Beers can be special for so many reasons. Maybe it's a technical break-through, or an adventure into an unknown style. Maybe it represents a new beginning, or a new direction for a brewery. I try to capture all these stories on the Unrated series. But sometimes, a brewer is so moved by the memory of a loved one, that it inspires a beer unlike any other.
Black Shirt Brewing Company, located on the north side of Denver, has embarked on a unique journey in the beer-making world — they call it the Red Ale Project. When I first met them during the Craft Brewers Conference, they weren't geared up for lectures and educational seminars like the rest of the town. They were too busy opening their unlikely brewpub — so unlikely, that co-founder Chad Miller told me a story about a time when they were each working multiple jobs, saving every penny they had, and barely scraping by just to get Black Shirt off the ground. "But we made it," he said, looking across the table at his wife, child, and brother. "And now it's here."
The Red Ale Project is three years old and the original Colorado Red Ale is already 167 batches in. They were inspired by their father who said "do one thing and do it better than anyone else." Perhaps a bit literal in interpretation, but the concept is paying off. While visiting, I enjoyed a red pale, a red saison, and a red sour that were all exceptional, yet each carried the theme. "We have enough ideas for different red ales to last us ten lifetimes," claims Chad.
And that's where Red Evelyn comes in. It's a beer dedicated to an actual lifetime. Flowery, estery, with a Belgian-style spice and sweetness, and a bright, grapefruit punch, it's a beer they brew once a year in honor of their grandmother. As Chad recalls:
"She was the rock for my brother and I as well as our community. She took nothing for herself and gave what little she had to everyone else. She never had anything bad to say about anything or anybody. She was in a horrific car wreck that disfigured her face and body when she was in her mid-thirties but everyone who knew her will tell you that she was the most beautiful person on earth. At 76 years old, she picked up a mitt and played catch with us the night before a game and taught us to cast a fly even though her age warned her against it. Her smile lit up the room. She taught us to be honest and good-willed, to stay strong and have patience when faced with obstacles. She told us to dream big, to love with all of our hearts, and to appreciate the small things. She played piano and records before bed at night and taught us to appreciate music at a young age. She ran a general store for 50 years in Westcliffe, Colorado called Evie’s Shoppe where she instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in us. She taught us to work hard and that if we put our mind to it, we could accomplish anything."
The inspiration for Red Evelyn was drawn quite simply from memories of our Grandmother. Her house (the house we grew up in) was surrounded by thirty foxtail pine trees and multiple rock gardens full of wildflowers. We ate grapefruit nearly every morning that our grandmother would carefully cut and serve with special spoons. She placed bowls of caramels, toffee, and other sweets on a log table in the center of our kitchen for us every day. She had spunk, spice, and charisma like no other. The beer is an Imperial Red Rye IPA brewed with Belgium Candi Sugar, Colorado Wildflower Honey and five different hop varietals. Smelling certain aromas immediately evoke memories of a certain place in time for us. Each nuance from this beer was a very methodical and deliberate addition to take us back in time with her.
Only brewed once a year, the next release is on Evelyn’s birthday, Aug 16th. Fans will be invited to get up to six bottles fresh out of the tank while they watch each one get filled between 2:00-3:00p. There's a two-bottle limit available to the general public at starting at 5:00p. Follow Blackshirt for more timely updates.