The King Cool of Beers Donnie Iris tries his hand at brewing


By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

AUSTINTOWN

Pittsburgh-based rocker Donnie Iris, aka King Cool, is rolling out his own brand of beer in the Youngstown market Thursday with a special “first pour” concert at Club Gossip.

It will mark the first time that King Cool Light will be sold in Ohio. Donnie Iris and the Cruisers will play a full set at the concert and will greet fans afterward.

Tickets are free but are being given out only by local radio stations WNCD (93.3 FM), WKBN (570 AM), WBBG (106.1 FM) and WMXY (98.9 FM).

So why would Iris — a legend in these parts and the voice behind such classics as “Love Is Like a Rock,” “Ah Leah,” “Agnes” and “That’s the Way Love Ought to Be” — want to get into the beer business?

“Well, we like beer,” Iris told The Vindicator. “Actually, [band mate and songwriter] Mark Avsec, myself, [band manager] Mike Belkin, and [lead guitarist] Marty Lee Hoenes were thinking about what we could do outside music that’s fun and cool,” said Iris. “We thought about restaurants and this and that. Then Mark came up with the idea of King Cool Beer, and we loved the idea. It was two years in the making, but we put it all together and brought it to life.”

Iris said the band determined the recipe. “We got together three or four times and did sampling before deciding on the one we have,” he said. “It’s a light lager, close to a Samuel Adams Light in flavor.”

Iris said it was important that the beer, which has 122 calories per 12-ounce bottle, packs a lot of flavor.

A photo of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers in concert graces the label, as does the slogans “Fueled by cool” and “A light beer that rocks.”

The beer debuted in November in the Pittsburgh market and has been selling well there, said Gary Medved, chief operating officer of the brand and a longtime associate and friend of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers. It is brewed at Lion Brewing Co. in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

“The triangle formed by Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Erie is the core market,” he said. “Donnie has a huge following in Youngstown.”

Ohio Wine and Beverage, a local beverage distributor, is handling sales in Youngstown. With a foothold in Ohio, Medved said he expects word-of-mouth to carry the beer into the Cleveland market next.

King Cool Light is available only in bottles for now, said Medved, but plans call for kegs and cans.

After that, expect new beers. “We might do a lager or a pale ale or a heavier beer,” he said.

King Cool Light is being positioned as just below a craft beer, said Medved, adding it will appeal to buyers of unique brews. “It’s not as pricey as a Sam Adams but a little more than a Yuengling Light,” he said. “It has taste, body, color ... all the things that the national brands are winnowing away.”

In other news in the King Cool universe, Donnie Iris and the Cruisers are working on a Christmas album that will be released later this year.

“We’ve never done anything like it,” said Iris. “It will have 10 or 12 songs, including traditional Christmas songs, and some that are off the beaten path, plus a couple of originals.”

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