Thursday, January 29, 2015
Ever since Black Sky Brewery opened during the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, it's been the living personification of how mature Denver's craft brewing scene is — mature enough to support two heavy-metal-themed breweries.
But as much as Denver might have two darkly-adorned, guitar-deifying beer makers — TRVE Brewing opened on Broadway in 2011 — have you ever spent time comparing and contrasting their beers and atmospheres? Just for fun, I decided to do that recently. And I discovered that while they may fit together into a very small niche, there are actually few similarities between the suds purveyors.
It doesn't take being inside TRVE long, for example, to feel like you are in a very different place than other breweries. The interior is black, the art is foreboding and the loud-but-not-so-loud-you-can't-talk-over-it music sounds like it's played by someone in real pain (at least that's how it sounds to a bluegrass listener like me). Pentagram-emblazoned goats and multiple mammal skulls adorn the bar, and there is not a kitchen in sight.
Black Sky is painted black as well, and larger wall art (pictured below) resembles proposed album covers for metal bands. But the music is turned down, there are TVs in the corners and there's a full menu of pizzas and calzones. Recently, the Beer Geekette and I took our five-month-old son there for dinner, and we didn't feel out of place.
Even more glaringly different than the decor, however, is the contrasting styles of brewing between Black Sky's Harry Smith and TRVE's Nick Nunns.
For all its metal atmosphere, Black Sky serves up lighter-bodied, often surprisingly lively beers. Its signature beer now is its Petal to the Metal, a 4.9% ABV rose and hibiscus ale with an appropriately flowery mouthfeel that seems to be the source of a late-breaking bitterness in an otherwise malty (16 IBU) effort. Usually you can also find on tap such offerings as a quite-sweet pomegranate wheat, pale ales with toned-down hoppy presences and even a light American ale with a citrus hop character. Guest taps are omnipresent as well.
TRVE, however, presents beer that is as challenging to the taste buds as its music is to the ear (though in a much more pleasant way). In recent years, Nunns has ramped up his barrel-aging and sour experiments, producing taste-bud busters like its eye-openingly tart Manannan sour brown ale and its dangerously drinkable Liquid Funeral Russian imperial stout that show both a great deal of complexity and strength. And just when you think you know TRVE, he'll pour you a Cursed — a sour pale ale dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo that is neither too hoppy nor too tart but is a shockingly refreshing addition to his portfolio.
So, black metal may be black metal (though, clearly, I won't pretend to explain the musical genre). But one black-metal brewery is certainly not equivalent to the other. Black Sky is the place to go to walk just slightly on the wild side, try some accessible beers and throw down some good food. TRVE, meanwhile, is the place that tempts your beer-tasting inhibitions, immerses you fully in its culture and leaves you just a little more rattled by both its beer and scene when you leave.
Whatever your poison, though, both are worth a trip.