Asuka Sasaki by Allen Birnbach / Artists of Colorado Ballet

To our regular readers, it’s probably no surprise that I -- a male beer writer in my 30s -- haven’t been to many ballet performances in my life. Okay...any. I haven’t been to any ballet performances in my life.

That is, until I attended one particular fun and enlightening event -- hosted by the young professionals group Backstage Barre at the Colorado Ballet -- that combined beer drinking, lively conversation, and that specific type of dance that people do on their tippy toes. And afterwards, I became convinced that beer has a lot more in common with ballet than one might assume.

Like any event worth going to, beer was flowing freely as soon as I walked into the Colorado Ballet building: Avery Brewing Co. was pouring their Chai High from cans. The tea spices in this beer were so strong that I bet it’d be delicious mixed with milk and poured over ice. Like a rich, creamy -- boozy! -- iced chai. Avery also brought Pachama, a brand new 5.2% ABV Peruvian-inspired chicha beer brewed with corn and quinoa, with absolutely no hops or carbonation. It smells a helluva lot like corn, and yet it’s strangely sessionable, and pretty damned tasty. (Plus, how often do you get to sample a brew that tastes like it’s from 1000 AD?!)
credits:"[Sarah Nuemann Photography](" align:center

Pachama was created by Travis Rupp, an ancient history and archaeology educator at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a Research and Development manager at Avery. His job, in part, is to travel for the express purpose of creating beers. “I go around the world researching ancient beers, and then I try to recreate them,” he later said during a panel discussion. Nice work if you can get it!

After a glass of the Chai High and the Pachamama, I was ready for some ballet. Two members of the Colorado Ballet, Asuka Sasaki and Francisco Estevez, took the stage to perform a scene from The Nutcracker. I don’t know all the ballet terms (or any of them, really), but what I saw was pretty amazing. I was sitting in the front row of a space way smaller than a theater, watching two top notch athletes perform just a few feet from my eyes. I could tell that their seemingly effortless movements actually required great precision and strength.

Next, ballet dancers Melissa Zoebisch and Christophor Moulton performed the Arabian Divertissement (also from The Nutcracker). This scene appeared to be even more athletic in nature, and made me appreciate how easy it was to be sitting in a chair sipping on an Avery beer rather than performing a living, breathing work of art on stage.

And yet, I still didn’t quite understand how ballet had anything to do with beer until I witnessed a panel discussion moderated by comedian Roger Hack. Throughout an intriguing discussion, Avery’s Rupp and three principals from the ballet (Sharon Wehner, Domenico Luciano, and Yosvani Ramos) helped me understand where the fields intersect.
credits:"[Sarah Nuemann Photography](" align:center

Experimentation and creativity drives both industries

In the late ‘90s, there were less than 2,000 breweries in America. Today, we have more than 5,000. And with that growth (and inevitably, increased competition amongst breweries) the beer industry has had to adapt. Rupp talked about how craft beer’s market share has increased over the years, and how the industry has thus “driven experimentation.” “It’s the reason why I can create ancient beers,” he said. “Every brewery’s trying to find its little niche to get into. It’s cool because you see the arrival of new beer styles. Like the New England IPA movement. It’s constantly changing, just as beer does.”

Ballet has some common ground with beer’s tendency towards experimentation. “Ballet is a live and alive art form,” Luciano said. “It changes with time and has been changing since the beginning of the century. The craft is evolving -- starting with the choices of repertoire and the structure of the ballet companies. But there’s also a willingness and a need for new creations and new compositions.”

He also noted that the body types of the dancers -- along with the athleticism and the physicality of dance -- has changed. Though The Nutcracker may be a work from the late 1800s, it takes on a different look today because modern dancers “have different experiences, and their training is different.”

credits:"[Allen Birnbach / Artists of Colorado Ballet]("

Knowledge of beer and ballet gives you the power to appreciate (and criticize) it

I remember a time in college when I liked only one beer: Guinness. Sure, I might have had a Yuengling if it were forced upon me, but I would’ve rather had a rum and Coke.

Then I had an experience not dissimilar to what Rupp would describe: “My brother was a Busch Light guy until I started working at Avery, and now he’s obsessed with sour beer,” he recalled. “How do you go from Busch Light to being obsessed with sours?” The answer may be getting people interested in beer with some familiar flavors, while showing them the seemingly infinite world of beer styles available. Rupp mentioned how he’ll often steer wine drinkers who don’t (yet) drink beer towards the Belgian golden strong Salvation, since it has similar qualities to white wine. “You create that [new] experience, hook them in, and then open a door for them to experience all kinds of things. I think it’s fairly similar to any kind of art, really.”

Similarly, Wehner, a dancer who spoke about taking lessons from the age of three, says that ballet isn’t a one-size-fits-all type art form. “Our ballets have a theme -- everything from fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty to the Holocaust,” she said. “Not everything is everyone’s taste, but our job is to really delve in with passion and skill. And to understand that for almost every story you tell on stage -- especially the stories told through ballet -- there’s a human connection. We have to hope that by having our dedication our passion into whatever that choreography is that it’s going to speak to an audience, even if it’s not necessarily their flavor.” Meanwhile, beer is about finding the right flavors that appeal to a drinker -- not so different from ballet!

Passion is another area of common ground for both ballet and beer lovers. “We try to provide different kinds of experiences for the audience [with different types of ballet],” Luciano said. “And I think it’s important to provide audiences with different options [of ballet] to experience, to have their own opinions, and to develop a taste. And to feel comfortable coming back for whatever they like.” Developing a literal taste for beer is something craft fans can certainly relate to. Expanding your horizons and drinking more and more types of beer is part of the fun of being into that magical alcoholic beverage.

“Maybe [people will] feel brave and [experience] whatever they feel like they don’t really get yet,” Luciano said. Not bad advice for a beer lover, either.

credits:"[Mike Watson / Artists of Colorado Ballet]("