Art is the mother’s milk of brew at Mu in Aurora

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AURORA | Titans clashing are typically cause for concern. As Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith and now Liam Neeson have shown on the silver screen, the action usually involves a helping of fire and brimstone and a couple dollops of demon slaying. Not to mention plenty of over-compensating special effects.

But at Mu Brewery in northwest Aurora, the “Clash of the Titans” currently on display is more benign than any Kraken, and in fact reflects the creative genesis of two titans of the Aurora Cultural Arts District.

The “clash” at Mu is a 1-foot-by-4-foot Daniel Sorensen painting that hangs on the pub’s east wall, and features a testy robot and plucky dragon soaring toward one another — a Mu-labeled barrel of beer the only object between them. The work is just one of nearly two dozen Sorensen-crafted pieces adorning the walls of East Colfax’s newest — and only — brewery.

“I tried to do some art that’s kind of appropriate for a brewery,” Sorensen said while gesturing at petite paintings of bizarre weapons and arms, many melded with pints of beer and sporting names like “Hammerblade” and “Beersword Brew.” “I really was inspired through wanting to show it here.”

A Navy veteran, Sorensen is the third artist to participate in the brewery’s gallery series, which celebrates the perpetual nexus of art and alcohol. Since September, Mu has teamed closely with a handful of artists from the ACAD, allowing painters and other visual artists to display and sell their work at the pub during a month-long gallery. And on top of serving as a temporary gallery space, the series allows each artist to work alongside Mu’s brew team to create an individual small batch of suds unique to their taste and style, with the final product being tapped for a one-night-only launch event at the brewery.

“What we usually do is talk to the artist in advance to try to kind of get an idea of what beers they like, so then we know kind of how to create a flavor,” said Nathan Flatland, president of Mu.

Flatland and assistant brewer Steve Borutta sat down with Sorensen last month to flesh out exactly in what direction his brew would go. About four hours later, the centaur stout, which boasts chocolate malt and the wooden twist of whiskey soaked oak chips, was born.

“The stout is a heavy, bulky beer in my mind,” Sorensen said of his creation. “And I don’t know anything about beer, but in my mind stout is dark and full and rich, and I just wanted something from mythology that was big and brawny, so I just went with this pretty bad ass, monster type of a character.”

Centaur is the second stout requested by an artist since Flatland started the series this fall, a series that like many of the best inventions to come out of the world of food and beverage, was an accident. Flatland said the idea to have the pub double as an art gallery came when a customer who grew hops in his backyard came to him asking if he would be interested in brewing with the local ingredients. Flatland agreed, and during the brewing process the customer mentioned he was a visual artist and would be interested in displaying some of his work at an opening when the brew was eventually be tapped.

“We said, ‘well, yeah’ so that’s kind of how it all came about,” Flatland said. “And as soon as we started talking about that to other artists in the ACAD, it kind of spread from there.”

The series has continued to grow in popularity with both artists and Mu regulars since its inception, with the next several months already booked by ACAD artists eager to get their work shown and seen by a wider audience.

“Friday nights (when the artist’s batches are tapped) are usually good nights for us anyway because we release small batches of our own on that day each week,” Flatland said. “That’s an added draw for the artist, because anybody who would have come in anyway because of the typical Friday release then becomes a potential customer for them.”

The number of potential customers milling about the ACAD has seen a major uptick in recent years, with approximately 75,000 visitors passing through the district in 2013 and close to 100,000 expected to have passed through last year, according to Tracy Weil, executive director of the ACAD.

That high volume of possible buyers encouraged Sorensen to price his works on display at Mu modestly, in hopes of having them be approachable and affordable for pub-goers who may not typically purchase local art.

“I wanted to do smaller pieces for a place like Mu because I want this to be walkable and want somebody to be able to come in, see a piece and say, ‘oh yeah I can afford $75.’”

Money aside, both Sorensen and Flatland touted the reciprocal relationship between Mu and the artists of the ACAD, with each party benefiting from what the other offers.

“People come to the brewery knowing they can enjoy a beer, but then now there’s also art here, which just gives our customers that much more of an experience when they come in,” Flatland said.

Sorensen added that being able to tell friends and family drinks will be provided at any given exhibit — and by a local brewery at that — makes for a more solid show all around.

“Mu has just always shown up for us (artists) and added a lot of value and character,” he said. “And what makes a good art show? Having libations.”