How Local Bands and Breweries Are Joining Forces

In the Whale beer from Black Shirt Brewing.EXPAND
In the Whale beer from Black Shirt Brewing.
Isa Jones

“This beer is for chugging or chucking,” shouts In the Whale frontman Nate Valdez, right after a shiny, label-less can is thrown past his head. The punk-rock duo is on stage at Black Shirt Brewery. It’s the Saturday night release party for the band's beer, Whales Suck, and fans are celebrating in true In the Whale fashion — by spraying it everywhere, throwing cans at the stage, and pounding back pints like monsters.

The idea for an In the Whale beer came about a month ago. Black Shirt Brewery says that music drives everything it does, and it has made collaboration beers before, with bands like Covenhaven and Glowing House. So reaching out to In the Whale was a natural move.

“They work so much with musicians, we thought we would be a good fit,” Valdez says of the collaboration. “We’re all about it. Our fans drink their faces off, and just putting our music in something that’s not a CD or shirt or something like that, a new form of marketing is really cool.”

The band isn’t new to interesting merchandise. In the past, koozies, condoms, pogs and fans have all been on their merch table. The idea of something ingestible immediately appealed to the duo.

“For us, it’s like, 'What better way to connect on a different level and stand out than with a beer?'” says Valdez.

Black Shirt, being a small craft brewery, usually makes strong, heavy, unique beers. But Valdez told them he isn’t a hops guy, and the duo wanted a light beer that fans could drink while jumping around at their shows. The result is Whales Suck. It’s malty, crisp, and goes down as smoothly as water.

“If we’re talking about replacing PBR at a rock show, this is much more flavorful than that, but it doesn’t sit any heavier,” says head brewer Brandon Miller. “It’s not a big, hoppy beer that’s in your face.”

The brewery made 750 gallons of the brew, canning 160 cases and packing kegs with the caramel-colored beer. The cans are label-less. “It’s punk rock as shit,” quips Miller.

Valdez said they wanted a beer that fans could drink a lot of and not feel sick. Judging by the piles of crushed cans and the sold-out crowd that just wouldn’t stop moshing, In the Whale got what it wanted.

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Of course, mixing beers and bands isn’t a new idea in a city that’s more or less fueled by guitar chords and craft ales. Black Shirt Brewery has done multiple collaborations. Coda Brewing in Aurora has made beers for the likes of Dragondeer and Red Fox Run. Ratio Beerworks is celebrating a new album by The Knew with a “Knew Schmew Brew,” and there’s even an annual UMS lager by Breckenridge Brewery on tap every year during the Underground Music Showcase.

“I’m surprised more people haven’t done that,” Miller says. “We didn’t reinvent the wheel, by any means; we’re playing off the things that inspire us. Its very natural that music would be one of those things, and if we can connect deeper with the community, that’s great.”

Saturday morning, Valdez is thoughtful and soft-spoken about the collaboration, reiterating that it’s cool and he hopes people like it. Saturday night, armed with a pedal board and a shiny black guitar, he’s a man possessed. He climbs the wooden palettes that surround the stage, chugs cans of his namesake beer, and reminds the rowdy crowd that they can “fuck off” if they don’t like the new liquid form of In the Whale merch. Of course, not a single person disliked the beer. All during the set, it was a mix of people jumping, screaming and running back to the bar to grab another can.

Miller sums up the beer perfectly: “It’s a simple composition, a lot like In the Whale is. But it kicks a lot of ass.”

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