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.