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.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Valentines Day...

Each year for Valentines Day, we try and do a little something special that breaks from the status quo. We've done chocolate pairings, dessert pairings, and unique and delicious beers. Each time, we try and step it up in terms of execution, but keep the feeling lowbrow and approachable. We've all seen Valentines Day dinners at high-end restaurants that exploit the use of "aphrodisiacs" and that try to capitalize on this "holiday," often leaving a giant hole in your wallet where money used to be. Black Shirt's approach has always been to do something small, interesting, and at a price everyone can afford in a setting everyone can feel comfortable. It is after all, love, that we are celebrating on this day, right? 

This year's approach is in the same vein - though we've stepped up the pairing. We have teamed up with Sweet Action Ice Cream, arguably the best ice cream shop in the country, let alone here in Denver, to create a pairing of unmatched quality. They have taken our American Red Porter, a handful of chiles and spices, their ideas and talent, and created a fantastic ice cream. We've taken the same beer, added the same chiles and spices, and created a unique and incredibly delicious beer. The beer is creamy, rounded, and supple with a delicious smoky note and a touch of heat, a hint of cinnamon spice, and a finish that'll drive you absolutely crazy. On Sat, Feb 14th, you'll be able to taste our creations. Until then stay safe, let the one you love know it, and we'll see you on Valentines Day!

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, and 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 and 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. Gwyn is our ray of sunshine and she has not only poured each and every one of you a beer, she's also made you laugh, made you smile, and played some wonderfully hopeful acoustic music in the tap room for us all to enjoy. We're hoping for more of that in 2015. Also, Megan, our spunky little dog-loving server has been such a sweet and incrediby laser-sharp addition to our team. She has spearheaded a new project for Black Shirt in 2015, so be on the lookout for that in the next few days. 

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 and 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!"


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.