Telluride Harnesses the Landscape

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Art reflects common ground of brewers and artists

By Kyle Kirves

Colorado communities have a funny way of making a local fourteener virtually synonymous with a town’s identity. Colorado Springs has Pikes Peak. Towns along the northern Front Range have shared custody of Long’s Peak. And Chaffee County? Well, it has an embarrassment of riches in the better-than-fourteen-thousand-feet category, doesn’t it? And it claims them all. Why choose?

The same goes for Coloradans who live in the shadow of Mount Wilson down Telluride-way. The mountain, which is almost Egyptian in its pyramidic symmetry, is an instantly recognizable local symbol and a natural choice for Telluride Brewing Company’s logo.

“Wilson is truly iconic for our area,” says John Lehman, art director at Telluride and one of the creative forces behind the identity. “And from there, I just kind of came up with the sunrays behind it. It’s a theme that is part of the scene behind all of our other imagery.”

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It works. It’s a logo that equally evokes both the mythic past and the modern promise of the American west and Telluride itself. Not surprisingly, the flagship logo is the most popular element of Telluride Brewing’s merch and remains a fan favorite for Colorado beer enthusiasts worldwide.

Anyone who’s held a can of Telluride will tell you that those rays of sunshine are a common element on all the beer’s art. But each beer has its own individual identity as well. Chris Fish, founder and brewmaster at Telluride, credits the local landscape for inspiring their can art.

“Everything we love about Telluride goes into the branding. The outdoors, music festivals, everything,” he says. “It’s a shared experience coming together in the images. We wanted to incorporate that because it’s such a beautiful area that really calls people to outdoor adventure.”

The art is also reminiscent of the energy and jumping-off-the-page aesthetic associated with classic concert posters from the Bill Graham-era. Fishwater at the Fillmore East? It’s maybe not as far-fetched as it sounds. Fishwater Double IPA is named for a Widespread Panic song of the same name.

When asked to name favorites, both Chris and John quickly turn to Russell Kelly Pale Ale, a tribute to the well-known Telluride resident and kayaking celebrity who died tragically in 2004 in a car accident in Yellowstone. He is fittingly memorialized on the can, in full gear, doing what he did best and loved most — making the magic happen in whitewater — in colors that evoke Evel Knievel in his heyday.

A notable departure from Telluride’s established themes is a recently released Kölsch called simply, yet appropriately enough, Mountain Beer. It has a classic, clean look that is less splashy than the other family brands. When I ask if the design is rooted in the post-war beers that dad might have fished from the icy bottom of a steel-belted Coleman cooler, both Chris and John agree that kind of thinking certainly went into the design process.

“We wanted to make a quintessential Telluride summer beer, something drinkable and sessionable and we wanted to go a different direction with the branding,” Chris says. “It’s a big departure for us. Something kind of retro.”

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“It is in kind of the same vein as some of those old beers,” says John. “I remember stealing beers out of my granddad’s garage fridge when I was a teenager. Those old-school, Milwaukee-made cans were part of the design considerations.”

To be clear, we’re talking image only here, people – what’s in the can is 100 percent southwestern Colorado deliciousness.

Mountain Beer itself, and the process behind the naming and branding, are emblematic of the way they creatively collaborate.

“We batted around names on Mountain Beer for weeks,” John says. “For Face Down Brown, I had the name and images in a couple of hours. Other times for other beers, the names have come first. The process is creative and fulfilling and not formulaic. It’s rewarding when it really comes to fruition.”

Chris described the unspoken understanding between the brewers and the branders.

“We tell John what the beer is going to be like and then he takes that away and comes up with something that works, with maybe a tweak here or there,” he says.

Chris and John also both love the town they call home. It’s a place that is infused into everything they do, and that’s not changing.

“Telluride Brewing Company is rooted here. We wouldn’t want to be anyplace else,” Chris says, describing a recent expansion and affirming that there won’t be a brewing outpost or production facility elsewhere anytime soon. “The town will dictate how big we can get.”

And that’s ok – as long as they continue to export that love in 12-ounce installments.

Kyle Kirves drinks beer, plays guitar, runs trails, and manages projects – all with varying degrees of success. While not a craftsman himself, he is quite content writing about the Colorado artisans who create such wonderful things and memorable experiences.