Pairing Beer with Opera Ballads 

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Photo: John Heins, Craft Haüs

By Kristen Kuchar

We’ve all seen breweries pairing beers with chocolates, cheeses or even Girl Scout cookies, but University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Music has another accompaniment in mind – opera songs.

Hops & Opera is a fun program offered by the college, where incredibly talented opera singers and alumni perform shortened songs at local breweries. The songs are carefully chosen and paired with a specific beer based on its story, such as a unique ingredient, its inspiration or the background behind its name. 

For example, at the most recent event at Wibby Brewing in Longmont, Throwing Stones Steinbier, was paired with the song, Sibillar Gli Angui D’Aletto. The beer was brewed with fire-heated chunks of granite that were added to the wort in the boil stage. It’s designed to reflect the song’s story of tired soldiers heating rocks to warm their feet, as well as the smoke from battle.

Photo: John Heins, Craft Haüs

Photo: John Heins, Craft Haüs

Meagan Mahlberg, alumni coordinator for the College of Music, was inspired to create the lively event to make opera accessible to people who otherwise feel they can’t connect to it. “People already love beer, so I wanted to find a way to connect the two, incorporating elements of the beer,” she says.

“Beer brings people together from all different backgrounds,” says Wibby Brewing co-owner and brewer Ryan Wibby, who was immediately interested when the opportunity arose to team up with Mahlberg and CU. He says the event was great exposure for his lager-centric brewery, and their team loved the engagement and energy level from the crowd.

“We’re always looking to do something different and memorable at the brewery, and this definitely fit that,” explains Robin Brower, strategist at Wibby Brewing. The Longmont brewery hosts a plethora of events throughout the year, so the chance to incorporate a new art in the taproom was a perfect fit. 

The brewery was packed with an eclectic crowd who were all incredibly engaged and captivated by the outstanding performances. The entire performance felt interactive as performers weaved throughout the seats, belting out powerful songs, all while holding a beer in their hand and taking the occasional sip. Before each song, Mahlberg thoughtfully explained the connection between the song and the beer as Wibby’s team passed out tasters of it. 

For those new to opera, Mahlberg’s hope is they find it exhilarating, and they understand it a little more. For the opera lovers who attend, she says it’s a chance for them to experience a new beer and learn something new about the incredible art of craft brewing. 

As a performer, Mahlberg says it’s, of course, a totally different experience performing in a brewery. “So much about opera is about perfection – the perfect sound, every word memorized, acting brilliantly on stage,” she explains. “But something about performing in a brewery takes the pressure off in such a casual, fun-loving environment.”

Hops & Opera has previously been held at Upslope Brewing in Boulder and Powder Keg Brewery in Niwot, which recently closed. Mahlberg hopes to present the program a few times every year.

Kristen Kuchar is a freelance writer covering food, libations, music and other Colorado gatherings.