Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Black Shirt: True to Itself

(This is part of a semi-regular series of posts about breweries that have opened since May 2011, when I published "Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado's Breweries.")

Every brewery has its own story. But few can claim such great back stories that they simply compel you to like them as much as Black Shirt Brewing, which opened roughly one year ago in Denver's RiNo neighborhood.

Walking in and ordering a pint, you'll notice two things right away. Every option on the menu is red in color. And the glassware is like nothing out of which you've ever drank, a convex wine-like glass (pictured above) that covers your nose while you sip to require you to take to take in the beer's full aroma.

The red is an homage to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that overlooked the boyhood home of brother-owners Chad and Branden Miller in Westcliffe. It was a small town they ran from in order to make more of themselves, but it was a place they came to appreciate more when they were gone, explained Chad (pictured at right) on a recent night.

The glassware speaks to the originality and nonconforming spirit of this brewery, which doesn't have big bottling aspirations and doesn't enter competitions like the Great American Beer Festival. It doesn't blow your palate with extreme beers; it just wants you to enjoy a variety of red delicacies, served in what is now an out-of-the-way location that soon will be one of the new hearts of Denver's brewing scene.

There is, for example, the Red Ale, which is a well done red, with notes of coffee and caramel on its edges, that adds just a bit more hops than usual for the style to make its backbite more interesting. And there's the Red IPA (they have almost no unique names in order to note the simplicity of their beers), which is sharp, bubbly and malt-balanced to the point where you almost want more hop astringency. These are good beers, but not complex.

The flavor profile ramps up a bit with the Sour Mash Red Saison, which gets the sour from its malt rather than its yeast, leaving it with an overall tart-cherry taste, but one that's not blistering. The Red Porter too is an eyebrow-raiser - a musty, heavy dark beer that has a subtle overtone of blackberry to it and is more refreshing than most of its ilk.

Maybe the best of the bunch is the one uniquely monikered beer on the menu - the once-a-year-made Red Evelyn Ale, named after the Millers' grandmother, who raised them as she ran the town store. Her house was surrounded by pine trees and she served grapefruit for breakfast, so the boys concocted a piney hop bomb in which Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo hops all are featured prominently. It's an impressive mouthful, though one that never goes too far.

That beer, in fact, may be emblematic of the full spirit of this brewery, which is well worth a visit. It's based in Colorado roots. It's unpretentious. (The Millers wore black shirts as kids because they were poor but at least could look like Johnny Cash.) And it's going to serve you a variety of beers that won't reset your standards for the art of brewing but will leave you walking away knowing that everything you tasted was quality, done in a very unique way.

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