By Joe Ross
Photos: Neill Pieper
What’s the recipe for spontaneity?
The folks at Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales have an idea, and it involves their fermentation process.
In traditional brewing, immense pride is taken in being able to create the same product time after time. But the folks at Black Project have thrown that notion to the wind with their coolship brewing process.
The process allows bacterias and yeast blowing around in the air to influence their beers. The coolship, which is a short, open-top fermentation tank, allows the Front Range winds to influence the beer as it cools.
The process is similar to the practice of beer-making prior to the 19th century, said James Howat, co-owner at the South Broadway brewery. “It’s essentially a traditional way of catching wild yeast,” Howat said.
He and his wife Sarah first opened the brewery as Former Future Brewing in 2014. After producing a variety of ales, they narrowed down their approach to brewing sour ales in 2016 when they rebranded as Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales.
Unlike most breweries that offer several styles of beer, Black Project’s focus on sours allows time for the wild yeast and bacteria to work their magic during initial fermentation, and then in barrels. Various fruits are used to enhance flavors in the base beer. The latest release that James spoke of was a twin-pack featuring a Flanders, red-style base beer with a mix of 75 percent plums to 25 percent blackcurrant in the first bottle. The fruit percentages were reversed in the second bottle for two distinct tastes.
The Howats have chosen to distribute through a bottle-release lottery via their website. They switched to this method when the neighbors got tired of having people lined up around the block, clamoring for special bottles that were sold at the brewery. Yes, Black Project’s spontaneously fermented beers have generated the kind of buzz that people line up for.
However, one doesn’t have to win the lottery to taste the fruits of Black Project’s labor. Visitors can stop in (1290 S. Broadway) and try up to five brews on tap.
Like many taprooms, games and reading materials are available for entertainment while hanging out with friends. Even though the brewers take their mission seriously, they also understand that consumers stopping in for quality libations need to unwind a bit. A Saturday afternoon visit might turn up two grown men duking it out on the miniature set of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Other patrons might be yucking it up over a game of Cards Against Humanity or Cribbage.
The tall ceilings with exposed beams help create a spacious feeling in the relatively small South Broadway space that was – like many area businesses – formerly occupied in part by an antiques store.
A sign-in book near the front entrance is open for those inspired by their visit. “Delicious,” was how Jeff and Karen from Santa Fe described their experience. Tim and Kate from St. Louis said, “We loved everything about the place.”
That “place,” and the overall message of quality-only sours are very black-and-white concepts. What’s not black and white are the beers, which change with nearly every gust of wind that blows down from the foothills.