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!