The Story Behind Former Future Brewing Company and its Spontaneous Ales

The story of Former Future Brewing Company is more than just outstanding beer. It is also a fine romance. It is the story of Sarah and James Howat and some spontaneous microbes.

James and Sarah met in 2010. She had a grad school degree from the University of Northern Colorado, Denver campus, while James taught microbiology at Adams 14 in Commerce City. Although James tinkered with homebrewing, theirs was a love that blossomed over spirits rather than suds.

“We really weren’t into beer at that time,” says Sarah, but they did enjoy Denver’s speakeasy culture, visiting establishments to sip crafted cocktails. However, a 2011 trip to Santa Fe changed their lives in two remarkable ways. First, James proposed. Second, they visited a small tap room and were introduced to small-batch beers. Upon returning to Denver, they began visiting small breweries like Strange and Renegade.

Both had always been interested in opening their own business and thought a brewery was the best fit. James was even accepted into the prestigious brewing program at the University of California-Davis, however, there was a year-long wait. Rather than wait, they leaped.

“He said, ‘you know, I’m just going to open up my own brewery’,” says Sarah of James during that fateful time. “It’s going to be the same monetary expense and time [anyway], so that’s exactly what happened.”

The couple married in July 2012, and James began writing the brewery’s business plan in September. The couple signed the lease on their building on South Broadway almost one year to the day of their wedding. Opened in February 2014, a whirl-wind romance with beer has been growing ever since.

“We can’t keep up with the very small limited wholesaling that we’ve been doing,” says Sarah of the brewery’s popularity.

James and Sarah take a unique approach to brewing beer. James says he wants to make a variety of beers for every type of beer drinker from craft beer nerds to their non-craft drinking friends that they drag into the taproom, and they both strive for the place to be a friendly neighborhood hangout. Most beers have roots in some sort of historical brewing technique. While building the brewery, James did a lot of research on old beer recipes. However, he isn’t trying to recreate the past.

“We don’t necessarily try to do anything exactly the way it would have been, but we’re not trying to recreate historical recipes, we’re trying to take ideas from those old recipes and do them in new and different ways.” says James.

While his background is in math and science, James says he is actually more of a historian when it comes to brewing and is more interested in traditional techniques, which he thinks were more akin to art, but then he uses modern practices, bringing in the science.

“I think you can make beer 100% as an art or 100% as a science,” he says, “but it’s done best when you have a little bit of both.” He says he even gives up some of the scientific control over the microbes by using “spontaneous” brewing practices in the brewery’s Black Project series.

The Black Project brewing series is where beers are fermented with native wild yeast and bacteria using a coolship method (from the Dutch koelschip). No commercially available microbes are added. James calls these “Wild Caught” microbes and the beers are called “Spontaneous Ales.” Former Future won a GABF bronze medal in 2014 for their very first Black Project beer, Black Project #1 Flyby, in the experimental category. 

The most recent Black Project beer bottled was a Ramjet Cherry Sour that sold out in one afternoon. They hope the next batch will be ready in mid- to late August, which they are calling Dreamland Sour Farmhouse. James then has plans for a blueberry aged in red wine barrels and a sour peach aged in whiskey barrels. The beers are sold in 750mL bottles for $25 each, and release dates are announced on a special Facebook page.

Black Project beers are currently inoculated on the roof of the brewery, but they are planning to move all future project barrels to a second facility, under its own corporate banner called Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales. This will allow for growth of the project and to make more room in the brewery for their regular beers.

Much like a spontaneous ale, Former Future continues to grow in complexity as has the Howat’s relationship.

“[The brewery] has shown us how to support each other in ways that maybe we wouldn’t ever have had to address before…I think that it’s shown us how to work together… and given more appreciation for us in the ways that we do spend time together “ she says. “Most days we are texting each other constantly or we’re in the same room talking to each other constantly and you already know how your partner’s day was so how do you keep it interesting and fun?”

Like microbes in fermenting beer, it’s a spontaneous and wild process. To learn more about the brewery or the Black Project series, follow along on Twitter or Instagram

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The Future Is Now at Former Future Brewing Company

It’s now a craft beer canard: Four ingredients, endless possibilities.

And in Denver, where craft breweries continue to multiply like bubbles in a well-carbonated ale, some new beer makers exploit the endless possibilities in order to set themselves apart from the rest of fermented crowd. That innovative spirit is a big reason why Denver beer geeks aren’t ones to rest on their thirsty laurels, either.

Enter Former Future Brewing Company, where owner and head brewer James Howat’s angle is to “take historical recipes, deconstruct them, and then place their own futuristic interpretation into them.” Howat’s take on brewing has resulted in some of the more distinctive beers on the Denver scene. It’s no surprise, really, because Former Future’s brewery and taproom—adorned with an aluminum-colored bar top made from a polished-down wing of a Cessna 210—opened in January amongst a bumper crop of new breweries.

Nestled in a gentrified stretch of Broadway south of Interstate 25, Former Future’s modus operandi is to feature around eight brews at a time—a cast including five regular taps and several rotators.

One of the regular brews is Perplexity Farmhouse IPA, an India Pale Ale made with 100 percent Brettanomyces yeast. This beer, at 6.8 percent ABV, keeps the tap handles tilted as the brewery’s biggest seller, according to the people pulling those taps. The brew mixes hoppy bitterness with a funky farmhouse flavor from the yeast that my server described simply as “barnyardy.”

Former Future features two “pre-Prohibition” style alesPrim and Proper Robust Porter at 6.5 percent ABV and a cream ale at 4.8 percent ABV that’s as sessionable as any beer out there. Singularity Principle is an American pale ale made with just one type of malt—Maris Otter—and a single hops strain—Cascade. It’s 5.4 percent ABV. The cast of regulars rounds out with Brimful, a “rustic dark saison” at 7.2 percent ABV.

Recently, Former Future’s rotators included Ryetly So Rye ESB and Chock-a-Bock Doppelbock, but the roster changes constantly.

Former Future offers most of its beers in full pours, with short pours and taster sizes as well. The taproom itself is spacious with knowledgeable servers willing to answer the odd homebrewing question or sell you a pint glass. Parking can be a bit tough during busy times on weekends, but it shouldn’t be much of a bother most other times. Former Future does hold a regular brunch on Sunday featuring plenty of food and a cocktail made with one of their beers.

Combine the brewery’s best ingredients: tasty regular beers, adventurous rotators, a comfy taproom and the ability to put your glass down on a part of an airplane, and the outcome should be clear. A trip to this new brewery should be in any beer lover’s near future.

Former Future Brewing Company,1290 South Broadway, www.formerfuturebrewingcompany.com