By Kyle Kirves
Stories well-told mesmerize us like the fires they’re frequently told around. We crave stories that entertain and enlighten, that amuse and scare, or that are parables we can learn from. But most of all, we tell and listen to stories to become part of something larger than ourselves – part of a clan or tribe or extended family. In many ways, storytelling is what separates us from the animals. Storytelling makes us human.
At Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, stories and storytelling, as it turns out, are at the heart of the choices they’ve made with their artwork. It’s a natural fit when you take your name from the most widely read literary siblings this side of the Brontë sisters.
“There are ways of telling stories,” Russell Fruits, vice president of marketing for Grimm Brothers, said. “As brewers, we want to be able to tell the story of beer to people. You start talking IBUs and specific gravity and you lose people. You start talking Little Red Riding Hood, a story most folks know – or think they know – and there’s immediate context.”
Enter Grimm Brother’s Little Red Cap Altbier – a Great American Beer Festival Gold medal winner. As the name would suggest, it’s reddish in color, but it’s also hoppier than their other offerings, and slightly edgier. When branding it, Grimm Brothers turned to Loveland-based designer Josh Emrich (of Emrich Office) to help them tell a story in a single image.
“In the original story, Little Red Cap becomes a victim of the wolf,” says Fruits. “We chose to rewrite that story and make our version a heroine. That’s why she has that axe behind her back.”
Emrich expands on the story. “And the finger to her lips,” he adds. “She doesn’t want you to give her away to the wolf. In our version, Little Red Cap is turning the tables. And you’re in on the joke.”
It’s a theme recurrent throughout the Grimm Brothers line. All of the beers – from the flagships to the seasonal offerings – have a corresponding story from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales canon. And make no mistake, these are not the Disney-fied versions of these classic characters. Indeed, they are more in keeping with the darker and dreamlike nature of the source material. Snow Drop Kottbusser, for example, is a fine take on the mythical Snow White. Yes, she’s in a two-tone, white-and-yellow dress and holding a golden apple, but a pathway made of skulls leads to the dark towers of a castle that loom behind her. Grimm enough for you?
Still others take the original tale and give it a distinctive spin: it’s a she-devil on the European-style Pilsner Three Golden Hairs, not the traditional cloven-hoof and pitchfork variety. The label has a slightly suggestive quality…in a B-17-nose-art, or hula-girl-on-the-dashboard sort of way. Emrich refers to the beer label bombshells as “empowered pin-ups.” Racy, sure. But not too racy.
“The response has been over-whelmingly positive,” Fruits says, before adding, “I can tell you the art’s inspired a fair share of tattoos.”
As for the beer itself, Grimm Brothers has evolved from humble homebrewing roots. Co-founders Aaron Heaton and Don Chapman were homebrewers first whose palates gravitated to German-style beers, brewing techniques, and traditions. They are recreating many German beer styles whose recipes were nearly lost to time, heirloom craft beers that few – if any – domestic brewers produce. Yet Grimm Brothers doesn’t limit themselves to Germanic beers when it comes to styles. They currently have an IPA on tap (their third version) as part of a larger experimental series and a porter – though a decidedly German take on that English favorite. The results have been well-received and well-awarded, and bring a little Black Forest to the Front Range.
We’re always cautioned not to judge a book by its cover, but when taken as a whole, the beer and the label artwork of Grimm Brothers brewing come together the way all good stories do. These are beers that aren’t for just “once upon a time,” but rather time and time again. Enjoy one of Grimm Brothers beers the next time your friends gather ‘round, and see where your story takes you.
Kyle Kirves is a solid dude who believes drinking beer should be a “five senses” experience.