CYGNUS: Cherry (Blend A)

CYGNUS is a blend of three years of traditional, Lambic-inspired, coolship spontaneous ale, that follows the Méthode Traditionnelle guidelines. The blended base beer was refermented with two different kinds of whole tart cherries, Montmorency and Balaton, including the cherry pits which adds to the classic complexity and flavor associated with Kriek.

After several months of aging the beer on cherries in oak barrels, the beer was removed and stored. Then more base beer was added to the cherries, extracting more color and a milder nuanced flavor. The first-use and second-use beers were then blended together to age further.

Finally, the strong cherry beer was blended down to final fruit level for bottling with hand-selected 1-year, 2-year, and three-year beer from barrels. Two blends were created, each with their own unique character and final fruit level, due to this blending process.


CYGNUS: Cherry (Blend A)
$25/bottle - 375mL bottle, cork and cap

Monday 02.26.2018 | 10 AM MST  -  THURSDAY 03.01.2018 | 10 PM MST

  • Online lottery entry window opens on Monday, February 26, 2018 at 10AM MST.
  • Only one entry per person.
  • You MUST use the name (verbatim) that is found on your valid, state-issued ID.
  • If your name is "Robert" on your ID, but you go by "Bob", please fill out the entry using "Robert".

Do not enter the lottery if you cannot pay for the voucher during the payment window.
Do not enter the lottery if you (or your proxy) cannot go to Black Project during the pickup window.

03.05.2018 | 10 AM MONDAY

  • Lottery winners will be selected and notified via email.
  • Subject line will be: LOTTERY WINNER - CYGNUS
  • Please check your junk email, promotions folder for Gmail, and Focused folder for Outlook.

If you are not selected for the lottery, you will not receive an email.

03.05.2018 | MONDAY 10 AM - 03.08.2018 | THURSDAY 10 PM

  • Lottery winners will have four days to pay for vouchers.
  • Winners will pay for one voucher online that may be exchanged for one bottle.

Payment information must match the winner's entry information.

03.09.2018 | FRIDAY 2-11 PM
03.10.2018 | SATURDAY 2-11 PM
03.11.2018 | SUNDAY 2-8 PM

  • Must be 21+ with valid ID (for yourself) to purchase.
  • A copy of ID is required for pickup and MUST match the entry and online purchase information.
  • You may only pick up during tasting room business hours, listed above.
  • Must provide your selection email AND a state issued ID (or copy of it).
  • Name on selection email and name on ID must match.
  • Proxies are allowed, but MUST have valid selection email AND a copy of winner’s ID AND a valid 21+ ID for themselves.
  • Electronic versions (e.g., on your phone) are acceptable.

We will not be able to make exceptions to these rules for any reason.

Too Long, Didn't Read:

Monday 02.26.2018 | 10 AM MST  -  THURSDAY 03.01.2018 | 10 PM MST

  • Fill out the form with your full name that matches your ID
  • Don't enter the lottery if you can't pay or pick up on time

03.05.2018 | 10 AM MONDAY

  • Winners will get an email, everyone else won't
  • Subject line: LOTTERY WINNER - CYGNUS

03.05.2018 | MONDAY 10 AM - 03.08.2018 | THURSDAY 10 PM

  • Payment information must match entry information

03.09.2018 | FRIDAY 2-11 PM
03.10.2018 | SATURDAY 2-11 PM
03.11.2018 | SUNDAY 2-8 PM

  • Must be 21+ to pick up
  • Please bring your ID
  • Please bring your winning email 
  • Please bring proxy ID
  • Please bring proxy winning email

Carbonation and Cellaring

Since our new lottery format has allowed more people to buy their first Black Project bottles, we wanted to make sure that everyone is aware of the fact that all our bottles are all bottle conditioned and highly carbonated.

What this means is that before opening any of our beer, it is very important that the beer is chilled in a refrigerator for the 24 hours immediately prior to serving. These beers are highly carbonated, in line with carbonation levels of traditional Lambic from Belgium, and the bottles we use are very high quality and thus are very thick and insulative. So it is very important that all bottles are properly chilled for 24 hours before you open the bottle. If not, some gushing and beer loss may occur. We don't want that.

We extensively test each batch and know that there are there is no issue with over-carbonation, the beer is simply carbonated to the high level that is historically associated with the style.

All Black Project bottles can, and should be stored warm, before chilling for 24 hours (ideally at "cellar temperatures" of 55-60°F). Since all of our beers are unpasteurized, they will continuing to evolve and change while aging. If there are any issues with any bottles ever, please contact and we will do our best to remedy the situation.


BOTTLE RELEASE: STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon

STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales will release “STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon” on January 12, 2018 to a select group of lottery winners that will be picked randomly from entries submitted online.

STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon is the latest release from the brewery’s “PROJECT: STARGATE”, which highlights different flavors and aromas of whole fruit fermented and aged in spirit barrels, which are filled with the brewery’s spontaneous solera sour golden “DREAMLAND”. Each year the brewery picks different fruits and spirit barrels, depending on the season, to age their sour golden for several months, imparting unique flavors and aromas into the base beer.

In 2016, STARGATE debuted as “DREAMLAND: Peach Rye”, a spontaneous sour golden aged in Law’s Whiskey House Rye Whiskey barrels and refermented with whole peaches from Palisade, Colorado. That same year, DRAFT Magazine named the beer among the "Top 25 beers of 2016" and which declared STARGATE as one of the "Best Beers of 2016". The beer was later renamed to avoid confusion.

One year later, STARGATE was re-released to a long line of customers that extended down the street. Unfortunately, several cases were over-carbonated, which lead to canceling the release and recalling all bottles. After a few weeks of testing, Black Project discovered that the issue related to residual complex sugars in the bottles. The brewery decided to fix the problem by opening all overcarbed bottles and refermented the beer on more peaches, repackaged it, and re-release it at no additional cost to everyone that waited in line, creating the now legendary: STARGATE².

That is why this year, Black Project wanted to do something special by releasing the first double barrel blend of STARGATE. This beer combines Laws Whiskey House Rye barrel aged STARGATE with Peaches and Laws Whiskey House Bourbon barrel aged STARGATE with Nectarines together, to produce “the most complex, most fruit forward, and most nuanced sour beer we have ever made.” After tasting the barrels apart and blended, James Howat (founder, brewer, and blender) found that the fruit-forward rye whiskey and bourbon whisky complemented and showcased each fruit with more depth and complexity than the individual barrels alone, combining juicy peaches with tart nectarines, which adds an incredible complexity of spice from the rye with the rich vanilla oak from the bourbon finish.

Customers that are interesting in buying a bottle, must register in advance for the online lottery by visiting the brewery’s website: before Thursday, January 4, 2018. Customers that win the online lottery will have a week to pre-purchase bottles for $22/bottle - 500mL bottle, cork and cap.

STARGATE: Peach Rye | Nectarine Bourbon


Over the last four years, we have made it our mission at Black Project to innovate in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation.

Today we announce our next bottle release, TAGBOARD, which is a perfect example of how we often aspire to mesh innovation with tradition. This beer is a 3-year blend of Lambic-inspired, coolship spontaneous beer that has been finished on fresh-picked Neomexicanus wet hops from Voss Farms, in Arvada, Colorado.

We have made other dry hopped sour beers, and have always said they should be enjoyed fresh to get the best hop flavor possible. However, we have noticed over the years that certain hop flavors in our beers can actually change in extremely interest ways as a bottle ages. A year old IPA almost always tastes a bit skunky or flat with regards to hop character. However, the diverse population of coolship-caught microbes in our spontaneous beers are able to both help prevent oxidation and also chemically alter some hop compounds over time.

TAGBOARD is the culmination of years of experimenting, research, and development into the latter process, called biotransformation, and exploring how it works with our unique microbial ecosystem in regards to hop compounds. Specifically, we began to recognize evidence that some component in our cultures seems to have long term β-glucosidase activity, causing the release of terpenoids through metabolism of terpenyl glycosides. This is a fancy way of saying that some microbes can release new and unique aromas and flavors from hops that would otherwise not be present in the beer.

After tasting the development of our dry hopped beers across several years, James decided that he wanted to make a beer designed to showcase this biotransformation of hop compounds, and the development of flavor and aroma over time in the bottle.
This year we were able to get our hands on a decent amount of fresh/wet hops of a variety called Neo1. This is a very unique hop, locally grown in Colorado at Voss Farms, and it was decided that these were what we would use for the TAGBOARD concept.

An interesting fact is that Neo1 are of the Neomexicanus variety, technically a different subspecies of hops than the ones normally used in brewing. Most brewing hops are Humulus lupulus var. lupulus which are originally native to Europe. These are Humulus lupulus var. neomexicanus which are native to the western United States, with this specific strain originally cultivated from wild hops in Northern New Mexico. Neo1 is known for pleasant lemon, citrus, and berry characteristics. We thought their flavor and oil profile, combined with the local/native aspect which so closely aligns with our beer would be perfect for our biotransformation project.

Instead of treating this like a traditional dry-hopped beer, we added the hops into several neutral oak barrels, as if we were adding fresh fruit. Each barrel received over 20lbs of wet hops, which were then filled with the blend of lambic-inspired beer. For two weeks, we let the wet hops soak in the barrels, infusing rich lemon, berry, mango, and sweet pine flavors into the beer. The slightly tart, funky, and traditional-tasting base beer meshes together beautifully with the fruity characteristics from the hops.

There was no question that for this special beer, the base would be a version of our pride-and-joy, a 3 year blend of lambic-inspired traditional spontaneous beer with an average age of over 20 months. This base beer, called OXCART when not dry-hopped, is made in a traditional fashion with 60% light barley malt, 40% unmalted wheat, aged hops added at the beginning of a 3+ hour boil, inoculated via coolship, and then fermented and aged in steam-cleaned, neutral French oak barrels. The production process for this beer means that this is the first qualifying release from Black Project since the introduction of the Méthode Traditionnelle (“M.T.”) certification mark for traditionally-made spontaneous ales. While we have made other beers (CYGNUS, OXCART, ROSWELL, LUNEX) which met the requirements prior to the launch of the certification, we are proud to have TAGBOARD be our first beer to carry the M.T. crest. TAGBOARD is a great example of a beer made to the M.T. standards that still showcases creativity and innovation.

The slightly tart, funky, and traditional-tasting base beer meshes together beautifully with the fruity characteristics from the hops. Blackberry, lemon zest, passion fruit, and ripe mango. It is hard to know where the hops end and the beer begins. Over the conditioning period we believe we have already seen evidence of our cultures working to change and transform some of the hop compounds in this beer. Some of you may have been lucky to have a sample from a single keg of this beer we put on tap when it was very fresh, the idea is that now you may be able to compare to the bottle as the beer starts to slowly transform. We think the bottles are amazingly enjoyable fresh, and still quite similar to when the beer was first tapped, but we also think you will be very impressed when you pull this bottle out of your cellar in a year or more.



Our cold-steeped coffee sour golden series returns with a new single origin blend.

Today we are releasing GEMINI | Konga Wote in partnership with Corvus Coffee. This is the latest variant in our GEMINI series, which explores the unique characteristics of single origin coffee beans by extracting complex flavors using our spontaneous solera sour golden as the canvas.

GEMINI | Konga Wote

Konga Wote is an Ethiopian coffee bean from the Wote Konga Cooperative in Gedo, Ethiopia. This is the second year Corvus Coffee has worked with Seife Tulloskorpi, an exporter, and Israel Degfa, a renowned coffee producer in the region.

By partnering with Corvus, we're able to showcase unique coffee beans from across the world that are being produced by small farms in select regions. Each new beer release in the GEMINI series will highlight the unique flavors and aromas of each coffee roast, something that Corvus Coffee specializes in with their Single Origin coffees. Since all the roasts are from a single origin, each beer will be as unique as the beans.

This is an intensely floral coffee, with earl grey and bergamot notes, citrus acidity, and some unusual flavors with prominent esters and stone fruit notes. 

GEMINI is named after “Project Gemini”, NASA's second spaceflight program. The aircraft carried two astronauts around Earth's orbit in the early 1960s, furthering our understanding of space and developing the techniques necessary to land on the moon. It was also responsible for pioneering orbital maneuvers necessary for working in space.

Through continuous innovation and exploration we hope to continue to push spontaneously fermented beer into unknown territory, leading to new discoveries, the same way Project Gemini made it possible for us to land on the moon.


Starting today (Friday) at 4pm, bottles of DREAMLAND, our spontaneous solera golden sour, will be available for purchase from the taproom, every weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), with a limited allotment of cases for each day and a limit of 2 bottles per person.

DREAMLAND was born from the coolship into two wine barrels. After 6+ months of development, we added both barrels to our first solera vessel and slowly filled it with wort as fermentation hit key stages of progression. An additional 4-5 months later and we finally release each batch from this solera. This progression started in 2015, that means that every batch that we keg or bottle, is a collection of over two years of blended beer, including the original batch. We now have five stainless steel soleras that are dedicated to the production of DREAMLAND. This allows us to keep this beer on tap consistently and create other beers from the base beer. 


While we enjoy the fun of having folks come out for a one-day release, our releases have been getting steadily larger and the line longer. This strains our relationship with our neighbors, and even more critically, it impedes our ability to move everyone through checkout in a timely fashion. So, going forward, we will have two formats for bottle releases:

-Bottles allocated for sale out of the taproom weekly, with a set daily allotment and per person limits

-Lottery and online sales out of the taproom with set per person limits and designated pickup windows

Note- These two new systems may be combined for special releases, where bottles are available for to-go with limited daily allocations as well as online through a lottery system. Our hope is that locals that are unable to wait in line on Saturday’s, can get bottles to-go, as well as customers that are traveling to Denver. 


In time, there is the path that we know, and the path that has yet to be discovered. Spontaneous fermentation will always be the discovery of the unknown.

It is our job to guide the journey.

While we are hopeful in the end result, knowing that destination may change, that it may alter, the goal has always been to challenge the past with every step forward. In this regard, any variation from time honored tradition, puts us directly in the path of creation itself.

TAGBOARD | 5.0% ABV - 25 IBU
Barrel Aged Wet Hopped Three Year Spontaneous Blend


TAGBOARD begins as a blend of lambic-inspired, coolship spontaneous beer, brewed in accordance with the Méthode Traditionnelle guidelines*, which was then combined with fresh picked Neomexicanus wet hops from Voss Farms Colorado, in Arvada.

Instead of treating this like a traditional dry-hopped beer, we added the hops into several neutral oak barrels, as if we were adding fresh fruit. Each barrel received over 20lbs of wet hops, which were then filled with the blend of lambic-inspired, coolship inoculated spontaneous beer, that was aged for one, two, and three years in separate oak barrels.

For two weeks, we let the wet hops soak in the barrels, infusing fruity, citrus, and dank flavors from the hops into the beer. The slightly sour, funky, and traditional-tasting base beer meshes together with sweet pine, melon, and berry characteristics from the hops.

This is a single keg, one-off blend, of the larger batch, which will be available in bottles in several months.

Ultimately, our goal is to make this a wet hop sour unlike any other, as an experiment in time and aging. Wild microbes like ours are known to be able to bio-transform hop aroma compounds and flavor compounds, releasing new and interesting flavors from the hops as the beer ages, allowing a new experience in the transformative powers of our microflora on local Colorado hops.

Enjoy this special blend on draft now, then plan on buying bottles of the main blend when it is released in the future.

*Learn more at

Méthode Traditionnelle

Late last year I was extremely excited to see Jester King and others introduce a certification mark for traditionally made coolship beers. You’ve probably heard of it, it was called Méthode Gueuze, and there was also the more general Méthode Lambic.

The idea of a certification mark for beers produced in certain ways is not new, I’ve long been an advocate for accuracy in naming types of sour beers. Being a big fan of Belgian beers, it is hard not to notice the distinct “Brewed in Belgium” and “Trappist” badges that adorn a lot of my favorite bottles. It definitely made sense to me that we should have a similar mark for different types of sour production, as I feel there is a ton of confusion and even some outright deception in that market. So, again, without a doubt, the mark published by the fine folks at Jester King definitely interested me.

The MG/ML marks, as many began to call them, were created to give a name for beers that were inspired by the unique production methods of Belgian gueuze and lambic, but that were not brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium. I know myself and many others feel strongly that a beer called lambic/gueuze can only come from this area around the Zenne River valley. As a brewer of beers made following the traditional process which are used there, it becomes difficult to figure out what to call our beers stylistically.

When it comes to beer style names, on one hand we want to honor the idea that our beer is not lambic as it is not made in Belgium. On the other hand we want to be able to concisely explain to our customers the complex and very special process that is used to make many of our beers.

Raw wheat, turbid mashing, 100% spontaneous coolship inoculation, barrel fermentation, etc - these are not required to make sour beer, they aren’t required to make great sour beers, even. However, these are the methods we have chosen to use in many of our beers, and we want to be able to share that information with our fans. Furthermore, as a consumer I think it is important to have an idea of how a beer is made when you see it on a store shelf or on a menu.

All of these issues were wonderfully solved by Méthode Gueuze / Méthode Lambic… until it came to everyone’s attention that perhaps not all of the actual Belgian lambic producers were OK with this name. Specifically, the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers (HORAL), which is an organization representing the vast majority of Belgian lambic breweries, said that they did not agree with the names/marks. This came as a surprise to many of us, including the creators of the marks. Eventually private emails became public and the beer world at large wondered what was going to happen. Some brewers continued or even began using MG or ML after it was clear HORAL did not agree with it, others - like Black Project - decided to wait and see what kind of resolution could be found.

  Left to Right: James Howat, Jeffrey Stuffings, Pierre Tilquin, and Frank Boon

Left to Right: James Howat, Jeffrey Stuffings, Pierre Tilquin, and Frank Boon

Soon after, I was honored to have been invited to join many of my idols in the sour beer world to help shape and define the standards for Méthode Gueuze and Méthode Lambic. In June, as part of this involvement, I was able to travel to Lot, Belgium to a meeting at the 3 Fonteinen Lambik-O-Droom. The meeting included myself, Jeffrey Stuffings from Jester King, Pierre Tilquin from Gueuzerie Tilquin, Werner van Obberghen from 3 Fonteinen, and Frank Boon from Brouwerij Boon. It still feels pretty unreal and incredible to be included in that group. It was a great meeting with lots of great discussion (and plenty of great lambic poured for us by Armand DeBelder of 3 Fonteinen). Afterwards we spent time touring both the 3F and Boon facilities, a day I will never forget, but I digress.

Ultimately it was agreed that Méthode Gueuze and Méthode Lambic would be replaced by new marks which did not mention the words lambic or gueuze. It was agreed that there was no issue with American brewers following the traditional process to say in a description of their beer on labels that it was inspired by lambic/gueuze, but that those words shouldn’t be the style description or name of the beer. I don’t necessarily personally agree with HORAL that American Méthode Gueuze beers would be confused with real Belgian Gueuze beers sitting next to them on a shelf. However the much bigger issue for me is that MG was a mark created to show respect for the Belgian producers and if a large number of them felt it was disrespectful, it doesn’t make any sense to use it.

From the meeting with HORAL, a small group of U.S. brewers who are currently producing these traditional beers, began work on defining a new set of standards: Méthode Traditionnelle representing traditional lambic-inspired production methods and then Méthode Traditionnelle - 3 Year Blend representing gueuze-inspired aging and blending.

In my view, the creation and use of these marks is a huge step forward for naming, styles, and transparency in the American sour beer industry. Sour beer brewers in the U.S. are a small but passionate group, and make beer which an extremely diverse range of processes. To those brewers who follow the traditional Belgian-inspired processes, I would kindly ask you to consider using the Méthode Traditionnelle crests where applicable. For those that don’t make beer following this process, I would encourage you to work with others to figure out if there is a way to similarly define your methods to generate more clarity in our tiny slice of the craft beer world.

Black Project is extremely excited to now be able to use the Méthode Traditionnelle certification marks on our beers, knowing that the standards are clearly defined and that the marks are not causing contention with the producers who inspired us. You will begin to see the “MT” or “MT3” crests on relevant bottles of our beer very soon. Thanks so much for reading. I will be doing a Facebook Live Q&A this evening at 6PM (MDT) to talk about Méthode Traditionnelle as it relates to Black Project beers. Please note that this Q&A is not in any official capacity related to the Méthode Traditionnelle standards, but I am happy to answer questions from the Black Project / my personal perspective.

More information about the standards can be found at: Méthode Traditionnelle Standards

James Howat
Founder | Brewer | Blender

We Refuse to Compromise

The idea behind Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales has always been a dream of ours. Spontaneous fermentation is fascinating to us, so our mission defines that dream. Our goal is to explore what is known and to challenge what is possible.

When we first started the brewery three years ago, Black Project used two 60gal stockpots as our coolship, both purchased on a shoestring budget after our initial attempt of adding a coolship to our brewery with a KickStarter failed. This meant that we had to be creative.

Every time we brewed a new spontaneous beer, we would hoist both stockpots (empty) up to the roof of the brewery, then pump boiling wort through a 75ft hose, from the brewhouse, out the back doors, up to the coolship. We'd cover the pots with a nylon-mesh screen, then come back in the morning to pump the now-cooled wort, back down to the barrels. I will always fondly remember being on the roof, watching the coolship fill in the darkness with large columns of steam rising from each vessel, illuminated by a small work lamp. The temperature was often below freezing, but the warmth from the wort kept it from being too uncomfortable. However, the nostalgia of those nights doesn't erase the memory of how cold it was when coming back to empty the coolship, early in the morning, quite often still below freezing with the wort now being in the 60s. That meant no help staying warm waiting for the wort to be slowly pumped down into barrels.

James Howat

This early coolship system allowed us to cool 120gal of wort and fill two oak barrels almost exactly to the brim. It worked. The cooling rate was perfect, the inoculation surface area was ideal, and a little exercise going up and down the ladder certainty didn't hurt. That being said, one of the most exciting times for Black Project came last fall when we were able to expand our facility by an additional 1,000 square feet by subletting space from the shop next-door. We even cut a doorway through the brick into the building and walled off a part of the neighboring tenant's space. As soon as the walls were up, we immediately filled the room with about 100 additional neutral French oak barrels. Next, we moved our existing barrels into the cellar, bringing the total number of oak barrels closer to 140. A few months later, we added a 1200L foeder and four 450L puncheons.


As we added all of these oak vessels, I knew we wouldn't be able to easily fill them all in a winter using our existing rooftop coolship vessels. The time had come to build a custom coolship. I worked with Spencer Langford from Langford Distillery Systems to specify the dimensions and structure of a new coolship to be situated under a large window in the barrel cellar. Late last fall he completed the work and delivered the coolship. It is 360gal with a divider in the middle for single batches, constructed as a copper tub that free-floats in a heavy duty stainless steel frame. We also slightly reconfigured our brewhouse to allow brewing 5bbl batches of lower-gravity beers.

All of our lambic-inspired wort in the 2016-2017 season was brewed using this coolship and the results and have been extremely promising. The depth and volume are the exact dimensions that I feel yield the ideal cooling rate for this style of beer making. The divider allows for some split-batch experimentation and also for single-turn brew days when necessary because of time or ingredient constraints. We couldn't be happier with the new coolship and everyone at Black Project is really proud of it. The coolship and the barrel room are always a high point for visitors getting tours of our small facility.

Black Project

That being said, since we started small and since we are still very small, in the grand scheme of American breweries, we refuse to compromise, take shortcuts, or otherwise sacrifice what we believe in so that we can produce more beer. This means that we may not be able to easily accommodate the demand for our product. However, the good news is that, just like our coolship that went from two huge stockpots on our roof to a beautiful custom-built copper piece of art, we are continuing to slowly grow our production while still increasing quality and innovation in our beers. Over the last few months, we have been planning several new versions of popular beers to return to the brewery, building relationships with local growers and maltsters, will be debuting several new lambic & gueuze-inspired blends and variants later this year.

ROSWELL is our largest release to date, with 420 bottles available to the public. This may not be a lot in comparison to many breweries, but it is a significant amount of beer for us, considering most of our beer takes nearly a year or more to produce.

Please know that we do our very best to ensure all of our beer is as available as possible. Specifically, when we set bottle counts for release days, we have always, and will continue to always, strive to find the best compromise between high allotments and more availability.

Details and Limits here -

We thank all of our fans for their continued commitment to our beers, as well as for their continued understanding that as a small brewery making long aged spontaneous beers we sometimes may not be able to keep up with the demand for those products. Thanks again for your understanding and for your passion for what we do.

James Howat

James Howat

What's in a Name?

What's in a Name? is a weekly series where the Brewtography Project explores the origin story of brewery names. This week's brewery is Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales. This is their story.

Black Project first got its name around this time of the year (early-mid July) in 2014. We were about to enter our first GABF competition, having opened Former Future Brewing Company at the beginning of 2014. Being a young brewery, funds were tight - we decided to only pay the fee to enter one beer into the competition. We were producing a wildly popular robust porter with sea salt at the time and my wife and business partner Sarah, along with our employees, assumed that would be the beer we would enter. Instead I went back to the half-dozen barrels of so that I had begun filling with spontaneous wort from my earliest experiments with our rooftop coolship.

There was one barrel, barrel #3, that had developed particularly well and was already essentially ready to serve. I told the staff that we would enter this beer in the Wild Ale category, and explained how the beer was fermented only with microbes that had been captured from the air while the wort cooled. Most of our staff were taken by surprise that these barrels of spontaneously fermented beer even existed. Although they weren't necessarily meant to be a secret from anyone, I intentionally refrained from telling anyone the details as I wasn't sure how they would turn out and I wanted to make sure the beers were given as much time as necessary (we still have some of the beers aging in barrels that were brewed around the same as this beer).

From this lack of information, promotion, and pseudo-secrecy of the spontaneous program I had started came the idea of the name Black Project. The name is a reference to government black budget items / black projects like various spy and stealth aircraft. In the case of government, these are usually military projects that congress votes to approve spending on, but where all or most of the details of the project are classified. These programs typically involve new, cutting edge technology - which was the second reason for the use of the name for our beers.

Our tagline is "Research and Development in Spontaneous Fermentation" - and this related perfectly to the cutting edge nature of many US military black projects. I've always wanted to make beers inspired by the traditional Belgian Lambic process - it is a no-brainer place to start - Belgian Lambic is the only historical example of spontaneous fermentation that survived to the modern era. However, I also wanted to take spontaneous fermentation and begin using it to make beers of all types, with lots of experimental techniques and ingredients. In essence, I wanted Black Project to be rooted in the tradition of Belgian coolship beers - but also on the cutting edge of spontaneous fermentation.

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Innovation in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation

Response to ABInBEV

Earlier this week, Sam Calagione issued a request to RateBeer asking that they remove all Dogfish Head beer reviews and mentions on the RateBeer website. 

Yesterday, we followed Sam's lead and sent a letter to RateBeer, asking that any mentions, logos, or labels of "Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales" and "Former Future Brewing Company" also be removed from the RateBeer database and website. The following is their response:


Hi James,
We've received your inquiry about content removal from RateBeer.

The beauty and value of RateBeer comes in our users' ability to add publicly available content to our database. If there is a particular piece of content that you are concerned with, please refer to the processes defined in the Digital Copyright Millennium Copyright Act section of our Terms of Service here:

Thank you,
Joe Tucker

Joseph Tucker
Executive Director

Since writing the letter and posting it on our website, we've received a lot of questions and comments. The majority have been positive and supportive, while others have questioned our motives. The main argument we've heard, is that RateBeer will never take down the content we requested because it's user created, so why even write it? RateBeer's response confirms this, but that's not WHY we did it. People have also said that they will continue using the site, unless they find evidence of tampering with ratings, so our response is pointless. To them we say:

It is not the success of the resistance that matters, it is the resistance itself. 

We do not buy ABInBEV products, we do not attend festivals sponsored by ABInBEV, and we do not support businesses that benefit ABInBEV. We will also make every effort possible to make sure our brand and products do not contribute to their businesses in any way.


Now, we can debate the role other large companies have in craft beer, what breweries should be considered craft and which ones are not, or what constitutes "independent" ownership, but for us, none of these issues are as important as the ethics a company follows when conducting business. In this, ABInBEV stands alone.

ABInBEV wants to see your local brewery wiped off the map. They are not interested in buying craft beer breweries to "improve efficiencies" or "provide resources", instead, they are systematically acquiring strategic businesses to limit and disrupt the resources and avenues we depend on. They have a history of limiting distribution, they have been fined on multiple occasions across the country for pay-to-play agreements, they have spent millions of dollars on advertisement insulting and belittling craft breweries, and they have acquired breweries we all loved, just to undercut us all with pricing, selection, and availability, in an attempt to flood the market with their mass produced beer, while watching everyone else drown.

The simple fact is this, ABInBEV invested in RateBeer for a reason, and they would not invest if they didn't see either a profit financially or in other forms. There are some already saying that they are interested in the user information, brewery information, and the potential for monitoring trends using RateBeer's data. Which as so many have pointed out, is user created.

It is YOUR data.

That potential alone should be deeply troubling, knowing that content you created may be used one day against the breweries you love. So, our response is simple:

We don't want anything to do with any organization that ABInBEV profits from. Period.

James Howat

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Innovation in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation

Thoughts on the Wicked Weed Acquisition

This morning, we received an email from Walt Dickinson, of Wicked Weed Brewing Company, a few minutes before the news appeared publicly, informing us of the big news. When we checked online, our social media feed was flooded with posts about Wicked Weed and ABInBev. Personally, Sarah and I were shocked to learn of ABInBev's acquisition of Wicked Weed, and we still are.

We consider Walt and the rest of the Wicked Weed crew to be friends and we are happy for them and honestly wish them the best.

However, at Black Project, we have deep and serious issues with many of ABInBev's business strategies, mission, and overall ethics as they relate to craft beer in America. In Denver alone, we've seen several instances of highly aggressive, predatory, and what we consider to be unethical practices. We truly believe that ABInBev intends to systematically destroy American craft beer as we know it. We don't personally buy, seek, trade, or acquire any of their products for this reason, and we've been known to encourage our friends to do the same.

As some of you may know, and something many people have asked us about today, we have two collaboration beers with Wicked Weed currently in-progress; one beer at our facility and one at theirs. We also had plans, and were looking forward to attending, the Wicked Weed Funkatorium Invitational this July. We had a decision to make - to continue a business relationship with Wicked Weed now that they will be owned by ABInBev, or to cut ties and hopefully remain friends.

For us, the choice is clear. At this stage, we don't feel we are able to have a business relationship with Wicked Weed because that connection, ultimately, is one with ABInBev. Unfortunately, we don’t feel that having any connection with ABInBev is something we can do while still maintaining our mission, values, and core beliefs.

What this means is that we will not be able to lend our name to the unfinished collaboration beer currently aging in Asheville, NC. Additionally, the beer we brewed with Wicked Weed here at Black Project will be blended with other existing aged beer we have on hand to make something totally different which we will not consider a Wicked Weed collaboration. Finally, we will not be attending the Wicked Weed Funkatorium Invitational in July.

We wish the best to everyone at Wicked Weed and we are happy for their success. We know they will continue to make great beers and we hope to remain personal friends in the future.


James Howat and Sarah Howat
Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales

Black Project Expands Oak Cellar

Meet the newest addition to the Black Project oak cellar. This is 'Stella'. She is a baby foeder and is only 11hL (~9.4bbl / 290gal), made of Slovenian Oak.

In a past life she lived in Montepulcaino, Italy where she aged Nobile di Montepulcaino, a wine made primarily from Sangiovese grapes.

Now we are rinsing and steaming her to make sure she produces a neutral flavor and is sanitized of any pre-existing yeast or bacteria.

Tomorrow we will brew a batch (actually 2) of BLACKBIRD.. A wort that is turbid mashed with 60% Pils / 40% raw wheat, boiled for 3+hrs with aged hops, and then cooled and inoculated via coolship (brewed in accordance with the traditional Belgian methods).

Stella will be filled on Thursday morning, directly from the coolship, and 100% spontaneous fermentation will take place in the following days. Finally, the beer will be allowed to continue fermenting and developing for 1-3+ years before being blended into a final product.

Black Project

The Secret is Out

For quite a while now, we’ve been working on different ways to get small quantities of beer to Black Project fans in different markets across the United States. Most of the time, when we attend a beer festival or conference, we just ship beer in advance or bring it with us as cargo. Unfortunately, that is not as easy as it used to be, when we were relatively unknown. We have also added even more beer festivals this year.

Last year, at BeerAdvocate’s “The Return of Belgian Beer Fest” (now called “Wood and Beer Festival”) we were briefly introduced - via a mutual acquaintance at Mystic Brewing - to Annecca at Shelton Brothers Importers. After pouring her some of our beers and getting to know each other, we began a dialogue regarding distribution. Fast forward a few months later to January - after several emails - and we are excited to announce that we have been invited to join the Shelton Brothers portfolio!

Shelton Brothers Logo

For us, this was an easy decision to make. Shelton Brothers is predominantly an importer of many traditional beers from Europe, however they also work with a small group of traditional and quality-minded brewers that are based in U.S. They’re a company that appreciates unique and well-crafted beers and they have a distribution network in place across most of the country that also values and understands these types of beers.

By partnering with Shelton Brothers, we will be able to distribute beer to the areas we are traveling to. We will ship the beer needed for the festival and supporting events, and also a bit extra for limited retail distribution in the area at the same time. This makes the most sense for us as it allows us to be able to easily get beer across state lines to various festivals, plus we will finally be able to tell people that we meet at these festivals where they can get a bottle of our beer.

Black Project will not be available across the entire Shelton network for now, we simply don’t make enough beer to do that. Instead, we will be working with them and their local distributors to deliver small amounts of our products to select markets on a limited basis. This does not change our local distribution.

I want to make a brief note for our local customers: We know that we owe much of our growth and success to your support. We are very much a local company, right down to the yeast used to brew our beers!

Please also know that this will not affect the amount of Black Project beer available locally. As more of our barrel cellar expansion comes on line and more beer available, you will always come first. Despite increasing turnouts for our bottle releases, we have and will continue to work to increase bottle allotments. We are still self-distributing in Colorado and we soon hope to be able to make more frequent deliveries to our favorite retail accounts. We are working hard at keeping the tasting room supplied with a wide selection of unique draft beers, including a new and ever-changing selection of bottles from our cellar for on-site consumption.

We are sincerely overjoyed to be a part of the Shelton family of breweries and absolutely cannot wait to be able to share our beers with everyone out there who enjoys them. We will announce specific areas where we will be sending beer soon. In the meantime, check the calendar (under “affairs”) on our website to see our current festival and travel plans as many of those locations will see some distribution around the time of our arrival.

Thank you,
James & Sarah Howat

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Innovation in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you soon,
Sarah Howat
Founder | Operations

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Innovation in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation

Thoughts on Rules, Tradition, and Experimentation

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is frequently: "No."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for listening,
James Howat
Founder | Brewer | Blender  

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Innovation in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation

Spontaneous vs. Wild

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

"What is a spontaneous ale?"

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

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

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


"What is a wild ale?"

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

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

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

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

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Innovation in the research and development of spontaneous fermentation