Breakout Brewer: TRVE Brewing Co. | Craft Beer & Brewing

Breakout Brewer: TRVE Brewing Co.

The taproom (also home to the original brewhouse) may be the darkest in craft beer, with the black walls, dim lighting, candles, pentagrams, and skulls you’d expect from a brewery run by dedicated metalheads

Jamie Bogner 6 months ago

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Trve is A study in contrasts—the intimidating taproom environment and brusque branding starkly contrast with their approachable and sessionable beer and the warm and friendly demeanor of Founder Nick Nunns. But that edge—confounding expectations or assumptions and pushing people to engage more directly with each other and the beer—is what makes the brewery such a powerful idea. It’s not a brewery that wants to be everything to everybody, and that’s exactly how Nunns likes it.

“I never wanted to be just another taproom in town. I want to be the one that people are either like, ‘Oh fuck, this place is weird and cool, and I love it,’ or they’re like, ‘It’s scary. I’m going to go now.’ We get a handful of Iowans who take two steps in and peel out pretty quick,” says Nunns.

“We chose to make [our brewery] a different experience. And as such, we have latched onto a totally different subset of people who want to come in here, and those people are diehard fans.

“If you have sixty or seventy breweries in a city and they’re all doing ‘something for everybody,’ how the fuck do you stand out? How do you become a brewery that people actually want to go to? If [all] seventy breweries here in Denver do the exact same thing, how do you get any fans?”

It may be seen by some as a risky proposition, but as Nunns says, “It’s not nearly as risky as just being the ubiquitous same-ish brewery.”

This all-in approach to the brand and the business—creating the place they themselves want to spend time in and building a taproom environment that reflects an aesthetic and philosophy that is clearly not for everyone—reflects what Nunns calls his desire to be “the counterculture to the counterculture.”

If all craft beer looks the same, and everyone’s making the same turbid IPA or same sickly sweet dessert stout and selling it out of a taproom with Edison bulb lighting, reclaimed wood, and corrugated metal, then have we lost what makes craft beer great?

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“I think the experience is the part that a lot of people don’t think about,” says Nunns. “In such a mature market, it’s not okay just to make a really good beer. It’s not enough. You have to do something else. You have to have an angle. If you don’t have an angle for your taproom or what your brewery represents or what you’re doing, nobody is going to give an absolute fuck about what you’re doing. It needs to be different. Creating some sort of culture that people can latch onto is so important.”

Simplicity, and Ingredients, Matter

The tendency with a brewery like TRVE is to focus on the aesthetic and culture alone, but the brewery is no carnival act, and that narrow view overlooks a fundamental point—they make very, very good beer. It’s been a process of iteration and improvement since the earliest days of the brewery, but over their 5 years of life, they’ve gone from good to great, and—in the case of some of their beers—even world-class.

Their success is driven by a fundamental philosophy based in simplicity. Don’t overdo it. Have the confidence to strip out what isn’t necessary. Quality ingredients make for better beer. Keep improving the process. And work with other like-minded locals whenever possible to create beers with both character and a story.

That tightly edited expression reflects itself in the restrained acidity of the sour beers they produce at their production brewery, dubbed the “Acid Temple.” While some other contemporary sour-beer producers are content to push the limits of acidity to higher and higher levels of mouth-puckering sour, TRVE’s approach is imminently drinkable—sophisticated even.

Over the years, they’ve learned the ins and outs of their house mixed culture and have developed ways to massage the lactic acid bacteria into producing just the right level acidity by manipulating hopping rates and blending batches.

“I really love the fact that [more drinkers are] trying to steer away from ‘What’s your most sour’ and over toward ‘What do you have that has a little bit more balance or nuance to it?’”

When it comes to ingredients, TRVE has fully embraced the rise of local and regional craft maltsters and has begun sourcing significant amounts of their malt from outfits such as Troubadour Maltings in Fort Collins. The local angle not only makes for a selling point and story in the taproom but also supports a fellow local business and—most importantly—allows Head Brewer Zach Coleman to work with the malt house to create custom malts that deliver flavors he envisions.

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“Zach has been really adamant about trying to change the producer-supplier chain as much as we can so that we don’t just work with these big guys who say, ‘Here’s our menu of shit. Just order what you need and figure it out,’” says Nunns.

“We can go to our maltster and be like, ‘We want this’ and they will be like, ‘Fuck yeah, we will make that for you.’ Or we can go to our farmer that we work with out on the Western Slope and say, ‘We would like to see these fruits,’ and he will be like, ‘That sounds great to me, too. I will get it in the ground next year for you guys.’ So that’s a big part of what we’re trying to do—change that relationship and support a lot of the businesses that are similarly sized to us just doing different stuff.”

In Defense of Turbid Beers

On the hot button issue of New England–style IPAs, Nunns takes a progressive stance that may be unpopular among some Colorado brewing peers.

“I’m baffled that you’re still seeing breweries in Colorado who are making fun of hazy IPA,” says Nunns. “I am blown away by that. This is a legitimate style literally everywhere else [in the country]. It’s almost like the brewing industry here is so longstanding that we have these religious zealots about how breweries should act.” For Nunns, these unfiltered and turbid IPAs may be something new, but there’s predecent for them within the world of beer, and they simply reflect the syncretic creativity of today’s craft brewers in creating new things from more traditional building blocks.

“I was in Boston for a festival, and Zach [Coleman], my head brewer, Kat [Wilkinson], my sales manager, and I were all sitting at a bar with three beers in front of us. My beer was Fresh IPA from Civil Society, who have since become really great friends of ours. Zach was drinking the same thing as me, and Kat’s beer looked identical, but was presented in a different glass. So I asked her what she had and she said, ‘Oh, I ordered a hefe.’ When I saw that the level of turbidity was the same in all three of those beers, I was like, ‘Why are we even having a discussion about this? Why is it okay for [hefeweizen] to have that level of haze but not this [IPA]? This is not even a discussion we should be having.’”

Nunns and Coleman have put their own spin on the hazy IPA they brew, pushing the beer to lower finishing gravity than is typical for the style while still delivering strong hops aromatics through late hopping and extensive dry- hopping regimens.

Despite their tough image, Nunns and Coleman could not be more approachable, just like the sessionable and simple beers they make and sell. While their visual style may seem to some to be over-the-top and dramatic, the beers themselves are a picture of restraint—honest, authentic, and rustic, with a defining personality that makes them TRVE.

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Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].

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