Time does not respect that which is done without him...

In a room in Brussels, scrawled on sign overlooking rows and rows of lambic barrels, there is a barrel head with a phrase that you may have heard: 

"Le temps ne respecte pas ce qui se fait sans lui"

Approximately translated as: "Time does not respect that which is done without him"

It is a phrase that wraps an idea, a method, and a desire into one. This mantra from Cantillon is something we have believed in from the beginning, and it's something that means even more now. 

We are a small operation that produces about 120 gallons at a time with our largest batch we've brewed to date only being 4 barrels, that's roughly 7x 15.5 gallon kegs. Not only do we brew small, but our space is limited, 2800 square feet and nearly 50% of that is tasting room. This has left us with limited places to put barrels, or bottles, or raw materials. People ask us why we don't have more beer on tap, and despite our spacial limitations and brewing capacity, the answer has nothing to do with our space. It is TIME.

We do not believe in shortcuts. In fact, as our neighbors and friends at Law's Whiskey House say, "THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS".

Each of our beers (with very few exceptions) take eight months on average, even in stainless. Starting with 100% coolship-caught microbes, we collect yeast from the barrel and then directly transfer it to what we call "steel foeders". In these vessels, we allow them to act as soleras: each time we pull beer from the vessel, we fill it back up with fresh wort without the addition of more yeast but instead, allowing the original yeast to convert the sugar from the newly added wort. This allows the beer to flow and evolve between each pull, creating depth and complexity. For the beers that aren't aged for months, we have carefully foraged and grown the yeast that is used. HYPERSONIC, our New England-style IPA, is brewed with a strain of yeast that we found on the skin of a wild apple in our neighborhood. It was selected specifically to brew citrusy IPAs because of it's white wine-like character. Even this process requires a significant amount time.

The OXCART release last month and the CYGNUS release coming up this weekend will be two of our largest releases to date with about 60 cases total between the two beers. It has been three years in the making.

Three years of brewing, three years of aging, three years of tasting, and three years of blending and dumping barrels.

In July we were offered the opportunity to expand our space into the antique store adjacent to us. This was a Godsend. We had been considering how and where to expand, with opportunities offered on the Western Slope and Virginia. As soon as the expansion was offered and finalized, we opened up the wall between the two and began building a barrel cellar. Soon after, we had 100 oak barrels delivered from Rocky Mountain Barrel Company, and just a few weeks ago we received a custom-built 10-barrel copper coolship. As of this writing, the barrels are in place and set to be filled, the window above the coolship has been installed, and the coolship has been tested. Over the next few weeks we'll be filling every single barrel with coolshipped beer, finally working toward larger batches, along with some bottle availability in the tasting room.  
 

We hope this helps people understand that while we want to release more beer (and are currently making a lot more that will be ready in time), at this stage it is a game of patience. It's important to us to respect our product enough to give it time. Time limits us, but we also believe in it's power to transform. Time does not respect that which is done without him.  Time can't be forced. It creates a product that can't be forced. It creates something spontaneous. We will remember this mantra while working among the barrels this winter. 

See you soon,

XO

Sarah Howat

Co-Founder, Black Project

Thoughts on Rules, Tradition, and Experimentation

As a maker of spontaneous ales, I often get asked/find myself in conversations about traditional processes that other spontaneous ale producers use.

Typically we're talking about Belgian Lambic/Gueuze producers and the fairly rigid, hundred-plus-years-old traditions, processes, and specifications that producers of authentic example of these styles are using / must use in order to make a beer "to style" and call it Lambic (or Gueuze, or Kriek). We'll ignore the fact that a large percentage of producers of beer called by these names is made without following many or even any of these traditional processes, which is frankly none of my business. 

There is zero doubt that these Belgian examples of spontaneous fermentation (the only ones available until U.S. brewers started experimenting fairly recently) are a big influence on why we do coolship-inoculated spontaneous fermentation. As I always say I think that this method of fermentation creates a complexity that absolutely cannot be rivaled with mixed cultures from a lab or otherwise. 

In fact, one of my single favorite beer styles is Lambic. I was recently asked in I Love Colorado Beer lightning-round interview to name my favorite beer and the first thing that came out of my mouth was Tilquin Gueuze (Gueuze Tilquin À L’Ancienne). It is really an exquisite beer, as are many examples of traditionally produced Lambic.

Back on topic, though - people often ask if Black Project follows the Belgian Lambic "laws". Do we use a certain percentage of unmalted wheat? Are we using a turbid mash? Is our coolship made to certain dimensions? Is all of our beer aged for a certain length of time? Is our beer blended from different vintages? Do we age our bottles for X amount of time?

The answer is frequently: "No."

At Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales we don't make Lambic. We don't make Gueuze, or Kriek, or whatever else kind of beer has to follow someone else's rules. Some purists are freaking out right now probably - but let me explain something about these traditions...

The traditional production processes in Belgium make some really excellent beer. There is no doubt in my mind about that (see paragraph 3 & 4). I have no doubt that if we followed these traditional 'rules' to the letter we might also make some really good beer that I would be proud enough to put the Black Project label on. Heck, there is a good chance that someday we might do exactly that (although being made in Colorado I still wouldn't feel right about calling it Lambic as geography is one rule we can't follow!). 

What some may not realize is the history of these traditions and rules. Yes they can be followed to make good beer - but what's the point of a turbid mash? Yes it gives lots of complex starches for long fermentations with Brettanomyces... but there are many simpler ways to accomplish that. The actual answer is that in the 1800s Belgian brewers were taxed based on mash tun size, meaning a small mash tun was important. Lambic producers were also very much using whatever ingredients that they could get inexpensively (like unmalted wheat and aged hops). These conditions come together and you end up with a crazy mash regime and a 4 hour kettle boil and 3 years of aging. The end result is awesome, but the origin of the processes isn't based in science. 

Another example: I was recently informed that technically a coolship/koelschip used to make spontaneous ales in Belgium must be a certain depth range, no matter what the volume is. I am a huge advocate that cooling rate and surface area are critical to great spontaneous inoculations in a coolship, but specifying a depth without a volume is useless. Cooling rate is not determined by depth, it is determined by (among other things, like vessel construction and material choice) the surface area to volume ratio of the coolship vessel. Surface area to volume ratio isn't linear.... Specifying only a depth means that a smaller brewhouse will have a significantly faster cooling rate than some of the bigger brewhouses in Europe. It is a rule that tries to establish cooling rate, but unfortunately it isn't really effective if you look at the science involved. 

Our 120gal coolship isn't traditional, at all. Depending on batch size, we don't meet the traditional "Belgian rules" for wort depth. However, we've done extensive research and experimentation and settled on this system. It allows us to closely match the cooling rates and surface area to volume ratios of successful spontaneous ale producers around the world. We feel those factors are key to getting great inoculations.

We study traditional techniques and processes in order to learn from them and create our own techniques. We take what works best for us, what is best for the fermentation and, in turn, the flavor. We aren't trying to make Lambic, despite our steadfast stance on using only spontaneous / wild microbes. I am personally obsessed with experimentation and exploration in the area of spontaneous fermentation- there really is no other logical reason for the madness of opening a brewery that only makes beer using microbes from the air. 

Our goal is to simply make the very best tasting beer we can. Beer that is both subtle and complex; delicious and unique. Beer with a sense of place, a fermentation character that is constantly evolving and that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Our name alludes to secret government projects, but especially those that push the envelope, those that take research and development beyond tradition to make something amazing. That's an ethos that we humbly strive towards with how we do spontaneous fermentations. 

Thanks for listening,

James Howat

Founder / Blender

What's in a name?

At Black Project, all of our releases fall into one of two categories. Every beer will say either "spontaneous" or "wild" on the label. Our perspective on what these terms mean may be a bit different than other breweries, so I decided to make a post sharing what we intend with each term. 

"What is a spontaneous ale?"

At Black Project, spontaneous ales are beers made without adding any cultured yeast or other microbes whatsoever. The entire fermentation happens because we expose the beer to small numbers of wild microbes from the air in our coolship (or potentially from, say, fruit skins).

These first cells eventually multiply and the many different species represented ferment the wort into beer that has incredible complexity and flavor. These beers are typically tart to sour with moderate level of funkiness and fruit. However, because we have very little control over the organisms making these beers, their characteristics can potentially very over a wide range.

There is considerable risk in making these types of beer. A percentage of the beers will not develop favorably, or not develop at all - and have to be dumped. They also take a minimum of several months to mature, often times a year or more. Finally, because of the unknown nature of the fermentation organisms - spontaneous ales that we release can never really be repeated. Luckily, with our spontaneous beers, repeatability isn't one of our goals - we like to let nature take its course. 

 

"What is a wild ale?"

Many brewers, journalists, and craft beer enthusiasts use the term "wild ale" to describe any beer made with Brettanomyces. Almost always, when a brewery uses the term wild, they are talking about a beer made with Brettanomyces that they have purchased from a lab. The strains they use are essentially available to anyone with a Mastercard, typically a strain isolated from Belgian beer. There are 5-10 of these strains currently on the market.

We DON'T use any commercially available Brettanomyces (or any other type of yeast or bacteria that is commercially available) in any of our beerThere isn't anything wrong with these strains, necessarily. However, we feel the diversity of our local microflora is superior in many ways, not the least of which is that all of our wild strains were "caught" by us personally. 

When we use the term "wild" it means that the beer was made using cultured (grown) wild yeast and/or bacteria from our local environment. We may grown these microbes in another beer/barrel (aka inoculation via blending) or we may isolate wild microbes and grown them as pure cultures to use alone or, much more typically, in a blend with other strains. 

Wild ales will vary much less batch-to-batch than spontaneous ales, and will also be able to be released on a much more consistent schedule. This means that our wild releases will be much less limited than our spontaneous ales. In 2015 we intend to release at least one wild ale that will be available year round.