artillery, suffering horrific casualties.
The song’s official video includes footage from 1936 Errol Flynn film The Charge of the Light Brigade. If it looks like some of those horses can’t possibly have survived, well, they didn’t. The movie’s battlefield set used wires to trip them, and dozens were killed. This helped spur Congress and the ASPCA to more tightly regulate the use of animals in films.
Here’s Iron Maiden playing “The Trooper” at the Download Festival in June 2013, held as always at the Donington Park motorsport circuit in North West Leicestershire. As you watch, bear in mind that Dickinson was 54 when this footage was shot, and that drummer Nicko McBrain had just turned 61. All but one of these guys have been with the band for most of their lives—the obligatory lineup shuffling was finished by ’83, with the exception of Dickinson’s replacement by Blaze Bayley from 1994 till 1999.
Lastly, this is a promo video for the Trooper that features Dickinson farting around at Robinsons’ Unicorn Brewery. Another fun fact: he’s also a licensed commercial airline pilot, and flies a specially chartered Boeing 757 christened “Ed Force One” on Iron Maiden’s international tours.