Black Project's Latest Beer Release Brings Lambic-Inspired Beer to Denver

From its inception and through its transformation from Former Future Brewing Company to what it is today, there has been something distinctly unique about Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales. There has been a personality, a belief and an uncompromising dedication to the craft of beer. Its next release, project ROSWELL, this weekend is the next step in the evolution of its beer and brewery.

Project ROSWELL is the first time the Black Project team can share the fruits of their labor from the exploration of spontaneous fermentation (yeast captured from the air) after nearly a year of work. The project focused on pushing the limits of a traditional beer style and fruiting process. The beers from ROSWELL are Lambic-inspired, spontaneously fermented, barrel aged and then super fruited causing yet another refermentation. What does this mean to you? It means you’re going to taste some damn good, extremely limited beers that could become their own distinct style.

Black Project took the traditional Belgian process and then literally— from the airborne yeast of spontaneous fermentation—injected it with flavors that can only be found in the fresh air of Colorado. There are six variants of the beer – each came from the same base beer, so the true characters of each super fruiting shines through. Each variant you try will lead you down a different path while having in common a nice acidity, great mouthfeel and a pleasant tartness. These are not going to be beers that make you pucker— they’re dry instead, begging you to try another lusciously fruity sip.

The release for bottles to-go starts Saturday, July 22 at 2 p.m. and includes variants of Apricot (MOGUL), Raspberry (GRUDGE), Blackberry (MAJESTIC 12), Cranberry (HIGH DIVE) and Guava (BLUEBOOK). Each variant is named after different theories surrounding the ROSWELL mystery.

The limits have been announced at three per person and could drop to two per person depending on the number of people at the release. That’s right, you cannot purchase the entire set, but this was done with altruistic intentions. By limiting the number of bottles, it will maximize the number of people who will get these precious bottles. More importantly, it will encourage people to share and share alike at bottle shares and other events. Make friends so you have a chance to complete the set.

The Blueberry (SIGN) variant will not be available to go, but it will be available for on-site consumption starting on Sunday, July 23 at 2 p.m. 

There’s only one way to take the Blueberry home. Black Project is giving a bottle of Blueberry (SIGN) to the three people who post the most creative photos of the bottles on social media. So think outside the box and use #ShareRoswell on social media or post it to Black Project’s Facebook Page to enter — winners announced at the end of August.

The blueberry was special— all of them were— but two of them stood out to us. The raspberry is incredibly layered and jammy while staying dry – a rare combination. And then there is the guava – undoubtedly guava beers have been done before but in our experience, no beer has been able to capture the true essence of the fruit. The tropical notes captured your nose and when you dove in you experience a burst of guava with a hint of something closer to almost a light ginger.

The excitement and anticipation surrounding ROSWELL is well-deserved. If you have never gone to a release or are a regular on the release rotation, this is one you will not want to miss. The beer community is going to come together this weekend on Broadway, and trust us when we say that Black Project knows how to host a release party.

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Black Project Wants Beer Drinkers to Share the New Roswell Super-Fruited "Lambics"

Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales doesn't make the usual beers, but the brewery's latest creations are a little more unusual than, well, usual. This Saturday, the brewery will release five different fruited versions of Roswell, a lambic-style sour beer that was brewed, fermented spontaneously and barrel-aged over the course of about nine months; the beers were then re-fermented on a ridiculously plentiful five pounds of fruit per barrel.

To make Roswell, Black Project cooked up fifteen barrels (about thirty kegs) of base beer last fall and then cooled the batch overnight in an open-topped vessel known as a coolship. During the night, the wort (or unfermented beer) collected wild yeast and bacteria from the air, which began the fermentation process. The liquid was then aged in oak barrels. Last spring, brewery owners James and Sarah Howat selected barrels with the least amount of acidity — so that the beers would have a dry flavor and mouthfeel — and separately added the fruit; they then used the same wild yeast (which was collected from the original fermentation) to re-ferment the blend of beer and fruit.

The five variants — raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, guava and apricot — will be available in bottles to the public this Saturday, July 22. Each 500-milliliter bottle will cost $20, with a limit of three per person (though that might be lowered to two, depending on the demand). On Sunday, a sixth variant, blueberry, will be available for pours in the taproom but not sold in bottles; all six versions will be available to drink in the taproom that day, as well.

Beers like these are known as lambics in Belgium, where brewers have a centuries-old tradition of using airborne yeast and microorganisms to ferment the beer, giving them sour, wild or funky aromas and flavors. U.S. brewers are only just beginning to experiment with the style and are often hesitant to use the world "lambic," out of respect for the style's regional origin.

Over the last few weeks, the Howats have been heavily promoting Roswell with a series of cool videos and Facebook posts that tie the beer to Roswell, New Mexico, where a UFO supposedly landed in 1947. Black Project regularly names its beers and events after planes, rockets and other aerospace-related technology — going so far as to announce its releases with mysterious coding, as if they were secret government projects or undercover operations. Roswell has been no exception.

But the publicity was unnecessary: A line will form around the block on Saturday — with the first few people arriving in the middle of the night and sleeping on the sidewalk — just as it always does for a new Black Project release, and the beer will sell out within a few hours or less.

Even with only 420 bottles available for sale to the public, this will be the brewery's largest-ever release, about double that of previous releases — thanks to a recent expansion that saw the addition of 140 new wooden barrels, more space next door to the brewery and the brand-new coolship.

Since there are six versions of the beer, they will be highly sought after and heavily traded following the release. Traders, lambic lovers and beer geeks from other states, and even Canada, have said they are flying in to try to score some Roswell, and there are others looking to acquire it from people who have promised to pick up bottles, even though that likelihood is far from certain, James says. "People are already trading them online," he points out.

And while the demand is flattering to the Howats — and also encouraged by their stealthy marketing — they also want people to actually drink the beer rather than trade it as a commodity. As a result, James and Sarah are planning to handle this release a little differently than what they have done in the past.

For starters, they are only going to allow people to buy two (or possibly three bottles) each, meaning drinkers won't be able to collect an entire set. While limits on bottles are nothing new, the Howats are hoping that this will encourage people to open their bottles with friends so that they can try all five bottled variants (and stick around to sample the blueberry version at the brewery).

"We want to get this into as many hands as possible," Sarah explains. "The idea is that we want people to get out of their house, get together and share it with each other."

They will also tell people on release day about a contest in which Black Project will award several special bottles of Roswell to people who do the best job — with pictures and a story — of using social media to demonstrate how they are sharing the beer with like-minded drinkers. The awards will be for the funniest social-media share, the most creative and most adventurous. And the special bottles to be awarded? The elusive blueberry Roswell, which won't be for sale to the public.

The bottle release takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday; Brewed Food will be on hand to pair the beers with Tender Belly bratwursts served on pain de mie buns with kimchi, gochujang mayo and a side of Hop Ash potato chips (first come, first served). The official names for the six variants of beer are: MOGUL | Apricot; MAJESTIC 12 | Blackberry; HIGH DIVE | Cranberry; BLUEBOOK | Guava; GRUDGE | Raspberry; and SIGN | Blueberry.

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Nothing alien about Denver’s Roswell party; it’s all about the fruit

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Roswell, N.M., may be hiding aliens, but Denver’s Roswell is all about native species — of fruit and microbes.

Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales on S. Broadway always packs their beers with locally captured microbes, but it also packed its latest beers with fruit. By incorporating as much fruit as possible and still call it beer, they developed a new concept they call “super-fruiting.” The brewery will showcase this technique this weekend with the latest annual release of the Lambic-inspired Roswell beer series.

Black Project bills itself Colorado’s only 100 percent spontaneous and wild brewery. The project began in late 2016, when James and Sarah Howat decided to shift their attention from clean ales to solely spontaneous and wild ales, including sours, mixed-culture saisons and Lambic or Gueuze-inspired beers. Black Project evolved from Former Future’s Brewing Company, expanding their barrel cellar by adding over 140 oak barrels, four puncheons and a custom-built copper coolship.

Using this new cellar, the beers in the Roswell series were spontaneously fermented, barrel-aged and then re-fermented with extreme levels of one of six different fruits: apricot, blackberry, cranberry, guava, raspberry and blueberry. The batch was then cooled in the coolship overnight to allow the unfermented beer to collect wild yeast and bacteria from the air. The result is a series of naturally sour but fruit-forward beers, each with a distinct fruit flavor.

Made once per year during the late spring from a Lambic-inspired wort brewed the previous year, the Roswell beers have a deep flavor but lower acidity than if they had spent all summer in a barrel. Expect a rich and spontaneous flavor accompanied by a distinct funk and complexity that dissolves into a vibrant fruit flavor and aroma..

James Howat is the Black Project brewer, blender and co-owner. A former microbiologist and high school science teacher, he uses his background to experiment with the brewing process on a cellular level. By capturing microbes from the environment and purposefully allowing them to evolve from batch to batch, he creates truly unique beers.

The Roswell event starts at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 22, at the brewery, 1290 S. Broadway. Five of the Roswell variants will be released alongside a special BrewedFood pairing. Food is first-come, first-served, so get there early if you want a Tender Belly Bratwurst with pain de mie bun, kimchi and gochujang mayo and a side of Hop Ash potato chips. Bottles are also sold to go with a limit of 3 per person.

The party continues at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 23, with an exclusive, onsite-only release of the blueberry Roswell variety, and a limited preview of their upcoming Biere Brut / Biere de Champagne made with Red Fox Cellars Barbera grapes. Bottles are available for on-site consumption only.

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Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales will unveil a project that has long been in the works: Roswell, a "Lambic-inspired, spontaneously fermented ale that is barrel-fermented, barrel-aged, and then re-fermented with high levels of one of six different fruits," the brewery says. The beer was made with an idea that Black Project calls super-fruiting, in which as much fruit as possible is packed into the brews, "while still calling the end result a beer." In the future, Roswell will be made once per year "during the late spring from a lambic-inspired wort" brewed the previous fall. "This gives us a beer that has all of the depth of flavor but with a lower acidity than it would have after spending a summer in the barrel — ideal considering the amount of acidity naturally present in the fruit." Black Project will release five of the variants in bottles today, although people in line (and that line will form in the middle of the night, with customers sleeping on the sidewalks) will only be able to purchase three bottles, in order to encourage sharing (this may be lowered to two per person). The Roswell beers are Apricot, Blackberry, Cranberry, Guava and Raspberry. A sixth version, Blueberry, will only be available for on-site consumption; all six versions will be available for on-site consumption on Sunday, July 23. All will be sold in 500 ml bottles that are available for $20. Brewed Food will be on hand to pair the beers with Tender Belly bratwurst with a pain de mie bun, kimchi and gochujang mayo, with a side of Hop Ash potato chips.

ROSWELL Release at Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales

We’re excited to finally be able to declassify a project we have been working on for almost a year: ROSWELL

ROSWELL is our Lambic-inspired, spontaneously fermented ale that is barrel fermented, barrel aged, and then refermented with high levels of one of six different fruits.

This beer follows our mission and is at the core of what we do: “To innovate in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation”. Our aim is explore the outer limits of coolship spontaneous fermentation. This beer was created to showcase a concept we call super-fruiting, where we use as much fruit as possible, while still calling it a beer.

Intense amounts of fruit was added to a blend of our spontaneous base at a very specific time in development. ROSWELL is made once per year during the late spring from a lambic-inspired wort that was brewed last fall. This gives us a beer that has all of the depth of flavor but with a lower acidity than it would have after spending a summer in the barrel – ideal considering the amount of acidity naturally present in the fruit. ROSWELL has a rich and beautiful spontaneous flavor, with a distinct funk, and complexity that stands up to and melds into the heavy amount of vibrant fruit flavor and aroma. Our true wild-caught microbes means that the beer is deliciously dry while still packing an incredible amount of fruit flavor.

ROSWELL is drastically different from traditional fruited spontaneous ales. The amounts of fruit used, combined with 100% spontaneous fermentation, yield something decidedly ‘otherworldly’. It is unlike anything that has been done before and cannot be replicated.

On July 22, join us for the public release of five bottle variants of ROSWELL and a special Brewed Food pairing with Tender Belly Bratwurst with pain de mie bun, kimchi and, gochujang mayo with a side of Hop Ash potato chips. Then on July 23, we’re hosting an exclusive, onsite only release of SIGN and a limited preview of our upcoming Biere Brut / Biere de Champagne made with Red Fox Cellars Barbera grapes.

Bottles To-Go:
ROSWELL: MOGUL | Apricot
ROSWELL: MAJESTIC 12 | Blackberry
ROSWELL: HIGH DIVE | Cranberry
ROSWELL: BLUEBOOK | Guava
ROSWELL: GRUDGE | Raspberry

Bottles for On-Site:
ROSWELL: SIGN | Blueberry

500mL bottle, cork and capped – $20 /bottle
Limits will be set this week*

*All limits are subject to change, at anytime, without advanced warning.

Black Project Releases 6 Lambic-Inspired Super-Fruited Ales

Denver, CO — Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales is announcing ROSWELL, a once per year bottle release party spanning two days, July 22-23, 2017.

ROSWELL is a new series of “super-fruited” beers that are Lambic-inspired, spontaneously fermented, barrel aged, and then refermented with high levels of one of six different fruits. ROSWELL is 100% spontaneous, meaning it was cooled in a coolship overnight allowing the hot wort (unfermented beer) to collect microbes from the air. These microbes are wild yeast and bacteria, which ferment the beer and naturally sour it. ROSWELL was brewed in the fall of 2016, when Black Project expanded into their new barrel cellar, adding over 140 oak barrels, four puncheons, a small 12hL fouder, and a custom-built copper coolship.

In August 2016, Black Project took over the taproom of Former Future Brewing Company, retiring Former Future. Both businesses are owned by James and Sarah Howat, but the husband and wife team decided to focus their attention from clean ales (non-sours) like porters, cream ales, and stouts to spontaneous and wild ales, like sours, mixed-culture saisons, and Lambic or Gueuze inspired beers – a blend of one, two, and three-year-old spontaneous barrel-aged beer. While customers may think that Former Future and Black Project are two separate breweries, both breweries opened on January 1, 2014 and used the same brewing system. Black Project beers were originally cooled on the roof of the building using two 2BBL / 60gal stock pots and then the beer was fermented in barrels. This kept the sour beer separate from the clean beer, preventing wild microbes from souring non-sour beer. The first Black Project spontaneous beer was brewed in late February 2014 and in August 2014, Black Project released Colorado’s first spontaneous ale, called “FLYBY”.

FLYBY went on to win a medal at the Great American Beer Festival that year. This was followed by another medal in the same category the year after. As Colorado’s only 100% spontaneous and wild brewery, every beer that’s produced by Black Project off of South Broadway in Denver, is made with only yeast from the environment, either from the air or from fruit and flowers that have been foraged. As a former microbiologist and high school science teacher, James Howat – brewer, blender, and co-owner – uses his experience and background to create a one of a kind beer that cannot be replicated at any other brewery, down to the individual cell.

This release of ROSWELL follows the brewery’s mission to “innovate in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation” and was created to showcase a concept they call “super-fruiting”, where the brewery uses as much fruit as possible, while still calling it a beer.

ROSWELL is made once per year during the late spring from a Lambic-inspired wort that was brewed earlier that fall. This gives the beer a depth of flavor but with a lower acidity than it would have after spending a summer in the barrel – ideal considering the amount of acidity naturally present in the fruit. ROSWELL has a rich and beautiful spontaneous flavor, with a distinct funk, and complexity that stands up to and melds into the heavy amount of vibrant fruit flavor and aroma. The true wild-caught microbes mean that the beer is deliciously dry while still packing an incredible amount of fruit flavor. Flavors include apricot, blackberry, cranberry, guava, raspberry, and blueberry.

On July 22, Black Project is releasing five of the bottle variants of ROSWELL to the public with a special BrewedFood pairing of Tender Belly Bratwurst with pain de mie bun, kimchi and, gochujang mayo with a side of Hop Ash potato chips, first come first serve. Then on July 23, the brewery is hosting an exclusive, onsite only release of SIGN, the blueberry variant, with a limited preview of and upcoming Biere Brut / Biere de Champagne made with Red Fox Cellars Barbera grapes.

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The Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar on East Main Street in Buena Vista is celebrating its first anniversary with a mini beer festival and live music from 2 to 6 p.m. Baere Brewing, Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Cerebral Brewing, Elevation Beer Company and Melvin Brewing will be pouring during the fest. Live music will start on the outdoor stage at 3 p.m. with Boulder-based rock band Augustus, followed by Denver-based bluegrass band the River Arkansas at 6. The Jailhouse recently extended its liquor license to include the lot next door, which houses an outdoor stage called the Watershed BV – a shared community space – where all the live music will take place. There will be food from the Bearded Lady food truck, and the Jailhouse will be open before, during and after the fest, with service as usual and a special selection of beers filling its ten taps.

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Black Project Releases Six New Lambic-Inspired Super-Fruited Ales

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales is announcing ROSWELL, a once per year bottle release party spanning two days, July 22-23, 2017.

ROSWELL is a new series of “super-fruited” beers that are Lambic-inspired, spontaneously fermented, barrel aged, and then refermented with high levels of one of six different fruits. ROSWELL is 100% spontaneous, meaning it was cooled in a coolship overnight allowing the hot wort (unfermented beer) to collect microbes from the air. These microbes are wild yeast and bacteria, which ferment the beer and naturally sour it. ROSWELL was brewed in the fall of 2016, when Black Project expanded into their new barrel cellar, adding over 140 oak barrels, four puncheons, a small 12hL fouder, and a custom-built copper coolship.

In August 2016, Black Project took over the taproom of Former Future Brewing Company, retiring Former Future. Both businesses are owned by James and Sarah Howat, but the husband and wife team decided to focus their attention from clean ales (non-sours) like porters, cream ales, and stouts to spontaneous and wild ales, like sours, mixed-culture saisons, and Lambic or Gueuze inspired beers – a blend of one, two, and three-year-old spontaneous barrel-aged beer. While customers may think that Former Future and Black Project are two separate breweries, both breweries opened on January 1, 2014 and used the same brewing system. Black Project beers were originally cooled on the roof of the building using two 2BBL / 60gal stock pots and then the beer was fermented in barrels. This kept the sour beer separate from the clean beer, preventing wild microbes from souring non-sour beer. The first Black Project spontaneous beer was brewed in late February 2014 and in August 2014, Black Project released Colorado’s first spontaneous ale, called “FLYBY”.

FLYBY went on to win a medal at the Great American Beer Festival that year. This was followed by another medal in the same category the year after. As Colorado’s only 100% spontaneous and wild brewery, every beer that’s produced by Black Project off of South Broadway in Denver, is made with only yeast from the environment, either from the air or from fruit and flowers that have been foraged. As a former microbiologist and high school science teacher, James Howat – brewer, blender, and co-owner – uses his experience and background to create a one of a kind beer that cannot be replicated at any other brewery, down to the individual cell.

This release of ROSWELL follows the brewery’s mission to “innovate in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation” and was created to showcase a concept they call “super-fruiting”, where the brewery uses as much fruit as possible, while still calling it a beer.

ROSWELL is made once per year during the late spring from a Lambic-inspired wort that was brewed earlier that fall. This gives the beer a depth of flavor but with a lower acidity than it would have after spending a summer in the barrel – ideal considering the amount of acidity naturally present in the fruit. ROSWELL has a rich and beautiful spontaneous flavor, with a distinct funk, and complexity that stands up to and melds into the heavy amount of vibrant fruit flavor and aroma. The true wild-caught microbes mean that the beer is deliciously dry while still packing an incredible amount of fruit flavor. Flavors include apricot, blackberry, cranberry, guava, raspberry, and blueberry.

On July 22, Black Project is releasing five of the bottle variants of ROSWELL to the public with a special BrewedFood pairing of Tender Belly Bratwurst with pain de mie bun, kimchi and, gochujang mayo with a side of Hop Ash potato chips, first come first serve. Then on July 23, the brewery is hosting an exclusive, onsite only release of SIGN, the blueberry variant, with a limited preview of and upcoming Biere Brut / Biere de Champagne made with Red Fox Cellars Barbera grapes.

Black Project Releases Six New Lambic-Inspired Super-Fruited Ales

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales is announcing ROSWELL, a once per year bottle release party spanning two days, July 22-23, 2017.

ROSWELL is a new series of “super-fruited” beers that are Lambic-inspired, spontaneously fermented, barrel aged, and then refermented with high levels of one of six different fruits. The series will be a once per year bottle release party spanning two days, July 22-23, 2017. ROSWELL is 100 percent spontaneous, meaning it was cooled in a coolship overnight allowing the hot wort (unfermented beer) to collect microbes from the air. These microbes are wild yeast and bacteria, which ferment the beer and naturally sour it. ROSWELL was brewed in the fall of 2016, when Black Project expanded into their new barrel cellar, adding over 140 oak barrels, four puncheons, a small 12hL fouder, and a custom-built copper coolship.

In August 2016, Black Project took over the taproom of Former Future Brewing Company, retiring Former Future. Both businesses are owned by James and Sarah Howat, but the husband and wife team decided to focus their attention from clean ales (non-sours) like porters, cream ales, and stouts to spontaneous and wild ales, like sours, mixed-culture saisons, and Lambic or Gueuze inspired beers – a blend of one, two, and three-year-old spontaneous barrel-aged beer. While customers may think that Former Future and Black Project are two separate breweries, both breweries opened on January 1, 2014 and used the same brewing system. Black Project beers were originally cooled on the roof of the building using two 2BBL / 60gal stock pots and then the beer was fermented in barrels. This kept the sour beer separate from the clean beer, preventing wild microbes from souring non-sour beer. The first Black Project spontaneous beer was brewed in late February 2014 and in August 2014, Black Project released Colorado’s first spontaneous ale, called “FLYBY”.

FLYBY went on to win a medal at the Great American Beer Festival that year. This was followed by another medal in the same category the year after. As Colorado’s only 100% spontaneous and wild brewery, every beer that’s produced by Black Project off of South Broadway in Denver, is made with only yeast from the environment, either from the air or from fruit and flowers that have been foraged. As a former microbiologist and high school science teacher, James Howat – brewer, blender, and co-owner – uses his experience and background to create a one of a kind beer that cannot be replicated at any other brewery, down to the individual cell.

This release of ROSWELL follows the brewery’s mission to “innovate in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation” and was created to showcase a concept they call “super-fruiting”, where the brewery uses as much fruit as possible, while still calling it a beer.

ROSWELL is made once per year during the late spring from a Lambic-inspired wort that was brewed earlier that fall. This gives the beer a depth of flavor but with a lower acidity than it would have after spending a summer in the barrel – ideal considering the amount of acidity naturally present in the fruit. ROSWELL has a rich and beautiful spontaneous flavor, with a distinct funk, and complexity that stands up to and melds into the heavy amount of vibrant fruit flavor and aroma. The true wild-caught microbes mean that the beer is deliciously dry while still packing an incredible amount of fruit flavor. Flavors include apricot, blackberry, cranberry, guava, raspberry, and blueberry.

On July 22, Black Project is releasing five of the bottle variants of ROSWELL to the public with a special BrewedFood pairing of Tender Belly Bratwurst with pain de mie bun, kimchi and, gochujang mayo with a side of Hop Ash potato chips, first come first serve. Then on July 23, the brewery is hosting an exclusive, onsite only release of SIGN, the blueberry variant, with a limited preview of and upcoming Biere Brut / Biere de Champagne made with Red Fox Cellars Barbera grapes.

Bottles To-Go:
ROSWELL: MOGUL | Apricot
ROSWELL: MAJESTIC 12 | Blackberry
ROSWELL: HIGH DIVE | Cranberry
ROSWELL: BLUEBOOK | Guava
ROSWELL: GRUDGE | Raspberry

Bottles for On-Site:
ROSWELL: SIGN | Blueberry

500mL bottle, cork and capped – $20 /bottle
Limits will be set next week*

*All limits are subject to change, at any time, without advanced warning.
Event Details: blackprojectbeer.com/roswell

Colorado’s Newest Generation of Sour Brewers Shine at Avery’s 7th Annual SourFest

Kyle Carbaugh had no designs on brewing sour beer when he and his wife, Miranda, opened Wiley Roots Brewing in Greeley four years ago. Their best-known beer early on was about as old-school craft beer basic as you can get — an American-style wheat. It won a Great American Beer Festival bronze medal just a few months after the brewery poured its first pint.

Carbaugh was all set to ramp up his clean beer production and purchase a canning system. Then he visited Jester King Brewing in Austin, Texas, a farmhouse brewery that creates exquisite beers with mixed culture and spontaneous fermentation. Carbaugh had some special company on that trip — New Belgium legend Peter Boukaert, the father of La Folie, the groundbreaking sour brown that inspired so many American independent craft brewers to tackle the style.  

Carbaugh returned to Colorado a changed brewer. The order for the canning line was canceled, Carbaugh ripped up the business plan and Wiley Roots pursued a new vision — creating a series of sour beers that, as Carbaugh puts its, “are inspired by a time and place.”  

At Avery Brewing 7th annual SourFest on Saturday, only the host brewery was pouring more beers than Wiley Roots. If you sampled any of those seven beers under Beer Tent No. 3, you found a good embodiment of what distinguishes Colorado’s burgeoning sour brewing scene: a veneration of the brewing traditions of Belgium, an all-for-one collaborative approach with fellow Colorado sour brewers, and an embrace of risk-taking, follow-no-rules experimentation on everything from different adjuncts to the kinds of barrels used.

There was a dark sour brewed with vanilla and coffee, a golden sour brewed with Denver’s Our Mutual Friend (also on its sour game), and a tart saison fermented with brettanomyces and dry-hopped with Galaxy hops — a crisp and hoppy relief after so much mouth-puckering.

“With the brewing industry, you have to be able to carve out your niche and stand behind your beer and product consistently,” Carbaugh said, reflecting on his change of brewing plans. “When you get inspired … We just could not come back (from Austin) and keep doing the same thing.”

In all, more than 35 breweries poured 100 beers at the state’s showcase sour beer festival, which for the second year was held at Avery’s campus in Boulder’s Gunbarrel area. Though it was sold out, the festival never felt crowded and few beers kicked so early that you couldn’t get a taste. The requisite bottles of Tums — thanks, Avery! — were set out on tables.

Avery, one of Colorado’s legacy breweries, is just as much big brother (in a good way) as festival host. Taking a breather from his own station to sample some of Avery’s gold-label sours, Powder Keg Brewing’s Phil Joyce described how Avery has given him access to its top-notch sensory lab to test his beers. Coors Brewing — represented at SourFest by its AC Golden line of fruited sours — has done the same over the years at its landmark Golden brewery.  

“The bigger breweries are willing and excited to help the newer breweries because of their common interest in quality,” Joyce said. That is in keeping with how the Brewers Association, the industry trade group, has preached the importance of quality as craft brewing grows.

At SourFest, Joyce also poured two beers from his side project, Amalgam Brewing: a golden sour and an oak-fermented saison. If some brewers sought to stand out by pushing the boundaries on adjuncts and barrels, this was sort of a back to basics. “I want for beers to be an expression of a time, a place, a people — whatever that may be,” Joyce said.

Joyce and partner Eric Schmidt have a manufacturing license for their burgeoning Amalgam brand, so they can’t sell their beers. Joyce said the brewery is playing with an idea of a “gypsy taproom,” partnering with friendly liquor stores for in-store tastings and maybe some sales.

Like Carbaugh at Wiley Roots, James and Sarah Howat also upended their business plan, in this case dropping their original vision of Former Future Brewing and replacing it with what started as a side passion project: Black Project, focusing exclusively on wild and sour beer.

At SourFest, Black Project was pouring from bottles of Peacemaker, a wild wheat aged in Red Fox Bourbon cherry wine barrels. The sour and wild category is so wide-ranging, and Black Project is embracing that. Its “Mach Limit” series pushes the limits of how much fruit can be loaded into a beer for it still to legally be considered a beer. It brews a golden sour that is cold-steeped with light-roasted single-origin coffee, highlighting cherry and tobacco notes.   

Marketing Manager Scott Davidson said Black Project is about to introduce a saison, with microbes caught from the coolship — a shallow vessel used for spontaneous fermentation. Colorado’s sour beer scene — with its balance of longtime veterans, breweries like Crooked Stave that have been at it for a few years, and this new crop of newcomers — “is not stuck in tradition, honestly,” Davidson said. “The beauty of American sours is that there are no rules.”

One category of sour beers was noticeable missing from the SourFest pour list: Kettle sours. Few topics are as divisive among brewers and consumers of sour and wild beer as these beers, which are soured in the kettle or mash tun and are much quicker and cheaper to turn than those that develop over time in barrels. By ruling out kettle sours from the fest, Avery was putting its flag in the ground, effectively identifying kettle sours as an entirely different category of beer.

Karbaugh, of Wiley Roots, is fine with that. He — like many other brewers — is not kettle-sour averse. In fact, his brewery packages a blood orange gose that is a kettle sour. The sticking point, rather, is breweries that portray and price kettle sours similarly to mixed-culture fermentation beers that can take 18 months to produce. It’s more and more common to visit a taproom and see kettle sours labeled as such, which Karbaugh sees as encouraging.

“There is a place for kettle sours,” Karbaugh said. “But there needs to be transparency.”

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Pikes Pub: Spontaneous fermentation brews miracle of Mother Nature at Colorado breweries

Brian Horton's secret ingredient for fantastically unique beer floats in the air, sight unseen in a cavernous shed behind his Divide-based brewery.

Not even he knows exactly what it is.

But Horton wields this mystical ingredient nonetheless - a seemingly magical feat made possible with a brewing technique called spontaneous fermentation, which he and a small band of adventurous brewers in Colorado fervently embrace.

It isn't wizardry, but rather a high-stakes game of chance that hearkens to the very roots of this craft.

"We get the flavors out of it we like to taste in a beer," said Horton, a founder and brewer of Paradox Beer Co. "That experimentation drives us."

Spontaneous fermentation dates back to the first batches of beer ever made.

It was the only way to make beer before refrigeration and super-pedigreed species of yeast lent precision to the art. And as technology advanced and beer became a multibillion-dollar industry, spontaneous fermentation became a cumbersome, risky and outdated means to supply the nation's suds.

Even now, few craft breweries dedicate their resources to it. That's because Mother Nature adds the final ingredient: yeast and other airborne microbes.

"This is the most ancient way of creating beer there is," said Andrew Sparhawk, of the Brewer's Association and craftbeer.com.

The standard bearer in spontaneously fermented beers are Belgium-based breweries churning out lambic and gueuze brews - styles unique to that region.

But a few stateside brewers - Allagash Brewing Co. in Maine and Jester King Brewery in Texas, for example - are producing their own variations. Black Project in Denver only makes beers using this bygone process, making it a leader in this niche market. (Full disclosure: I learned about this style while sipping beers at another purveyor of this style, Wiley Roots Brewing Co. in Greeley, where a friend of mine pours beers a few nights a week.)

In the Pikes Peak region, Paradox is joined by Trinity Brewing Co. as practitioners of these dark arts.

Their work typically begins in a coolship - that flat, pan-like steel vat where these brewers pour their boiling-hot wort (the sweet, unfermented liquid mixture of grains, hops and malts that results from the mashing process).

There, the wort cools while naturally collecting yeast and other microbes from the surrounding air.

To pitch any additional yeast is anathema to purists of this sacred art. And brewers disagree on how long the wort can be left in the open for it to truly be dubbed "spontaneously fermented."

Even adding fruits - their skins laden with natural yeasts - makes it something else entirely: a spontaneously inoculated brew.

It all carries risk.

Bad bacteria can easily settle into the wort and spoil it, especially if it fails to cool quickly. Different yeasts imbue different flavors, leaving the beer's ultimate outcome a mystery.

And while most beers take only a couple of weeks to make, these are left to age for months - sometimes years - in whiskey, wine or bourbon barrels. Often, brewers will mix different batches of spontaneously fermented beers to refine those flavors or add another layer of complexity.

"We talk about brewing being an art and a science," Sparhawk said. "On the science side of it, nature is taking its part in the brewing process. It's a financial risk, because you don't know what's going to come out of those barrels."

Fall and spring are usually the best seasons to practice this brewing style, because the temperatures are low enough for the wort to properly chill, and the best microbes are floating in the air. But some brewers are always willing to experiment.

Paradox recently upped its game with a coolship housed in a new shed whose interior walls are lined with the staves of deconstructed wine and whiskey barrels.

Not only is the design aesthetically pleasing, but it also will allow an extra layer of flavoring to develop in these beers, when condensation from the boiling wort gathers on those wood panels and drips back into the wort.

On a recent summer day, Horton and his crew broke in the new facility by riffing on this brewing process using a simple farmhouse-style mash made of pilsen malts and raw red wheat.

Because the weather was so warm, they first ran their wort through a machine that quickly dropped its temperature from boiling to about 85 degrees.

Then they dumped in about 30 pounds of peaches, plums and nectarines - inoculating it with all the yeasts they carried - and let it sit exposed in the shed for a few days to pick up more microbes.

In the fall and spring, they'll hew more closely to the actual spontaneous fermentation style. In other words, they'll do without the fruit and let Mother Nature go it alone.

Will every batch ferment without a hitch?

Of course not, Horton says.

"But when it does, it's magical," he added. "We're always chasing that magic."

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Westword Beer Calendar

Black Project Wild & Spontaneous Ales will tap Radio Flash at 4 p.m. The mixed-culture saison "starts with isolated microbes from our spontaneous solera using a method to inhibit souring bacteria, allowing the coolship captured yeast that has matured in the solera for over three years, to produce unique aromas and flavors," Black Project says. "Although it's not sour, the solera yeast creates an amazingly complex and nuanced profile that is light, refreshing, and incredibly expressive with notes of hay, lemon, and pepper."

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Black Project Super Cruise cab franc, oh great like CO needs yet another awesome fruited wild ale purveyor. Jeez

Wow the first bottle out the gates from these guys and it is already admittedly stellar. Grapes can be a tough ingredient to massage on a wild ale base, and goldens in particular can do sloppy tannic things or go apeshit acidic. Black Project holds the reigns on this complex jammy treat admirably and first crushes some preserves out of this destemmed banger. My@biggedt fear in these offerings is overextraction and that’s not present at all here, the coin lands almost Framboise side up: It isn’t overly vinous on the olfactory and instead leads with a raspberry meets blackberry sort of residual sweetness. There’s a slight sharpness but nothing bearing red wine vinegar or Korean nail salon levels, more like cranberry juice. The taste is very dry and almost hits the bicuspids a touch too hard but whips back on the throttle and lends a saving arm of berry purée as the car falls off the cliff. Michael Bay acidity with a James Gunn resolution. Swallow is long and acidic with a warming French oak quality that dances with the Smuckers factory playing in the mid palate. This is as good as the grape fruit stands from Casey but still lacks a touch of Brett B/L depth found in the Cfp series to get to the top podium. 

Still a shockingly well done and graceful fruity sipper. If I had to guess grapes this feels decidedly more Tempranillo but I could easily divorcees sipping this at a gender reveal party, or that “me time” weekend in Palm Springs. Janet from accounts receivable will drill the shit out of this and drive home peeling the fuck out in a Chrysler Pacifica, burgundy tongued, child seats be damned, Travis has them this weekend. Dry July starts soon and this season of the Bachelorette just isn’t scratching that Burgundy itch.

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Colorado Sour Beers Steal the Spotlight at Avery SourFest

Each June Avery Brewing Company closes its doors to the public in the name of all things tart, sour, funky and even horsey. This year Avery celebrated the seventh anniversary of SourFest  where the brewery asked 600 willing beer drinkers to see just how far they can push their palates. All of the beers feature wild yeast, sour bacteria or general experimentation with a final pucker-worthy form.

Tickets were $80 and included unlimited pours, a commemorative glass and unlimited access to Tums to keep your stomach happy as you drink all the sour you can handle. Each ticket included two special tickets that allowed each festival goer to call timeout and enjoy a stomach-soothing beer such as Avery’s White Rascal.

As with the majority of its events, Avery also had a special cause for SourFest. This year all of the proceeds from the event are going to Attention Homes, a non-profit that works with at-risk youth to provide a safe shelter and access to critical services.

The best part about a sour beer festival is that you can always expect the unexpected. Below is our breakdown of some of the trends that stood out and the beers that defined them.

The Dark Side

When people discuss sour beers, rarely do they discuss it in terms of dark beers. Dark sour beers are on the periphery right now but they are coming and were on display. Oskar Blues brought its Judas Sour Porter, a porter aged in an Oloroso Sherry Barrel for 20 months giving it a distinctly woody and tangy flavor that played with the smoke hints from the barrel.

DESTIHL Brewing company added to this mix with its Saint Dekkera Brown— a nut brown ale aged in oak barrels for eight months. It was robust like you might expect from a brown but still tart. This beer could make people change their expectations when it comes to a brown style.

However, 4 Noses Brewing Company’s dark beer stole the show. Its Barrel-Aged Sour Stout was everything you hope a sour stout could be — it was acidic on the first sip as you expect from a sour beer, but it was also extremely creamy, smooth and toasty like a stout should be. It’s a great marriage of these two very distinct styles and its profiles.

The Salty Side

Sour and salt – a combination that can take good beers and make them great. Avery’s Fortuna — a sour ale aged in tequila barrels — is completed with lime zest and salt. Much like a margarita, this takes off the bite and makes it a smooth sipping beer. This same idea is continued with Wiley Roots Brewing Company and its Dia De Las Margaritas Oscuras — a dark sour ale aged in tequila barrels. Wiley Roots’ adds the lime but take it to a different place with sea salt and cacao nibs. It becomes a bit darker but doesn’t get heavy and takes the funk to another level.

Skully #39 – Salty Lemons by Paradox Beer Company was also on the citrus and salt train. This beer was one of the more pucker-inducing beers, as a mixture of a sour golden ale and preserved Meyer lemons. The salt keeps it from going too far and keeps you going back for more.

The most unique salty beer was produced from local Colorado brewery, Loveland Aleworks. Its BAMF Gose was on the tongues of many people for more than just its great name. This gose was almost indescribable because of the variety of flavor — it was light but powerful, funky without being overpowering and finished with a salty backend. The BAMF Gose was a BAMF.

The Fruity Side

Fruit and sour beers are the expected combination, but that doesn’t make the addition selections any less powerful. Local Colorado fruit was on display with WeldWerks Brewing Company featuring Palisade peaches (at a rate of four pounds per gallon) on its sour blend called Peach Climacteric. Unlike in festivals past, this beer was available for most of the event despite the permanent, well-deserved line. Odd13 Brewing Company poured Plum Bartleby — a dark sour made even darker and gushier by aging on Palisade plums.

Avery’s Raspberry Sour was a go-to for most because the lactic-forward beer is tangy and immensely sippable — a nice break in between the more intense beers. Fiction Beer Company changed up the fruit game a bit by being the only brewery at the festival to offer a sour with passionfruit in its Antiquarian No. 5. The passionfruit cut right through the sourness making it a different experience for the sour beer fan. Black Project poured its Peacemaker, a wild wheat aged in Red Fox Bourbon cherry wine barrels. The sweet cherry finish was just right as the sun came out but it was gone quickly as was the secret beer that wasn’t on the menu.

Across all of the themes and trends that were found at this year’s SourFest, there is one that perhaps stood out the most. Local Colorado breweries have found sour footing and are showing out against some of the best the country has to offer. It’s no surprise then that Amalgam based out of Northern Colorado made its much-anticipated debut with Ascension (golden sour ale) and Composition No. 1 (Oak fermented American Saison) at this festival. Colorado is becoming a sour stronghold — if you couldn’t make SourFest but are a sour fan, then you know what breweries should be on your list to visit.

Westword Beer Calendar

At 4 p.m., Black Project, at 1290 South Broadway, will release the latest variant in its Shadow Factory super-fruited sour-beer series made with with 100 percent wild-caught microbes. "We start with a special all-wheat base designed for high levels of fruiting," Black Project explains. "The beer is then fermented in a solera using a mix of coolship-caught microbes and house-foraged wild strains. After the beer finishes fermentation, we add pounds of boysenberry and blood orange into our stainless-steel tank to re-ferment." All of the Shadow Factory beers are made with more than three pounds of fruit per gallon of beer, which adds tartness as well as additional alcohol.

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SHADOW FACTORY: Boysenberry | Blood Orange - Draft Release

Denver Carpediem

SHADOW FACTORY | Boysenberry & Blood Orange

We are releasing a new variant in our superfruited sour beer series with 100% wild caught microbes. We start with a special all-wheat base designed for high levels of fruiting. The beer is then fermented in a solera using a mix of unisolated coolship-caught microbes and house foraged wild strains. After the beer finishes fermentation, we add pounds of boysenberry and blood orange into our stainless steel tank to referment. Each variant uses more than 3 lbs of fruit per gallon of beer. 

___________________________________________________

SHADOW FACTORY is Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales superfruited wheat sour. It is extremely fruit forward and derives most its tartness from the fruit itself. The base beer was custom designed for this «super» level of fruiting. It is low alcohol, since the fruit adds nearly 50% more when refermented, and comprised of 100% malted white wheat, to lend body and softness to the final beer while allowing the fruit flavor and tartness to shine through. SHADOW FACTORY features a wide and rotating variety of fruits, often singular, but occasionally in combination with one or more other fruit types.

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Denver Rare Beer Tasting

DENVER, CO – More than 60 of America’s leading craft breweries have agreed to take part in the ninth annual Denver Rare Beer Tasting to raise funds for the Pints for Prostates campaign.

The prostate cancer awareness event will be held on Oct. 6 in Colorado during the same weekend as the Great American Beer Festival. The Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX features the chance to sample rare, exotic and vintage beers from 68 craft breweries and the opportunity to meet the men and women who made them.

“An amazing collection of American craft breweries are generously helping us to reach men through the universal language of beer by donating prized brews to pour at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX,” said Rick Lyke, founder of Pints for Prostates. “These brewers have joined the fight against prostate cancer for what has become an annual celebration of beer passion and brewing craftsmanship.”

Brewers who have committed to attend the event include:

· Against the Grain Brewery, Louisville, Kentucky*
· Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, Alaska
· The Alchemist, Waterbury, Vt.*
· AleSmith Brewing, San Diego, Calif.
· Avery Brewing, Boulder, Colo.
· Bells Brewing, Kalamazoo, Mich.
· Big Sky Brewing, Missoula, Mont.
· Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Denver, Colo.*
· The Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, N.Y.
· The Bruery, Placentia, Calif.
· Cascade Brewing, Portland, Ore.
· Cerebral Brewing, Denver, Colo.*
· Coronado Brewing, Coronado, Calif.
· Crank Arm Brewery, Raleigh, N.C.*
· Crux Fermentation Project, Bend, Ore.
· Destihl Brewery, Normal, Ill.*
· Dry Dock Brewing, Aurora, Colo.*
· Firestone Walker Brewing, Paso Robles, Calif.
· Forager Brewing, Rochester, Minn.*
· Fremont Brewing, Seattle, Wash.
· Full Sail Brewing, Hood River, Ore.
· Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, N.C.
· Funky Buddha Brewing, Oakland Park, Fla.
· Grand Basin Brewery, Sparks, Nev.*
· Grand Teton Brewing, Victor, Idaho
· Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver, Colo.
· Grimm Brothers Brewing, Loveland, Colo.
· Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Richmond, Va.
· Haw River Farmhouse Ales, Saxapahaw, N.C.
· Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project, Denver, Colo.*
· Jester King Craft Brewery, Austin, Texas
· Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Dexter, Mich.
· Joyride Brewing, Edgewater, Colo.*
· Kane Brewing, Ocean, N.J.*
· Lakewood Brewing, Garland, Texas*
· Libertine Brewing, San Luis Obispo, Calif.*
· The Lost Abbey, San Marcos, Calif.
· The Lost Borough, Rochester, N.Y*
· Matt Brewing, Utica, N.Y.
· Maui Brewing, Lahaina, Hawaii
· Mikkeller Brewing SD, San Diego, Calif.*
· New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colo.
· New Holland Brewing, Holland, Mich.
· NoDa Brewing, Charlotte, N.C.
· Ozark Beer Co., Rogers, Arkansas*
· Pappy Slokum Brewing, Abilene, Texas*
· Perennial Artisan Ales, St. Louis, Mo.
· Perry Street Brewing, Spokane, Wash.*
· Prison City Pub & Brewery, Auburn, N.Y.*
· Rhinegeist Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio*
· River North Brewery, Denver, Colo.
· Rogue Ales, Newport, Ore.
· Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Santa Fe, N.M.*
· Samuel Adams Brewery, Boston, Mass.
· Scratch Brewing, Ava, Ill.*
· Side Project Cellar, Maplewood, Mo.*
· Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, Calif.
· Spangalang Brewing, Denver, Colo.
· Stone Brewing, Escondido, Calif.
· Sun King Brewing, Indianapolis, Ind.
· Thirsty Dog Brewing, Akron, Ohio
· Three Floyds Brewing, Munster, Ind.
· Uberbrew, Billings, Mont.*
· Uinta Brewing, Salt Lake City, Utah
· Unknown Brewing, Charlotte, N.C.*
· Verboten Brewing and Barrel Project, Loveland, Colo.
· WeldWerks Brewing, Greeley, Colo.
· Yazoo Brewing, Nashville, Tenn.

(* Indicates first appearance at Denver Rare Beer Tasting.)

Breweries bring some of their rarest brews to the annual tasting. The beer list for the Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX will be released prior to the event. Twenty-six breweries will be pouring beer at the event for the first time, while eight breweries have participated in all eight previous Denver Rare Beer Tastings. Breweries representing 28 states are on the list.

In addition to the beer and silent auction donations made by participating breweries, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting IX is being sponsored in part by Cargill Craft Malt and DRAFT Magazine, with logistical support from MicroStar. Additional sponsorship packages are available for companies that wish to take part in this boutique tasting.

Tickets for the event go on sale on June 18 at 10 a.m. (MT) via ETIX.com. VIP tickets are $165 and include early admission starting at Noon. General Admission tickets are $115 for the 1-4 p.m. tasting. Each attendee receives a commemorative tasting glass, t-shirt, program and pen. A special beer centric lunch created by Jensen Cummings of Brewed Food is included in the ticket price and guests will have the chance to bid in an exciting silent auction that includes a variety of unique beer experiences and collectibles. During the event, attendees can also participate in the Brewers Health Initiative, a free men’s health screening.

The first eight Denver Rare Beer Tastings sold out several weeks in advance. The event will be held this year on two floors of the McNichols Civic Center Building at 144 W. Colfax Ave.

All Denver Rare Beer Tasting ticket holders will be entered into a drawing for a five night Carolinas on My Mind Beer Adventure for two to Charlotte and Asheville, N.C., and Greenville, S.C. VIP ticket holders will receive three raffle tickets and general admission ticket holders will receive one ticket. Anyone wearing a Pints for Prostates t-shirt or hat to the event will receive another free entry for the drawing. Additional tickets will be available for a donation. The winner will be drawn during the event from tickets collected exclusively at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting. The winner and a guest will travel to North and South Carolina in October 2018 on a trip that includes roundtrip airfare from the continental U.S., 5 nights hotel, ground transportation, brewery tours, pub crawls, beer lunches and beer dinners.

“The Denver Rare Beer Tasting is a celebration of beer passion with a serious mission: raising awareness about prostate cancer. Beer fans get to taste a collection of beers that few people have the opportunity to enjoy, while rubbing elbows with some of the world’s most talented brewers,” said Lyke. “It is a fun afternoon and a great atmosphere. And 100 percent of the proceeds go to help men’s health.”

Pints for Prostates is a 501(c)3 non-profit charity and all net proceeds from Denver Rare Beer Tasting go towards the group’s awareness mission and help to fund the education and support programs of the Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network, and free prostates cancer screening programs provided by the Prostate Conditions Education Council.

About Pints for Prostates

Pints for Prostates reaches men through the universal language of beer to encourage them to take charge of their health. The group was founded by prostate cancer survivor and beer writer Rick Lyke in 2008. The grassroots effort raises awareness among men about the importance of regular men’s health screenings by making appearances at beer festivals, social networking and pro bono advertising. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 161,000 new prostate cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2017 in the U.S. More information is available at www.pintsforprostates.org. Pints for Prostates also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@pints4prostates).

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Hop Take: Dogfish Head & Others Want Off RateBeer and Other Beer News

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest brewer in the world, is building itself a media empire. RateBeer, one of the largest user-generated beer rating websites, announced that it was purchased in part by ZX Ventures, AB InBev’s investment company. The partial sale actually happened nine months ago, but it wasn’t made clear to the public until June 1. Many beer writers were outraged, as expected, but so were craft beer brewers. So outraged were some brewers that they asked straight-up to be taken off RateBeer.

It started with Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head. On the brewery website, Calagione wrote that he was troubled by the news of the RateBeer buyout. He called it a “blatant conflict of interest” and a “direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics.” He even went so far as to cite the “Act Independently” section, which includes refusing gifts and favors, not paying for access to news, denying favor to advertisers and owners, and, most importantly in this case, making sure to “prominently label sponsored content.”

AB InBev’s part-ownership of RateBeer (as well as its ownership of publications like October and The Beer Necessities), is therefore unethical, says Calagione, and thus, Dogfish Head wants no part of it. As of Wednesday, Black Project Ale, Harpoon, and Cantillon also asked to be removed from RateBeer.

There are a couple of problems with this, though. Calagione isn’t exactly an angel of ethics. As he notes in the same blog post, he was the executive editor of a craft beer print magazine called Pallet. He maintains that neither he nor Dogfish Head held a stake in the company. But that’s like if the executive editor of a small town newspaper also just happened to be the mayor. The mayor might not profit directly from his position, but he sure does profit by ensuring positive coverage that brings people to his town and makes people think his town is a great place to live. I’m in no way suggesting that Calagione was acting unethically, but context is necessary if someone is going to level charges against a company.

His qualms with RateBeer, however, are in a different vein entirely. The website uses community- generated reviews, and journalism ethics don’t apply to user-generated reviews, because users aren’t journalists. Yelp reviews, for comparison’s sake, aren’t guided by the SPJ ethics. But the comparison is useful in figuring out exactly what the ethical problem is. It’s not a journalistic one — but it’s not great business ethics, either. If Yelp was owned by McDonalds, and every search pointed a person first and foremost to the nearest McDonalds, then that would be shady business.

AB InBev is the McDonalds of beer, and the company’s track record of abusing power and using its seemingly limitless budget to silence competition is concerning. So while it’s hard to get behind every part of Calagione’s blog post on why he wants to be taken off RateBeer, the general premise makes sense. It’s hard to trust a ratings website that’s owned by the same company that comes off as the Darth Sidious of the beer Empire.

RateBeer, for its part, said it’s not taking down any reviews.

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From Dregs to Richness: Rob Rutledge on Spontaneous Fermentation and the Rise of Sour Beer

Spontaneous brewing has been around for centuries, but it has realized a recent resurgence. Utah-based competitive brewers Pat Winslow and Rob Rutledge have arisen with their own takes on this classic style. Spontaneous brewing involves the cultivation of wild microbes—a microbe that makes the brew acidic is required to achieve the tart pucker of a sour beer. You might have sampled these multifaceted and delicious draughts when savoring Red Rock’s PaardebloemSquatters’ 529 or Epic’s Tart ’n Juicy Sour IPA. Winslow and Rutledge discuss brewing, sour beers and where the culture is headed.

SLUG: How and why did you start home-brewing? Did you have any past experience with microbiology before you began?

Rob Rutledge: I wasn’t really good about taking notes when I first started home brewing, so I’m not sure exactly when it was, but it was sometime in 2001 or 2002. A few years before that, my wife bought my father-in-law a home brew kit for Father’s Day. That was the first time I’d ever really heard of people home-brewing, and it was also the first time I stepped into a home brew shop. I’ve always been a DIY kind of guy, whether it’s fixing our cars, doing home improvement projects, whatever, so the idea of brewing my own beer seemed like it could be a lot of fun. My father-in-law never ended up using his kit (I think he liked the idea of drinking beer a lot more than the idea of brewing beer), but that kind of sparked my initial interest in home brewing.

I have to admit, when I first started brewing, my experience with beer was more or less limited to Mexican lagers and an occasional wheat beer. I wish I could say I started home-brewing because I couldn’t get Black Tuesday, Pliny the Elder or Arrogant Bastard here in Utah, but when I first started brewing, I didn’t really know what I was missing.

I think what really did it for me was when my friend Cody and I attended Beer School at Desert Edge Brewing. I’m not sure if they still do it the same way, but Beer School is part education and part four-course dinner. Back then, Chris Haas was the brewmaster, and he would take you down to the brewhouse and explain the brewing process, how all the different equipment was used, and show you some of the ingredients. Next was the dinner, paired with several of their beers. That experience really opened my eyes to the aromas, flavors and overall character associated with different beer styles. After that, I told my wife I wanted to give homebrewing a try, and she was cautiously supportive. I say “cautiously supportive” because she knows firsthand how I have a tendency to dive in headfirst with hobbies. A few weeks later, she surprised me with a starter kit from The Beer Nut, and a couple days later, Cody and I brewed our first home brew, a Mexican Cerveza kit. Like many first-time batches of home brew, the beer wasn’t great, but we made it ourselves, so we enjoyed it.

As a lot of home brewers do when they’re first starting out, I was extract brewing using dry and liquid malt extract. Not long after that, I started steeping specialty grains along with the extract. Next was partial mash batches. I was really enjoying the hobby, so I started making plans to jump to all-grain brewing. I think it was about a year or so after switching to all-grain that I designed and built my mostly-automated HERMS system using a BCS-460 process controller. This was before the “discovery” of the Brew In A Bag (BIAB) method, so I designed a four vessel system consisting of a Hot Liquor Tun, Mash/Lauter Tun, standalone Heat Exchanger and Boil Kettle. My system works great, but if I were to do it all over again, I’d probably go the BIAB route, as there’s a lot less equipment involved.

Regarding a microbiology background, I ended up getting my degree in Business Information Systems, but at different points in time, I had planned on careers in either Sports Medicine/Physical Therapy or Pharmacy. So I would not say I have a background in microbiology, but I took a fair amount of science courses in college, including chemistry, biology, zoology and human anatomy and physiology. A good science background can definitely help understanding some of the finer points of brewing beer, but the lack of it is no reason not to give home-brewing a try.

SLUG: Tell us a little bit about your collaboration with Uinta for the Great American Beer Festival and how these experiences fit into your all-around brewing practices?

Rutledge: I am doing a Pro-Am collaboration with Uinta based on some Flanders red ales I’ve brewed. That came about because I won a gold medal for my Flanders Red in The Beer Nut’s Annual Beehive Brew-off competition. Basically, if you are a member of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and you medal with an entry in an AHA/BJCP-sanctioned competition, there’s a chance you could be selected to team up with a brewery and participate in the Pro-Am competition at GABF. So long story short, the home brewer and brewery team up to brew the home brewer’s recipe on the brewery’s commercial system. The beer then has to be commercially available, and it gets served in the Pro-Am booth at GABF

Uinta had plans to expand their barrel-aged beer program and were looking for someone to team up with right around the time I won my second gold medal in a row for my Flanders Red. Isaac Winter at Uinta reached out to me about doing the Pro-Am, and I was shocked to say the least. I met with Isaac, and we sampled a couple of my home-brewed versions. I came back a couple weeks later for our brew session, and we brewed a 60-barrel batch on their commercial system.

We did do a couple things differently on the commercial batch compared to my home-brewed versions. First, I tend to use aged hops in most of my sour beers. For those who aren’t familiar with the brewing process, hops are typically added at three points during the boil for bittering, flavor and aroma. The bittering hop addition is usually added at the beginning of the boil. Alpha acids in the hops are isomerized in the boiling wort, resulting in bitterness that balances with the sweetness from the malt. The second addition is usually added with 20 to 30 minutes left in the boil. The major contribution from the second addition is hop flavor, but it can contribute additional bitterness, as some of the alpha acids will isomerize. The last addition is usually added with five or fewer minutes left in the boil. The third addition is where a lot of the hop aroma comes from, and depending on how fast you’re able to chill your wort post-boil, it may not contribute much, if any, bitterness. Besides contributing bitterness, flavor and aroma, hops have natural antiseptic abilities that help keep flavor-spoiling bacteria at bay. This is great when you’re brewing clean beers, but when you’re making sour beers, you don’t want to inhibit souring bacteria. For example, Lactobacillus tends to have a very low hop tolerance, so it has a hard time souring when the beer has much more than about sixish IBUs. Even if you eliminate earlier hop additions and only add late hops for aroma, the Lactobacillus bacteria will tend to struggle because the hop oils coat their cell walls, preventing them from metabolizing the sugars in the wort into lactic acid. Generally speaking, lactic acid is what we’re after with sour beers. Alpha acids tend to degrade over time, so aged hops don’t have the same antiseptic properties and therefore, they work well for sour beer production. Using very low hopping rates accomplishes the same goal, which is what we did with our collaboration beer.

The other main difference is that a lot of the time, I will pitch my souring cultures into the wort on day one. I’ve found that this, along with a low hopping rate (or using aged hops), almost guarantees a low-pH sour beer that I love. That said, we didn’t want to go quite as sour with this beer because not everyone enjoys a super sour beer. Another reason for doing a clean primary is that Brett cultures have the ability to convert certain byproducts from a clean primary fermentation into the classic “barnyard funk” associated with world-class sour beers. These include characters such as hay, leather, tobacco, horse blanket, goat sweat, etc. Some of those elements may not sound very appealing, but they really do work in a sour beer. So pitching a blended souring culture on day one tends to result in a more sour beer with slightly less funk whereas pitching a clean yeast culture in primary followed by a blended souring culture in secondary tends to result in more funk and a less sour beer.

After the clean primary fermentation, we transferred the beer to port barrels that had been previously used for Uinta’s Port O’ Call Belgian-style dark ale. The beer was inoculated in the barrels using Roeselare, which is a blend of a Belgian Ale yeast strain, a sherry yeast strain, two Brettanomyces yeast strains, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. We also added the dregs from one of my homebrewed Flanders Reds to one of the barrels, so if everything works as desired, there will be some of the same cultures from my home brew in the release from Uinta. We’re planning on blending the barrels the second week of May, so it should be released in the not too distant future.

My Flanders Red entries have taken gold for European Sours at each of the past three Beehive Brew-offs, so I’m hoping we can repeat that at the GABF Pro-Am this year.

SLUG: What is spontaneous yeast brewing? How does it specifically create a low-pH beer?

Rutledge: Usually, we’re talking about two primary styles in relation to spontaneous fermentation. Wild Ales typically include beer fermented with Brett or a blend of Brett and Sach, whereas Sour Ales are fermented with lactic acid bacteria (LAB), Sach and/or Brett.

I think that when a lot of people think of spontaneous fermentation, they’re thinking along the lines of the Belgian breweries of old, where they’d brew their wort and transfer it to coolships (large shallow vessels) to cool overnight. To help cool the wort as quickly as possible, they’d open the shutters, which would carry in whatever wild yeast and microbes that happened to be blowing on the evening breeze. So usually, spontaneous fermentation involves making use of local yeast and microbial cultures. Grain is also covered with a mix of cultures, which can be used for spontaneous fermentation.

When it works, the results can be great, but when it doesn’t work, it can be disastrous. The problem with this approach is that the brewer doesn’t have much control over what is blowing in through their windows on the night air, so there’s always the risk of dumping a batch of the wrong kinds of bacteria and/or yeast in to the wort. There are things you can do to mitigate the risks, such as collecting cultures by swabbing plants and fruit in your yard or setting out small containers of growth medium in your yard. Then you can grow up those cultures and use them to ferment small starter batches in hopes of finding some that produce desirable results. When one is found, you simply grow it up into a pitchable-sized starter and use it to ferment your entire batch. The benefit with this type of approach is if things don’t work out, you only risk losing a small starter batch rather than an entire batch of beer. Because of these risks, most commercial wild and sour ale breweries don’t rely entirely on what’s blowing in the wind. They’ll usually do some experimentation until they find a culture or blend of cultures that work, and then they’ll propagate those cultures into pitching sized starters. That said, there are a few craft breweries that have been experimenting with true spontaneous fermentation (without lab propagated cultures). Some that I know of include Jester KingBlack Project Spontaneous and Wild AlesCrooked StaveAllagash Brewing Company and Russian River Brewing Company. However, even these breweries usually only employ true spontaneous fermentation on a small portion of their portfolios.

The primary component that contributes to sourness in sour beers is lactic acid. In brewing, the main source of lactic acid is from Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. Brett can produce small amounts of acid, but generally speaking, if you want a sour beer, you have to include a LAB strain. Lactobacillus tends to produce lactic acid early on, while Pediococcus is more of a marathon runner. So Lactobacillus is essentially the hare, and Pediococcus is the tortoise. Like yeast, LAB consume sugar in the wort, and lactic acid is one of the byproducts that they produce.

The other acid found in some sours is acetic acid. Acetic acid is essentially vinegar and can be harsh in comparison to lactic acid which tends to be more lemon-like. Acetic acid can add complexity to sour beers, but if the levels get too high it can give the beer a character reminiscent of salad dressing. Brett can produce acetic acid when exposed to excessive amounts of oxygen. Usually, we try to avoid too much oxygen with beer anyway because once you get past the early stages of fermentation, it can result in oxidized beer—not something you really want in a clean beer or a wild/sour beer. Lactobacillus tends to fall into two main groups: homofermentative and heterofermentative. Homofermentative strains primarily produce lactic acid during fermentation whereas heterofermentative strains primarily produce lactic acid and ethanol. Strain selection can be important when employing certain souring techniques. For example, you usually wouldn’t want to use a heterofermentative strain for pre-boil/kettle souring because you’ll be boiling off the ethanol during the boil. Certain strains of Lactobacillus are capable of both aerobic and anaerobic fermentation and can produce acetic acid during aerobic fermentation. I haven’t read anything indicating Pediococcus produces acetic acid, but it definitely produces diacetyl along with lactic acid. Diacetyl is often described as having a butterscotch or buttery flavor and aroma and is in fact used to flavor microwave butter popcorn. Fortunately, Brett can convert diacetyl into much more desirable compounds, so Brett must be used in conjunction with Pediococcus.

SLUG: What do you think is the appeal of this kind of flavor in a beer?

Rutledge: That’s a really good question. I think there is a generation of beer drinkers now that grew up with sour candies like Atomic Warheads, Sweet Tarts, etc. If you liked those kinds of candies as a kid, you’ll probably enjoy sour beers as an adult. In my opinion, sour beers tend to be some of the most complex beers out there. I love a good IPA, bourbon barrel-aged stout, smoked porter, but if there’s a sour beer on the menu, I will always start there. It’s kind of hard to describe, but the combination of tart cherry character, stone fruit, chocolate, hints of smoke, leather and so on are just so amazing. These flavor profiles can be quite shocking to someone who has never tried a sour beer before. My rule to the uninitiated is that you have to try three sips of any sour beer before you decide whether or not you like it. They’re usually shocked on the first sip. On the second sip, their palate is starting to adjust to the acidity. By the third sip, they should be able to decide whether or not they’re a sour beer head. Whenever someone tells me they don’t like beer, I almost always steer them towards a Lindemans Framboise. I actually prefer less sweet and more traditional lambics, but Lindeman’s fruit lambics are my go-to gateway beers for people who think they don’t like beer.

SLUG: Can you give some insight into the difference between fermenting with Lactobacillus vs. Brettanomyces? Do you use any other organisms for your souring process?

Rutledge: I think I covered this a bit [earlier]. I’ve never tried fermenting with only Lactobacillus. I’ve read about people that have, and they indicated that the finished beer was a little boring and not nearly as complex compared to mixed fermentations. Lactobacillusalone usually can’t ferment to completion, meaning it tends to go dormant before reaching the desired final gravity. I have done several 100-percent Brett fermentations, and I really like the results. Brett doesn’t really result in a low-pH beer as it doesn’t produce a significant amount of acid (unless it’s exposed to excessive amounts of oxygen), so it really can’t produce a sour beer on its own. However, 100-percent Brett fermentations can result in tropical fruit flavors and aromas, so they tend to work really well in hop-focused beers like IPAs when paired with hops that exhibit tropical fruit and citrus notes. 100-percent Brett fermentations are usually pretty clean and don’t have the typical barnyard character that you get from mixed Sach/Brett fermentations.

SLUG: What about your specific brewing process makes you unique?

Rutledge: I don’t know that I do much that’s completely unique. It’s kind of a matter of standing on the shoulders of giants. The folks that brew sour beer are a great group and are very willing to share info in regards to tips, tricks and process specifics. For example, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River has freely shared tons of process information in regards to sour beer production. Chad Yakobson ofCrooked Stave has made his Brett research available to all via the Brettanomyces Project (brettanomycesproject.com). Jay Goodwinof The Rare Barrel hosts a podcast for The Brewing Network called The Sour Hour that focuses exclusively on sour and wild ale production, including a lot of process detail. I’ve even had Jason Yester of Trinity Brewing reach out to me directly to help me with a sour IPA recipe. Generally speaking, you either sour your beer pre-boil or post-boil. Pre-boil techniques include sour mashing or kettle souring. Post-boil souring is the more traditional method that involves adding souring cultures in the fermenter.

I generally employ three different methods for sours. For my Berliner Weisse, I sour post-boil by pitching Lactobacillus about five days before pitching Sach and Brett. This results in a somewhat aggressively sour beer with just a hint of Brett funk. The benefit of this method is that it’s a fairly quick turnaround, so you can be drinking this beer within 6 to 8 weeks, and I think it’s slightly more complex than kettle souring.

For sour beers with lots of hop character, like sour IPAs, I use a kettle souring method. This ensures the Lactobacillus are able to sour without being inhibited by the hops that will make their way into the finished beer. I perform a normal mash and transfer the wort to the boil kettle and raise the temp to 170 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes in order to pasteurize. Then I sour using Lactobacillus until the pH gets down to around 3.4. I then proceed with the boil, adding as many hops as I want without having to worry about their effect on the souring bacteria. After the boil, the pre-soured wort is chilled and fermented using yeast. I’ve also started using this method for brewing other styles, like Gose. The benefit of this method is that it provides for a quick turnaround, and other than blending, it’s the only way to sour highly hopped beers. The drawback is that it’s not as complex as long-term souring.

For my Flanders Reds, Oud Bruins and most other sour beer styles, I tend to sour post-boil with blended cultures. About 50 percent of the time, I’ll pitch the blended cultures on day one, and the other 50 percent of the time, I’ll do a clean primary fermentation followed by a blended culture pitch in secondary. These beers usually involve fairly high mash temperatures, which results in fewer simple sugars and more complex sugars, which means a long-term food supply for the Brett and bugs. The drawback to this process is that it may take a year or more for the beer to mature and sour, so it’s not a quick turnaround. The benefit is that the long process tends to yield a very complex, finished beer.

SLUG: Are you a part of a home-brewing community in Utah/Salt Lake City? If so, how could someone new to home brewing become involved?

Winslow: I’m a member of Zion Zymurgist Homebrew OPerative Society (ZZHOPS). The best way to get in contact with the group is via the contact info on our website, zzhops.org, or through our Facebook page.

We typically meet once per month and hold a club competition focusing on a particular beer style. So we’ll socialize for a bit and sample each other’s project beers, then judge that month’s competition entries, then socialize some more. It’s a great group of brewers, and everyone is welcome regardless of brewing experience.

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As Anheuser-Busch / RateBeer Fray Intensifies, Local Breweries Wade In

After years of snapping up select craft breweries across the country, the world's largest beer company has executed its first web purchase. And not surprisingly, the craft community is up in arms.

Good Beer Hunting broke the story last week (at the hands of local writer Dave Eisenberg) that Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired a minority stake in popular beer rating site RateBeer, a deal that's actually been cemented since October but was kept under wraps so each side could quietly put “points on the board” and prove the partnership's merits without making it public.

“What was attractive about [AB InBev subsidiary] ZX [Ventures] for us was you had people in beer, people enthusiastic about beer,” RateBeer Executive Director Joe Tucker said. “There was a tech savvy part to ZX that I really liked. There’s stability. And I think that made the choice.”

Immediately, the deal caused concern. At the heart of the matter: Is RateBeer, a user-generated rating site, a journalistic entity? And if it is, how can it retain its editorial integrity now that a massive beer corporation is part of ownership?

Dogfish Head Brewery's Sam Calagione was the first brewery owner to come out in strong opposition.

"We were troubled by the announcement last week that ZX Ventures, which is fully owned by the global conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev, has purchased a portion of RateBeer," he wrote. "We believe this is a direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics and a blatant conflict of interest."

Calagione did more than talk the talk, too -- he formally requested Anheuser-Busch InBev and RateBeer "remove all Dogfish Head beer reviews and mentions on the RateBeer website immediately."

That move was met with some criticism of its own, with some cheering Calagione for taking a stand while others saw it as more self-serving. Regardless, it drew a deep line in the sand. And other craft breweries have started picking sides.

One such brewery is Harpoon; CEO Dan Kenary responded to Calagione's tweet with one of his own.

We @harpoonbrewery agree. have sent email to Ratebeer asking to remove Harpoon and UFO ratings from the site. Cheers to true independence

— dan_kenary (@dan_kenary) June 6, 2017

"We believe in authenticity and respect for consumers. That's why we chose employee ownership to make very clear who owns Harpoon and UFO and what motivates us as truly independent craft brewers," Kenary told me of the tweet. "We have seen ABI make the argument that 'who brews your beer doesn't matter,' and we clearly believe otherwise. We are now seeing that attempt at obfuscation escalate to a clandestine attempt to control a formerly independent beer rating organization."

Local hard cider company Downeast Cider confirmed to me that they're following suit. Denver's Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales has requested its products be entirely scrubbed from RateBeer as well. Others are almost certain to do the same.

Rating sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate play a critical role in consumer decision. Oftentimes, they're the first point of education for someone choosing a beer at a bar or a bottle shop. Never heard of that juicy IPA enticing you from the tap handle? Google it, read a couple RateBeer reviews, and you'll be better equipped to make a decision. So while there's politics and money involved on both sides here, it's not insignificant for a brewery to asked to be removed from one of the most prolific rating sites based on principle.

"We think consumers deserve to know who owns their beer, and who owns the outlets that promote that beer," Kenary continued. "The conflict of interest inherent in ABI owning a site purported to reflect consumer beliefs is glaring enough, but the failure to disclose the relationship for such a long period of time is worse – and, like many of our industry friends, we just don’t feel comfortable being a part of it."

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