Black Shirt Brewing Company – Denver, CO

Black Shirt Brewing Company is located in the River North (RiNo) district in Denver, near the intersection of Walnut and Downing. Just north of the brewery, maybe a couple hundred yards away, is a stop for RTD’s A-Line Light Rail line. Many travelers either heading out to DIA or coming from DIA to Denver, stop at Black Shirt Brewing to try a fresh Colorado craft beer. Due to their unique location, Black Shirt has loyal fans all over the country that enjoy stopping in when they visit Colorado. Black Shirt is one of the must-try breweries in the Denver area whether you live nearby or you’re planning to visit from another state.

History:
Black Shirt Brewing Company’s story began in 2011 when brothers Branden and Chad Miller along with Chad’s wife, Carissa, decided it was finally time to realize their dream of owning a brewery. The siblings had the idea to make this happen as far back as 1999, but like they say, “good things take time”. With help from Carissa’s brother, Aaron Holstad, they worked long hours to transition the old brick building into a functioning brewery. The building is thought to be from the 1920s and there are varying stories as to its exact history. From a furniture store in the 50s to a disco in the 60s-70s, to a brothel sometime along the way (not confirmed), the building had a lot of history.

The owners worked hard to begin the next chapter for the building as it transitioned to a brewery. For nearly two years (one year, 9 months) Branden, Chad and Aaron worked to renovate what they could as they were paying for improvements as they went. Due to the fact they had a small budget, every single piece of the brewery was touched by one of the three. There are some really cool touches to the construction that have unique stories. For instance, the barn wood was brought in from Branden and Chad’s hometown.

Black Shirt Brewing Owners Branden and Chad Miller are Colorado natives, having grown up in the Southern Colorado town of Westcliffe, CO. They will proudly tell you that they are in fact, 5th generation Coloradans. The brothers gravitated towards skateboards and the music of Johnny Cash, while preferring their clothes to be black. It wasn’t what all of the popular kids did, it was what Branden and Chad did. When they decided to open the brewery, Branden and Chad thought it was important to stay true to their style and design things to fit what they liked. When you walk in Black Shirt Brewing, you quickly notice pictures of Johnny Cash and many references to music on the walls. You will hear music playing and it might just be coming from the back patio.

The Beer:
One of the questions we like to ask at Colorado Craft Brews is what makes a brewery unique from the others. For Black Shirt this is an easy question to answer. Black Shirt specializes in Red Ales, a style of beer that is an uncommon focus among most breweries. Sure, most breweries brew a Red IPA from time to time, or a Red Ale for a seasonal, but very few focus on primarily brewing Red Ales. When we asked Branden Miller why he chose to brew Red Ales, he quickly told the story of his dad and the fact he believes it’s best to one thing and do it better than everyone else.

Branden and Chad decided to pursue brewing Red Ales for a number of reasons. Colorado is a Spanish adjective that means “red”. Early Spanish explorers named Colorado for the red that could be found around the state. A great example of this is the area in Southern Colorado where Branden and Chad grew up. This area is known for being the home of the Sangro de Christo Mountains. Sangre de Christo means “the blood of Christ” in reference to the red hues of the mountain range. Branden thought Red Ales were being done well but there was definitely room for improvement. Ultimately, it seemed fitting that in a state known for its red soil and red rock formations, he could brew Red Ales and brew them better than anyone else.

We sampled a number of Black Shirt’s beers and were impressed by the variety and quality of the samples. While difficult to pick a favorite, we thoroughly enjoyed the Frontmaniac IPA. Hop lovers will enjoy this big, bold IPA with a smooth finish. The Baritone Black IPA stood out for the earthy, piney notes – definitely a beer we will be trying again. The Colorado Red Ale (Black Shirt’s flagship beer) has floral and citrusy notes that make it a favorite for American IPA drinkers. If you prefer lighter, less hoppy beers, the Semitone Saison, Common Red Kolsch are great options. One thing we noted in trying some of the higher ABV (alcohol by volume) beers was that they were not overpowering, each was smooth and balanced. Often times, higher ABV beers can be either too hoppy or too malty. Overall, we enjoyed the tastings and would recommend Black Shirt’s beer to anyone from craft beer fanatics to those that are looking to try craft beer for the first time.

Beer List:

  • Born to Hula (Nitro) – Sour Ale: 6.5% abv – Sour Ale conditioned atop Pineapple and Coconut, dry-hopped w/ Citra
  • Common Red – Kolsch: 5.5% abv – Crisp, clean, and crushable
  • Semitone – Saison: 5.4% abv – Petit Saison brewed with sweet orange peel
  • Stringender Saison – Saison: 7.5% abv – An amplified, resonant and expressive Saison
  • Timekeeper Rye Pale Ale – American Pale Ale: 6% – A precise, balanced and crisp Rye Pale Ale
  • Colorado Red Ale – Amber Ale: 7.3% abv – The flagship beer, a floral citrusy Red IPA
  • Frontmaniac IPA – IPA: 7% abv – Hopped to a rate of over 5 lbs per barrel of Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops
  • Blood Orange – Double IPA: 8% abv – Double IPA conditioned atop fresh blood oranges and double dry-hopped w/ Mosaic and Amarillo hops
  • Ocean of Noise – Gose: 5.4% abv – Gose brewed w/ Yuzu, Lemongrass, Hawaiian Red Gold Sea Salt, dry-hopped w/ Equinox and Hallertau Blanc
  • Fourtrack Porter – Porter: 6.3% abv – American Porter w/ notes of milk chocolate, caramel and toffee
  • Baritone – Black IPA: 7.5%: Dark and brooding Black IPA inspired by the original man in black Johnny Cash. Warrior, Chinook and Simcoe hops
  • Black Beacon Storm Nitro – Imperial Stout: 8.5% abv – Imperial Rye Stout aged in a variety of bourbon barrels.
  • Frontman IPA – IPA: 7.3% – A mic’d up, hoppy and loud IPA brewed w/ Chinook, Simcoe and Mosaic Hops.

Black Shirt Brewing distributes their beer in many liquor stores around the metro Denver area. You can also find Black Shirt in a handful of mountain towns including, Buena Vista, Gunnison, Salida and Crested Butte. If you want to find a location near you that sells Black Shirt’s beer try their beer locator. The best way to enjoy a Black Shirt beer is to visit the taproom. If you can make it on the first Wednesday of the month, you’ll be able to try a new release beer and help raise money for local charities. $1 from each sale of the special release beer is donated to a local charity. If you are not able to make it on the first Wednesday, you can still try the new release beer for the entire month, until the next special release (and your purchase still helps raise money for charity).

Events:
We mentioned that you may hear music coming from the beer garden at Black Shirt. They have a stage in the back that is a hot spot for artists in the local music scene. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Black Shirt hosts live bands on the stage and welcomes fans to enjoy music with a fresh craft beer.Be sure to check the schedule as there are many events going on throughout the spring and summer.

We would like to thank Branden Miller for taking time to chat about Colorado craft beer. It was apparent in our discussion how passionate Branden is about brewing high quality beer. We encourage anyone reading this to make a trip to Black Shirt Brewing to enjoy a delicious beer, you won’t be disappointed. If you would like to learn more about how they got their start, you can see Black Shirt in a craft beer documentary called Crafting a Nation.

Black Shirt Brewing Company
3719 Walnut St.
Dener, CO 80205
(303) 993-2799

River North Brewery – Denver, CO

River North Logo

River North Brewery & Taproom is located in Denver, CO. a few blocks north of Coors Field in the ballpark neighborhood. The area around River North is a fun, lively and popular area with many breweries, galleries and restaurants close by. This area, called RiNO (River North Art District) was once a rough, mostly abandoned part of Denver, but has been transformed with redevelopment. RiNO includes many 100+ year-old brick buildings that have been renovated, giving the area a historic look and feel.

River North was started by Matt Hess, a former Engineer for Lockheed Martin. Matt was tired of the “cyclical nature of the aerospace industry”, and wanted to do something different. He had experience in homebrewing, and decided that starting a brewery was his ticket to doing something different. Matt had been homebrewing in 5 gallon batches, then splitting up the 5 gallon batch into smaller 1 gallon batches to try new ideas. Each smaller 1 gallon batch gave Matt an opportunity to tweak his recipes, or to add something completely new. With 2-3 years of experimentation, Matt was able to create some great homebrew recipes that he would eventually use to brew beers at River North Brewery. Matt has not only been the driving force behind the beers at River North, he also designed the logo. He has done a great job in creating a clean, distinctive brand that is easily recognizable. When he’s not brewing, Matt also handles deliveries and sales, manages the taproom, and many other tasks that arise in the day-to-day process of running the business side of the brewery.

Patrick Annesty is the Director of Communications for River North, and was nice enough to give us a tour and share their excellent beers. Patrick joined the River North team just after they officially opened last year. He came to Denver from Ft. Laurderdale, FL., after graduating from the University of Florida. Patrick was looking to move to a fun place with a good beer culture, and Denver was a prime spot for that. After coming to Denver, Patrick visited local breweries hoping to use his journalism and homebrewing skills to help out a local brewer. A few weeks after Parick visited River North, Matt Hess called Patrick and asked for help — opening weekend was bigger and busier than Matt ever imagined! Since then, Patrick has taken on a jack of all trades role, and does a bit of everything. Patrick is Matt’s right hand man, and does everything from generating buzz on social media to brewing to making deliveries.

River North officially opened in February 2012. In their first year, River North produced 300 barrels, and made a big name in the Denver community. The business plan for River North was different than many breweries that simply start a taproom and hope to distribute someday. Matt Hess started the brewery with the plan to bottle and distribute immediately. The facility behind River North’s taproom is huge for a smaller brewery, and provides a great deal of room for expansion going forward. If you visit the taproom, you will see just how big River North plans to become. The plan for 2013 is to produce 900 barrels, or 3x the amount of beer River North produced in their first year! River North Taproom

Matt Hess enjoys brewing Belgian-style ales, and American style ales with a Belgian twist. River North brews exclusively in the Belgian style, and is dedicated to always brewing quality beers. Ingredients are brought in from the best sources around the country in order to consistently brew high quality, great tasting beers. River North has an eclectic beer list, and does not focus on having all the American style beers that are typical at most breweries. We really enjoyed all of the beers, but especially the BPR (Belgian-Style Pale Red), the Hello, Darkness (Black IPA) and the Unified Theory (Oaked Imperial Wit).

Beer List:

  • River North White White Ale / Belgian-Style Wit 5.0% ABV
  • Hello, Darkness Black IPA: 6.2% ABV
  • BPR Belgian-Style Pale Red Ale 6.4% ABV
  • J. Marie Saison / Farmhouse Ale 7.5% ABV
  • Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle Belgian-Style Double IPA 9.0% ABV
  • Quandary Quadrupel 9.6% ABV
  • Unified Theory Oaked Imperial Wit:  8.5% ABV
  • Avarice Belgian-Style Imperial Stout 9.3% ABV

Barrel Series (Limited Availability):

    • Barrel Series No. 1 – J. Marie Aged in Whiskey Barrels
    • Barrel Series No. 2 – J. Marie Aged in White Wine Barrels
    • Barrel Series No. 3 – Quandary Aged in Whiskey Barrels
    • Barrel Series No. 4 – BPR Aged in Whiskey Barrels
    • Barrel Series No. 5 – River North White aged in white wine
    • Barrel Series No. 6 – River North White aged in whiskey
    • Barrel Series No. 7 – Avarice Imperial Stout aged in whiskey
    • Barrel Series No. 8 – Barrel Reserve 2013 (currently available).

In Bottles (22 oz. bombers) Click here to see the River North beer locator

    • J. Marie
    • Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle
    • Quandary
    • Unified Theory
    • Avarice

River North has a membership program for anyone that would like to become part of their local club. The program will be announced in July, and the details for this year are not available yet. Last year, members paid $50 and received a member’s only glass, $4 beers all day/everyday and had access to a special member’s only barrel aged IPA. The program for members will be different this year, but there will be great opportunities to get exlusive access to some cool offerings from River North.

Festivals: This only includes a couple that are already booked. To find out about all of the festivals and activities River North will be part of, check out their Facebook, and Twitter pages.

We had a great visit to River North, and look forward to seeing bigger and better things from them. They provide great beers, and a fun, laid-back atmosphere at their taproom. They recently opened up a patio which provides a nice place to enjoy fresh air and a little scenery. A great time to head to River North would be before a Rockies game. With the close proximity to Coors Field, it’s only a few minutes walk to enjoy a fresh beer. Thanks to Matt Hess and Patrick Annesty for their hospitality, and for sharing their story with us!

River North Brewery
2401 Blake St #1
Denver, CO. 80205
(On the corner of 24th & Blake)
303.296.2617