About Black Shirt Brewing Co


Black Shirt Brewing Co is a progressive, artisanal brewery located in the RiNo Art District in Denver, CO. The brewery was founded by brothers Chad and Branden Miller and Chad's wife Carissa. Our focus is on creating unique, assertive, vibrant, complex, and ultimately perfectly-balanced beer. We do everything by hand, in small batches. No gimmicks. No bull shit.


Genuine. Passionate. Soulful. Authentic. Beer.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 - A Look Back...

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela

As we started 2014 we were beginning a new and very exciting chapter for our small brewery. We were about to embark on a grand voyage - though no one could have prepared us for the highs and the lows this year would bring. We would face a lot of hurtles, have to overcome the fear, anxiety, and unknowns within ourselves, and fight through a lot of moments where we thought we just couldn't do it. We also had the opportunity to share a few beers in celebration after overcoming these obstacles and to realize the reward is well worth the risk. 

There is no better reward after a 14 hour double-batch brew day than a glass of your prior creation!


Our new 15-barrel brewhouse and (6) 30-bbl fermenters were installed in late October, 2013 and we had been in the process of scaling up our existing recipes as well as brewing some new one-offs. With very little trial-and-error we were producing beers that matched the flavor profile that I was after and we were learning quite quickly how to use our new toys. We even got our auger system installed which took milling grains and mashing in from a vigorous 3 man job, to a cushy 1-man operation complete with the ability to sip a little coffee as grain marched its way from the grist case to the mash tun via the push of a button! 


In addition, the year started off with a different crazy bang as we received, installed, and began to use our Wild Goose canning line on Jan 2nd, 3rd, & 4th. This was a game changer for us as nearly 85% of the beer we brewed in 2013 was consumed within the 4 walls of our brewery. The canning line would change that and allow us to increase our footprint, make a bigger impact in the community, and allow more people the chance to taste The Red Ale Project. I can't say that packaging has been easy. It was a surprise and a big challenge. Fuck, it's been a royal pain in the ass at times. Especially to begin with. We had no prior experience with packaging beer other than a single-head bottle filler that we had used to fill our growlers. As far as fast-paced packaging, we had done a lot of homework but that didn't prepare us for the challenges we'd face and the amount of delicious beer that would end up in the floor drains as opposed to the cans. However, like we always do, we persevered and things got simpler, made more sense, and we eventually figured it out. 


IRA cans entering the canning line.


Not exactly my happy face.

That moment when shit just isn't going right.


Chad's "I don't like what the fuck is happening" face.


Bin full of low-fill, unsellable cans.


Aaron's look of deep concentration & determination


Finally, something to be proud of.

The staff at Black Shirt has gone through a pretty big change through the year. Unfortunately, we lost our hard-working assistant brewer Adam to homesickness and the need to be around family. Fortunately, we have filled that role with Aaron, my brother-in-law, who helped build Black Shirt and who is so eager to learn, so willing to work hard, and so committed to the brewery. Our all-around guy Ian moved on to pursue his goal of working for the Forest Service, and he still checks in quite often. We've also hired an assistant cellarman and packaging tech in Steve, who we hope to see grow into a bigger role in 2015. On the sales and distribution side of the business, we hired Juan who is doing a fantastic job keeping our accounts happy and shelves stocked (so long as we can supply him with enough beer). We've promoted bartender Cassie to our tap room manager and she is kicking ass in that department. Additionally, we hired Mary who not only takes care of guests in the tap room, but also books all of the live music for the brewery, assists with private parties, and so much more. What started out as a handful of people brewing, packaging, and serving all the beer, quickly turned into 12 full-time employees complete with a dedicated service staff, distribution arm, packaging crew, music coordinator, tap room manager, and more. Albeit, we still all wear multiple hats, but it's crazy to see our little brewery accelerate at such a fast pace. 


Along the way we went from a handful of liquor stores carrying our beer to twenty, three dozen, and then almost 80. At the same time, we went from only a couple of tap houses having Black Shirt on tap to nearly 25 of the best restaurants and beer-centric bars keeping our beer on tap as well as in cans. We've made some unique partnerships and have seen Black Shirt named in local blogs, the city paper, and even The New York Times! We've won, and lost, and won, and lost space on liquor store shelves and in coolers. It's been a year of learning, of growth, of calculation, and of getting our asses kicked at times. 

Some things we are looking forward to in 2015 include 3 new fermenters (1-7bbl & 2-30bbls), a QA and QC lab complete with dedicated lab tech (our dear friend Cat), more exciting and meaningful collaborations, lots of new and exciting beers, the return of our beer garden in the spring and a new, improved stage, a summer full of live music, and much, much more. 

We are coming out tired, excited, in disbelief, and in hopeful anxiety for 2015. To think that we've had our feverishly devout fans like you along for the ride, in the happy and the sad times, is incredibly powerful. We don't do what we do to make money or build an empire. We create unique and flavorful beers to share with people we enjoy and look up to. We love to share stories with you and we love to hear what you've been up to. We can't say enough thanks for allowing us this opportunity. We'll keep doing what we do, and we hope to see you in the tap room!

Here are some moments that stand out from 2014:
















Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TiredPirate & What It Means To Collaborate...

Collaborate. To work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something. 

Too often these days, in and out of the beer world, people "collaborate" simply to gain more recognition for their work by attaching it to another's. It's obvious when this is happening, as the focus becomes trying to showcase the fact of the collaboration as opposed to the creation itself. These types of "collaborations" downplay the whole value of a true collaboration-which, in my mind, is to bring a variety of skills to the table and put them together in an effort to create something far better than the sum of its parts. Hopefully, in the best case scenario, the creation is something that would never be possible without the collaborators each bringing their own passion, conviction, knowledge, experience, opinions, biases, tendencies, and work ethic to the project. Again, this is the best case scenario. This is what happens when honest and true people collaborate, for the better good of the project. Unfortunately, this ideal scenario is not often the case.

I met Patrick Ryan Corrigan, better known at Black Shirt as TiredPirate, over 2.5 years ago. Since then, we've become good friends and appreciators of one another's art. He originally approached me, and really Black Shirt, about doing a custom art piece to hang in the brewery because he liked the feel of the brand that we were creating and the look of the space as it was coming together. I was blown away that a random painter (or so I thought at the time) would recognize these things and then volunteer his work to people he had never met. I was probably a bit suspect as well, looking back. When TiredPirate asked us what he should paint, we said "paint swagger," however that looks and feels to you. Because isn't swagger the sort of feeling you get when wearing a black shirt? After some consideration, his response was "swagger to me is Steve McQueen in the 1968 movie Bullitt!"

Perfect.

TiredPirate doesn't tend to fuck around - he's serious. Dead serious. He believes in art's ability to move people to action. And he acts, often and deliberately. That first piece he did for us actually turned into 3 pieces. They are incredible works of art and if you've been to the brewery, you've undoubtedly seen, and more often than not stared, in wonder and/or disbelief. They are stunning. They are prized possessions of ours and they will be hung in the brewery indefinitely. They are not for sale. They are priceless pieces of art that we cherish and love to show to people and see their reactions. If you haven't been to the tap room, a mere picture on this blog just wouldn't suffice. They are textural. They have depth and dimension. They are huge pieces of art. They're surreal. 

The first time TiredPirate and Black Shirt collaborated together was June First Friday, 2013. The idea stemmed from us being in a vibrant art community and having First Friday art walks throughout the year. We tend to showcase as many local artists as possible on these and other evenings. However, with TiredPirate it was a bit different. First, you have to know that he is a total beer geek. He travels for beer. He waits in line for beer. He knows who is doing what, when, and where and he's not afraid to shell out some dough in order to drink the really good stuff. He is an opinionated drinker and can tell when something isn't made with pride, passion, and skill, and like me, doesn't hesitate to express his thoughts. 

For the June First Friday show, TiredPirate created a huge array of paintings and we put them on display throughout the tap room, brewery, etc. If there was a sturdy, safe place with great lighting, we put one of his pieces on display there. If hanging required us to make some structural or lighting changes, we did it. It was an impressive showing of art. He had something like 20 pieces hung up, most of which had been created for this evening alone. Let me remind you that his pieces are intricate. They require a lot of time and effort. To say he busted his ass would be a drastic understatement.

In addition to the artwork display, we had decided pretty early on to create a beer, as a team, that brought together some of our favorite qualities of beer - seasonality, artistic expression, and a unique approach to our art. We ultimately settled on a rhubarb and hibiscus sour mash red saison. (Take that all in). We sour mashed some wort, boiled it, fermented it with saison yeast, and then conditioned it on fresh rhubarb and dried hibiscus - and I added some spicing that I'll leave to your imagination. We tasted the beer, in many stages, as a team and discussed what we liked, didn't like, and how to change it. TiredPirate brought in some near and dear friends to lend their opinion as well. We'd watch and listen to them try the beer, and we'd make notes about this all. Then back to our studio we'd go. We kept busy. We worked tirelessly. We created a beer unique to the project. We didn't stop until everyone was satisfied. We celebrated our victory and shared this creation with our friends and with those who were lucky enough to be there that night. It was truly a moment of time and place. If you were there, you knew. If you missed it, you'll never know. It was incredible.

Fast forward a year and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was circulating wildly on social media. It was, and remains, a great idea to drum up awareness and raise money to fight ALS disease. Once you're nominated, you have 24 hours to complete the challenge and to pass it along to others. In addition, you make a contribution which funds ALS research and, hopefully, eventually, finds a cure for this disease. We were nominated by Sarah and James of Former Future Brewing Co and I knew immediately how we'd respond-in epic Black Shirt fashion, of course! For those who haven't seen it, enjoy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkbHN3SCgPU ! 

Coincidentally, TiredPirate was sitting at our bar the night that we were challenged and accepted the challenge. I told him our plans and he instantly rearranged his schedule to hang around and be a part of it all. At the same time, we began to reflect on our past work together and considered doing it again. It would make sense, because in the past year he has grown as an artist and we've grown as brewers. There are new talents to bring to the table. There are new perspectives. New inspirations. We still have more to collectively give to the world. It was settled. He'd paint more pieces. We'd create a new beer. We'd throw another party. It would be meaningful. It would reflect our team brought together by a series of conversations and brainstorms, cemented by a desire to experiment and create. It would be seasonal. It would be emotional. It would convey something unique to the world and transport them to a different place. It would be great. Nothing less. The project would be the focus, not the players. The creation would stand on its own, and wouldn't need the back story to make it amazing. It would be available for one night only, a testament to time and place that was indelible and fleeting.

12-05-14 | Black Shirt Brewing Co | 3719 Walnut St.

Special thanks to "Brand Ambassador Extraordinaire" Meghan Howes for the proofread and edit. 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Red Evelyn #2014 - Thoughts & Reflections...

Hello friends, it's been 4 months since the last blog post. The speed at which the brewery wheel is spinning these days is dizzying. It's electric. I'm truly afraid of loosening my grip, for fear of falling right off. It's been a wild ride! It seems to only be speeding up. There is no real slow down, just a rare moment to catch your breath, put more band-aids on, dust off your hat, stare quickly at a beautiful sunrise, and then start running again. This is one of those rare moments and I wanted to share some thoughts about a very special beer - Red Evelyn!


As you may or may not know, we make one batch of Imperial Red Rye IPA per year and we call it Red Evelyn. This beer is our attempt to give thanks and honor our Grandma Evie. She was a spectacular lady - so full of energy, life, and love, and she left a big wake in her path even though she had such a tiny little frame. She practically raised Chad and instilled in both of us a hard work ethic, an ear for good music, a love of the mountains and outdoors, a respect and appreciation for family, and a sense of leadership that definitely drives Black Shirt. Grandma Evie was the family matriarch, and we've never quite rebounded from losing her. This beer helps reconnect us with her spirit and in some way, I suppose, immortalizes her.


Red Evelyn has a reputation of being a hard beer to brew. In its early incarnations, it was a 10 gallon batch of beer that we brewed on our old home brew setup. Initially, we had no idea how much grain we could fit into the mash tun of this little system. I wrote the recipe, made some assumptions, and we set out to brew it. As we'd soon find out - Grandma's spirit was still alive, things got wonky quickly, and the batch was an absolute disaster that we had to abort and reattempt. This has been, give or take, the story every time we've brewed this beer (equipment failures, stuck mashes, stuck fermentations, you name it). The ornery side of her seems to shine on Red Evelyn brew days!

This year's batch was the biggest yet - we did a double-batch brew day on our 15-bbl system and we were able to make about 600 gallons of finished beer after all of the trub, dry-hop, and racking loss. This year's batch was also unique in that we had the entire team chip in and help out with the brew. Traditionally, I don't let anyone inside the brewery other than my assistant brewer on brew days - especially double-batch days as they are a delicate dance and require a large amount of coordination, timing, focus, and hard work. However, this beer is unique and I wanted the team to have a hand in it, to have it be a learning lesson, for them to have a deeper appreciation for the beer, and for everyone to know exactly what, how, and why we brew this beer and why it's so special.

For the geeks looking for specifics - we incorporated 2,500 lbs of malted barley and rye, 72 lbs of hops in the boil (first wort as well as bittering, flavor, aroma, whirlpool), 49 lbs of hops for dry-hopping, 110 lbs of Belgian candi syrup, 110 lbs of Colorado wildflower honey from the oldest honey producer in the state (Beeyond The Hive), a good bit of fresh, filtered Colorado water, and billions and billions of yeast cells to make this beer. You read that right - 121 lbs of hops - that's over 6 lbs of hops per barrel! The batch came in at 9.32% abv & 93 ibus, yet is so beautifully layered and textured that it makes the beer incredibly easy to drink. 

We decided to release this beer in two formats this year - in-house draft and 2,000 custom decorated 22-oz bombers (that's right - it's her signature on the bottle). This was no small undertaking for us as we are still a boot-strapping brewery that scratches for every penny we spend. As we gathered ingredients and paid for the bottles up front (way before brew day so that the bottles would be here when we needed them) - I realized we had spent over $17,000 on this batch alone. That's a little intimidating, especially when considering Red Evelyn's reputation as being a hard/semi-impossible beer to brew! This doesn't include other associated costs - lots of labor, overhead, tons of time and energy on design work, recipe formulation, cellar work, etc. Of note - we decided to bottle 2,000 bombers of this beer knowing that the only possible way for us to pull this off was to bottle each and every damn one of them by hand, on a single-head filler, day in and day out. It took Aaron and I eight days to fill all of these bottles. A labor of love doesn't fully explain it - you have to mix in some naivety, stupidity, and a penchant for seeing things through! Needless to say, there was a celebration at the completion of bottling. Hell, we are still celebrating each time we get the chance to sit down, open, and enjoy a bottle!




Tasting Notes:

The nuances in this beer are memories of our grandmother, our rock. Notes of caramel and toffee, rye, Colorado wildflowers, foxtail pine, grapefruit, as well as other bright and vibrant citrus tones make this Imperial Red Rye IPA just like Evie - unmatched! It's incredibly elegant, layered, and complex, and is a beer worth sipping and savoring!

Inspired By:

Evelyn Ann Miller 8-16-1914 to 2-20-2003. This beer is brewed once a year to honor and celebrate the life of Grandma Evie. She was one of the best we've ever known, same for this beer!

Reflections:

The release party for Red Evelyn 2014 took place Sat, Aug 16th (Grandma Evie's 100th birthday). We had gotten the word out to all of the local press, sent emails to our Red Ale[rt] subscribers, and had been talking quite a bit about it - so we thought we'd have a good crowd. We had the entire staff working that day - and we felt like no matter what happened we could handle it. We had every station covered, backed up, etc. As the doors opened, and people rushed in, it quickly became apparent this was gonna be one for the record books!

We had decided a couple of weeks prior that Aaron and I would live bottle some of the bombers right off the tank for our SBS members (don't ask). The idea is that this beer will never be any better than it is right out of the tank - fresh, aromatic, and with all of its hop glory shining. For those ultra-geeks, you'll never have an opportunity like this again. To actually see the beer coming out of the tank and into the bottle that you'll have your hands on 60 seconds later is a rare treat. We sold several cases of beer this way, not as much as predicted but that was probably a blessing in disguise.

In addition to the beer on tap and in bombers, we had a 2 great food trucks, and 3 different bands that played our beer garden. Satay by Jorge and Mestizos threw down some delicious food and, by the end, both sold out. Mestizos had even created a custom menu that paired really well with the beer! Our old buddy R.L. Cole was the first performer to play the beer garden and, in true Robert Louis Cole fashion, brought that mean voice and fantastic storytelling to the crowd! Second up was a new friend of ours - Joel Van Horne from the Denver band Covenhoven. Joel is a bit softer and more hopeful a singer, singing mostly about memories of a family cabin in the woods - Grandma would have truly loved him! Last was Denver band Strange Americans who are big fans of the brewery and would soon become great friends and a band we look forward to hearing much more from. With our brand new PA system, a makeshift stage made out of the plastic pallets that our cans come from the factory on, and some fantastic singers and songwriters - the music couldn't have been better.

All in all, the day went smoothly and a lot of fun was had by the staff as well as our guests. Due to our focus on quality service and a fair amount of experience of handling large, thirsty crowds, no one had to wait for a beer or want for anything for that matter. We had a full house from about 10 minutes after the doors opened until closing time - truly an honor and something that we'll look back on with a smile for quite a while! Cheers to everyone who came out and celebrated the day with us!

Photos:





















Monday, June 23, 2014

Track Numbers Defined...

It's come to our attention that we haven't really described or defined our "Track Listings" all that well. We have in certain occasions, like if you've ever sat in a bar stool in the tap room and inquired, but not all that well outside of that. This post should clear up some of the confusion and describe why we do it this way.

First off, these track numbers are batch numbers. It's honestly that simple. Hopefully you know that everything we do is musically inspired. Take American Red Saison #2014-02 for example. You already know that you're sipping our American Red Saison, right?! The #2014-02 notation is there to show you that this is the second batch of Saison that we brewed in 2014. Now you can further pinpoint the details of this particular glass (or can or growler) of beer, and find out more about it. 



Maybe you don't give a shit and just want to drink your beer without a bunch of information being crammed down your throat! Great, do exactly that. But if you, like us, like to know what you're eating, what you're drinking, where it came from, and who made it, then you'll really geek out on what we're doing with these track numbers. Once you've identified the track number on your beer, go to the website, click the Albums page, and click on the beer you're drinking. A list of tracks will pull up and you'll be able to decipher alcohol percentage, bitterness level, color, ingredients, date brewed, date packaged, a note about the beer, tasting notes, and even see pics from the particular batch of beer you're enjoying! 



We're talking about education, enlightenment, and connection to beer on a level that is unseen in the market, and our hope is to persuade more breweries to talk about their beer, tell its story, and engage their audience a bit more. 

It's not a gimmick, it's not a hoax. This is meaningful and powerful. We hope you enjoy the extra efforts that we make to ensure you know exactly what you're drinking. Cheers!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Picture Update...

No time to write, just pics...