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, November 23, 2012

Fall Harvest Saison

This is the time of the year for pumpkin beer, or at least it should be. It seems these days that pumpkin beers are rolling out earlier and earlier and fewer and fewer are made with a true gourd. A quick search of Probrewer showed me that many professional brewers don’t use roasted pumpkin in the mash or even pumpkin puree in their boil, instead opting for traditional baking spices to mimic the flavor of pumpkin pie and deceive the consumer. To see this approach was very uninspiring and so I was determined to do something more authentic. I will admit, I don’t like most pumpkin beers and now I know why. Brewers are cheating it, taking the easy route, and getting by with very mediocre versions of what can be an excellent beer style. At BSB, we would take a different approach.

I called Andrew Voss, our Arvada hop grower and supplier of much more than hops, to see if I could get my hands on a couple of the heirloom squash he had grown this year. They are called Red Hubbard Squash, more specifically, Boston Morrow. From what I gather, this squash all but disappeared a decade ago but has been saved by a few seed savers and is now beginning to show up across the country. It is a large squash – the two we used were nearly 25lbs each. They are a very odd-looking squash as well. Like a crook-neck squash/pumpkin hybrid with the surface of Mars as skin. The flavor is somewhere between a butternut squash and a pumpkin – slightly sweet but also meaty and savory. Andrew harvested two of these squash and delivered them to the brewery. A plan was developed.

In order to enhance the flavor of these squash, we decided that we would roast and smoke them. The idea was that we would caramelize the flesh and bring out its sweetness, and then add a very subtle smokiness by smoking over cherry wood. We would mash the squash and then pull the pieces out of the mash and puree them, and add that to the boil. This was all an attempt to make sure the flavor of the squash came through in the finished beer.
As brew day neared, we decided this beer would be our Fall Harvest Saison. We have talked about it around the brewery for a while and we love the idea of having a seasonally-driven Saison on tap at all times. In addition to our “standard” red Saison, we are attempting to use a vegetable, fruit, or spice that is indicative of the current season and incorporating that into a special, one-off Saison. The first edition of this idea was a Red Beet Saison we made back in the start of the summer. That beer would go on to become legendary, and change a lot of people’s minds about what a beer could be made from and what it could look and taste like. It quickly became many people’s favorite beer – not just at BSB but in the world! No joke – this thing was a game-changer. So keeping with the idea, this fall version would serve as an example of just how good a squash beer could be.

I cut up the squash the night before brew day, seasoned it with brown sugar and a touch of cinnamon, and roasted it in the oven for 45 minutes. The morning of brew day, we fired up the HLT and the electric smoker and very lightly smoked the squash, seeds and all, for 25 minutes. This beer was made with the same grist composition as our standard Red Saison, and we mashed the smoked squash with the grains for 45 minutes. After recirculation and lautering, we pulled the pieces of squash out of the mash tun and quickly pureed them so that we could put them into the boil using a double strainer to keep the entire pulpy mess from falling to the bottom and scorching. Post boil – we chilled and transferred the wort to a fermenter and repeated the brew again. We brewed the two batches back to back, the same way, and fermented them together with our Saison yeast.

Post-fermentation, the squash flavor was still a little light, so I roasted a bit more squash and put it in the freezer over night. In the morning, the squash was placed into a clean fermenter and the beer was racked onto it, sort of “dry-hopping” with extra squash. We also made a trip to Savory Spice Shop and talked baking spices with the crew there. After smelling, contemplating, scheming, etc, we ended up with a fairly standard, although extremely high-quality, set of spices for this beer – Saigon Cinnamon, Jamaican Allspice, and Madagascar Clove. These were all placed in the secondary as well and allowed to sit for 3 days before we kegged the beer. Then we carbed the beer and allowed for further cold-conditioning of 2 weeks. Starting this weekend, and lasting only as long as 10 gallons will last, it will be on tap at the tasting room!

Tasting Notes

The beer is absolutely wonderful – the color is a brilliant copper red with a nice light tan head that pours ½ inch thick and dissipates nice and slow. The first smell is dominated by baking spices – predominately the Saigon Cinnamon though allspice and clove come in right after. It smells wonderfully of fresh-baked pie and invokes feelings for the holidays right away. On the palate, these spices are the initial flavor as well. As the beer warms and the palate adjusts, these spices fall away and the Saison yeast begins to show through, with its earthiness, funk, and black pepper spice. The squash shows up in the mouthfeel, adding a little weight and complexity to an otherwise crisp and clean-flavored beer. The beer becomes something else as it warms, almost showing two entirely different sides, and it makes for a great ride! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Brewhouse

This is the backbone of the brewery - the workhorse! It is a 4-barrel steam-fired brewhouse that Chad and Carissa found in CA on their honeymoon. They bought it, shipped it back to CO, and we spent the next two years refurnishing it and making it work like new again. It can make 125 gallons of wort at a time - tiny in scale when compared to most breweries but perfect for BSB. We have been brewing like crazy so we will be pouring delicious reds here again soon!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


This video was shot over the course of a year, while we struggled to build-out the brewery. Our great friends @ AVAVISION MEDIA were there helping/recording the whole time. The biggest heartfelt thanks goes out to them for creating such a masterpiece! Enjoy!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Great Music Inspires Great Beer! Enjoy!

"To The Grain," and the hops, and the yeast, and the water. Great music inspires great beer! Enjoy!

And now, back to more brewing! See you soon!