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, March 27, 2015

Brewing Water & A New Beer At Black Shirt

Every brewery has its own identity, and its own approach to the brewing water that it chooses to use. Some are very simple – well water, pulled from a well dug on their property and given no treatment whatsoever. Some breweries have extravagant reverse osmosis setups, that strip the incoming water of all its minerals, so that they can build, or replicate, the exact water makeup of another city in the world. And, of course, there are those in between.

At Black Shirt, we have always had the desire to create beers that have never been created, and to set ourselves apart from other brewing regions in the world. We’ve never placed any importance on mimicking (some might call brewing to style) the light crisp Pilsners of Pilsen or the hearty, robust Porters of London. These two cities have some of the most unique water profiles on the planet , at least in terms of minerality and, subsequently, for brewing. A glance at Pilsen shows some of the softest water anywhere, and thusly, the best water to brew the best Pilsners on the planet. Conversely, London’s water is so hard, and mineral rich, that to brew anything but these deep, dark, and amazing Porters is almost unspeakable.

A quick look into the water profile of Denver, and you’ll see that we fall directly between the 2 cities I just mentioned. And so, if the mineral profile is designating a certain style of beer, wouldn’t it be in our best behavior to brew that style of beer? We think so. The water in Denver is perfect for brewing red ales. With little or no manipulation, we have an ideal platform on which to make our mark – a suitable canvas for us to place our strokes.

Another river in the world connects two legendary beer regions, and is responsible for two very well known styles of beer; at least in the country that these beers are produced. I’m talking about Cologne and Dusseldorf, and Kolsch/Altbier respectively.  You’re undoubtedly familiar with Kolsch – the pale, top-fermented, then lagered beer that is one of the most crisp and refreshing on the planet. Altbier is a bit more obscure – brewed just downstream from Cologne in a town called Dusseldorf – a copper-colored ale, brewed at cool temps, and lagered for up to two months. 
The Rhine River Rivalry by Assistant Brewer Aaron

Located a mere 25 miles apart, Cologne and Dusseldorf have hosted a beer rivalry for centuries in the northern part of lager loving Germany. Those in Cologne do not drink Altbier and the people of Dusseldorf do not drink Kolsch. While in an area not especially known for ales (at least, outside of Germany), these two “hybrids” not only differ in traditions and cultures, but also in the actual make-up of the beer. Hailing from Cologne, you have the Kolsch. This beer is a sparkling, golden ale with an understated maltiness and a very subtle hop note. While the grain bill for these beers is simple, the brewing technique is quite the opposite; as any little mistake at any point in the process will show up tenfold in the finished product. The Alt (Old in German) Bier comes in with a beautiful red hue, obsessed over by brewers in Dusseldorf. This ale has a bigger malt profile, with ample fruitiness and a balanced hop character. Now while these beers have a giant riff and plenty of differences, they also share a commonality that most beers of the world do not share. As many of you know, ale is a top-fermenting beer not unlike these two beers, but what sets them apart is a 3-6 week lager process. After primary fermentation, the beer is cooled down to the mid 30’s to low 40’s to finish these hybrids off with a very light crisp lager-like mouthfeel; while the beautiful ale maltiness and hop character shine through in the rest of the body.

These beers are, at least in their traditional sense, quite a bit different from the beers we tend to brew at Black Shirt. We tend to create a bigger flavor profile, with aromatics that jump from the glass, and a full mouthfeel that really lingers and sets you back in your chair. We’ve been considering a challenge from our staff for a while – the challenge to brew a crisp, clean beer that still had depth, complexity, and character. We found our inspiration for this brew in these styles of beer, and then found ways to lay the Black Shirt fingerprint on them!

Enter Black Shirt Common Red. A hybrid beer weighing in at 5.5% abv, with 44 ibus, brewed with Denver water, German malted barley and wheat, a German yeast strain, and a blend of German and American hops. We brewed this beer in late January, mashed at a lower temp than we usually tend to, fermented cooler than we have ever before, and then lagered for 3 weeks at 33 degrees – also a first for us. This makes for a beer that is very light, crisp, clean, and yet, due to the types of malt we used, the unique character of the yeast we employed, and the relatively heavy-handed hopping, a beer that has tremendous character and flavor.

We chose to pour this beer in a traditional Kolsch glass called a “Stange.” The reasons for this are to pay homage to the inspiration for the beer, to bring something new to the table for our guests, and to allow for a simpler drinking experience in the taproom. This glass showcases the malt and the yeast character in the beer, and highlights the crisp, clean character that only lagering (storing cold for an extended period of time) can produce. It’s a drastic departure from what we typically do, and it shows that we haven’t even begun to exhaust what we’re capable of in The Red Ale Project. We hope you enjoy this beer, and, as always, welcome your feedback. Prost!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Collaborative Effort - Huckleberry Roasters / Two Tone Wolf Pack...

A few years ago, Tiffany, a good friend of mine and sous chef at duo Restaurant  introduced me to a band called Two Tone Wolf Pack and a friend of hers – John Hyde. If you’re at all connected to the creative scene in Denver, you’ve surely met John. He is a mad man, a creative power house, and is one of the sweetest and most straight-forward guys you’ll ever know. Among other things, John is the frontman of Two Tone Wolf Pack, and has kept the band going, in one form or another, for several years now. When I first heard their music I just couldn’t get enough. It’s gritty and folky Americana and it is filled with the sounds of another time and a struggle I’ve never known. I still can’t get enough. It’s become a soundtrack for my life and it reminds me that things could always be a little harder and a little worse than whatever I might be battling with at the moment.

We had the pleasure of having Two Tone Wolf Pack play a set here in the brewery for our side project Now Playing. The evening was great and their set was just as promised – rhythmic, enchanting, and gritty as all hell. Here is the link to the video from that show - Now Playing - Two Tone Wolf Pack.

Fast forward a year and a half and Two Tone Wolf Pack is gearing up to release their latest EP titled Crooked Medicine. I don’t have any of their recorded music other than what we filmed at the brewery, and so I am particularly excited to get my hands on the EP. Recently, I sat down with John Hyde to catch up and see what he has been up to (a TON, of course) and he let me in on this news as well as an exciting plan for its release. John and the band dreamed up a new plan and a new approach to get their music into the hands of Denver fans. They’ve decided to team up with yours truly and our friends over at Huckleberry Roasters to offer fans a couple of beverages that were made with and inspired by Two Tone Wolf Pack. It’s a unique concept that engages more of the community, brings craft and artisans of different mediums together, and elevates the experience of the EP release. We’re really honored to have been chosen to work alongside these guys, and to create something in their honor.

After many brainstorming sessions, we decided to team up with Koan, Kevin, and Mark at Huckleberry Roasters to create a unique coffee beer unlike any other. This is something that we’d all been talking about for a long time, well over a year, but for a variety of reasons hadn’t made it happen. John Hyde’s proposal seemed like just the thing to get the ball rolling – and my brother Chad pointing out the obvious two tones of a lighter, more vibrant coffee beer. It was set!

I’ve been watching the coffee world evolve over the past couple of years, and have really enjoyed seeing artisanal roasters like Huckleberry come up in the scene. What they do in terms of sourcing, roasting, and, ultimately, pouring coffee is a drastic departure from the industrial approach of our parent’s generation. It’s inspiring and it’s creating a range of flavors and aromas that I’ve never experienced in coffee before.

When Huckleberry announced the release of Zelelu, and described its flavor, I knew it was the coffee that I’d secretly been waiting for. With notes of white grapefruit and lime, rose petal, white tea, and honeydew, this is a coffee like I’ve never experienced before. I immediately reached out to Koan and Kevin and we sat down and talked about this coffee and how rare and special it is. To understand this coffee, you need to know that typical single-origin coffee comes from certain specific areas of the world and is often times a blend of beans from hundreds or even thousands of small farms working together – through a wash station or other coop. This is still “small scale” in the coffee world. However, Zelelu is something different. This is from one guy and his small farm of approximately 20 acres. One guy! His name is Zelelu. This is nearly unheard of in the coffee world, and it makes for a neat story and an unbelievable coffee!

Our intention behind the beer was to create a coffee beer unlike any other. We already had our coffee, it was now time to decide on the beer. Our American Red Saison is a really unique beer in and of itself. It’s a 10 grain, nearly 8% abv, refined and incredibly complex Saison that is fermented with a pure, isolated yeast culture at a relatively cool temp. It stands in stark contrast to every other Saison you’ve ever tasted. We hop the Saison with a heavy hand as well, and with hop varieties that bring lots of fruit to the aroma and palate. Stone fruits like tangerines, nectarines, and peaches as well as citrus notes like grapefruit and ripe oranges are a result of the selection of hops and the ways that we utilize them.

We thought the interplay of similar fruit characteristics and the earthy, spicy notes from our Saison yeast strain would blend well with the Zelelu coffee. Huckleberry Roasters was of the same mindset and we sat down and had a tasting and blending session. We tried 2 different coffees, at various strengths and ratios, and kept coming back to the Zelelu at a particular strength. There was something magical about it. There was something special. We all agreed that this particular blend was something the world needed and we set about scaling it up.

Zelelu Coffee Red Saison was first released on Johnny Cash’s birthday (Feb 26th, 2015) at the tap room. We had live music, several other beers on tap, merchandise specials (dress in black for Johnny Cash!), and the beer was very well received. By the time you read this, it will all be gone. That is the expense of such limited coffee, a very limited beer. We will tap a few more kegs at Leon Gallery the evening of March 28th for the release of Two Tone Wolf Pack’s EP “Crooked Medicine.” We hope you’ll join us and listen to the music that inspired this beer and taste the results of a creative community working together to craft something unique, special, and important. Should you miss the show, there is a chance of the beer returning to the tap room the week after the show to be enjoyed with the purchase of Two Tone Wolf Pack’s EP in the tap room. Stay tuned. Cheers!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bitcoin at Black Shirt Brewing Co

Denver, CO- The Red Ale aficionados of Black Shirt Brewing Co (BSB) can now pay for their beer with Bitcoin! Starting November 6th, 2014, the brewery added the new digital currency to its already tech-savvy payment system. Black Shirt Brewing Co joins global businesses like Overstock.com, Expedia, Dell Computers, and local restaurants in Denver to provide their customers with the most innovative and secure payment option available. 

“Our brewery attracts a counter-cultural audience,” says Chad Miller, owner and chief executive officer of BSB. “The people that walk through our door have unique stories, incredible skills and talents, and have a passion for learning. We decided to start accepting Bitcoin as a way to show our customers that we are on the cutting edge of technology and eager to learn about the world around us.”

BSB will employ the industry-leading payment processor, Bitpay, whose offices are located in North and South America as well as across Europe. The brewery already uses Square to process credit card and cash payments via multiple iPads throughout the taproom. Some advantages to accepting Bitcoin include lower fees, easy to use smart phone apps, and no risk of charge backs. 

The team at BSB has been providing the Denver beer scene with a niche environment of Red Ales and rock and roll since 2012. More information about the story behind BSB is available via the documentary “Crafting a Nation,” where filmmakers follow Chad, his brother Branden, and Chad’s wife Carissa as they work together to build their dream of owning a brewery. 

To learn more about Bitcoin while simultaneously enjoying one of Denver’s best Red Ales, stop by Black Shirt Brewing Co at 3719 Walnut Street in Denver’s River North neighborhood (visit www.blackshirtbrewingco.com for taproom hours). Patrons who pay in Bitcoin will receive $1 off their first beer.