Truly rooted in heavy metal
By Kyle Kirves
“So, how metal are you?”
It’s an odd opener for a conversation, especially with someone you’ve just met. Unless, of course, that person is Nick Nunns, proprietor of Denver’s heavy metal-themed brewery, TRVE (pronounced true). It’s a question Nunns has a ready, though not surprising, answer to.
“We’re very much into metal and it’s our life’s blood. It’s a core component of how we brand and image ourselves,” says Nunns. “All genres and subgenres of metal get airplay at the brewery.” Yet he wants to be clear: “There’s more – much more – to TRVE than just metal. There are things about us that are equally interesting. Most importantly, it’s about the beers we’re making and our approach to that.”
Those words ring TRVE.
Yes, music and metal is important in forming the culture and identity of TRVE. Consider that head brewer Zach Coleman is in doomed heavy metal band Khemmis, a touring act with multiple albums. But like any other branded product, while the images may grab your attention, it’s what’s in the bottle that keeps aficionados coming back for more. “We want people to notice and pick up on the labels, sure, but we don’t want it to be all you notice or remember about our brewery,” says Nunns. “It’s really about the beer.”
The artwork on TRVE’s bottles is as unmistakably striking as any vinyl album cover. Artistically, heavy metal is the touchstone for the artistic choices TRVE makes. With an endless well of subgenres to choose from, the label art can go in any direction. “We always start with the beer or with a beer concept,” Nunns says. “Then we go out and find a band that sonically represents the taste or ethos of a beer. Maybe we look toward a specific song or phrase within one that mirrors the style of it.”
Digging deeper, Nunns says, “It’s a kind of synesthesia,” a term for those gifted – or cursed – with a cross-sensory ability to see sound or taste words. “We look at everything the band does, whether it’s color schemes or images and we’ll spin or riff on that a little bit.” He cites Celtic Frost as an example of a band whose imagery and iconography influenced their Jewel Throne label artwork. TRVE’s Departure of Consciousness is a tribute to Massachusetts-based Forn’s album cover art.
When asked about his own personal favorites, Nunns mentions a mixed culture sour pale ale, Cursed, a label with a black and red depiction of a distortion pedal. “I’ve always said that label is a very subtle reference to metal and what it means to us,” he says. And then he drops a riddle on me: “If you understand that label, you understand what we’re all about. Only a real metal-head,” he says, “will be able to figure out all of the references.” I won’t spoil it. Figure it out on your own. Or better yet, go into TRVE and ask.
Slow Death, a limited-release collaboration with Ashville, North Carolina’s Burial Brewing, is another of Nunns’ favorites. “I do all of our layouts,” he says, “Sam does all of the literal work, bringing me actual drawings or pen-on-paper artwork and then I do all of the digital work. That one really demonstrates my love of typography and a place where I put my stamp on the label art. It is also a great example of Sam’s talent.”
“Sam” is Sam Turner, brand artist for TRVE, who echoes Nunns’ assertions about their creative process. “We work together iteratively to create something that’s inspired by a band or song,” Turner says. “But it’s an indirect association. We want the art to be a sincere tribute to the band or song, but also respect their trademarks and identity.”
Turner’s contributions go beyond the bottle art, though. If you’ve been to the brewery, you’ll notice two Game-of-Throne-ish banners flanking the taps, each featuring a monastic figure, one a goat and one a hooded wolf. It’s an altar of metal brewing, and brewing mettle.
A personal favorite of mine, both for the art and the style of beer, is Revengeance. Styled in some places as American wild ale, Revengeance drinks like a roasty currant-infused porter. The label is a blood-spattered, black-and-white image of a hulking barbarian, complete with double axe and sword. It’s an excellent representation of Turner’s Frank Frazetta-inspired work. But as Nunns suggests, while the art is engaging, the beer itself is unmistakable and unforgettable.
And, the name TRVE? It’s a common meme metal heads would understand. “TRVE is a term used to describe someone or something – a band, whatever – that takes themselves a little too seriously. It’s easy to do that in the brewing world. But the name is a conscious reminder and inside joke,” Nunns says, “for us not to take ourselves too seriously.”
So, how metal are you?
Kyle Kirves is a solid dude who believes drinking beer should be a five-senses experience.