Summit County Powder Keg: Red, red beer for Valentine’s Day
Blackshirt Brewing Company
Address: 3719 Walnut St, Denver, CO 80205
Hours: Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from 2-9 p.m.
As Friday the 14th draws nearer, people everywhere are gearing up for celebration, whether it’s making reservations at a fancy restaurant, renting a favorite romantic comedy or making plans with a group of friends to specifically not celebrate a certain love-focused holiday.
In anticipation of the day of roses, I decided to go on a few dates of my own, each with a different red beer. After IPAs, reds are my favorite, so I was excited to tackle this project. Here’s how it went:
Date 1: Irish Red Ale by Pyramid Breweries
ABV: 5.5 percent IBU: 17
First impressions: This ale poured a nice, dark copper color and looked very pretty in the glass.
Conversation: It proclaims it is “distinctly dry,” and it is. The first flavors of note are the malts, although not too sickly sweet, which is nice (no one wants to be called “honey-boo” on the first date). The hop bitterness came through next, but also not too strong, in my opinion.
Final thoughts: A good “middle of the road” beer, and one I’d suggest to someone just starting out on reds.
Date 2: Runoff Red IPA by Odell Brewing Co.
ABV: 6.5 percent IBU: 50
First impressions: An IPA and a red rolled into one? Be still, my heart!
Conversation: The hops come through right away, upfront and honest, with a pleasant mix of citrus and pine. Once the bitterness melts on the taste buds, the malt follows with a very slight, sweet finish.
Final thoughts: This is definitely a favorite, and many others seem to agree. Plus, its ruby red color looks great in the glass.
Date 3: Kingpin double red ale by Bridgeport Brewing
ABV: 7.5 percent IBU: 65
First impressions: More bitter and with a higher alcohol by volume than the two previous beers, and it’s definitely noticeable.
Conversation: As a Northwestern girl at heart, I can’t help but love the fact that Kingpin is triple-hopped and hails from Oregon. It’s brewed with Oregon-local Liberty hops and has just enough of a malt tone to remind me that it’s a red beer.
Final thoughts: A good beer in moderation.
These three beers, of course, represent only a fraction of what’s out there. While I was going through my list, I also came across a red that I’m dying to try but doesn’t come out until March. I present —
The Dream Date: Fire and Blood Red Ale by Ommegang Brewery
This will be the third in Ommegang’s “Game of Thrones” series, with beers based on and named after the popular HBO TV show, which is based off of the popular “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy series by George R. R. Martin. While at the Great American Beer Festival this year, I got to taste the Take the Black Stout, which was amazing and convinced me that these brews are more than just a catchy name. I’m more than ready to sit down to watch Season 4 with a big glass of Fire and Blood Red Ale in front of me.
A word with the experts
I also recently became aware of a very interesting and exciting thing happening over in Denver. Blackshirt Brewing Co. brews exclusively red style beers, from the traditional red ale to a red porter and everything in between. In honor of the upcoming red beer holiday, I sent them a few questions. Here were their responses:
When starting your brewery, why did you choose to focus exclusively on reds? (i.e., What is the Red Ale Project?)
At an early age, our father sat us down and said, “If you want to be successful, pick one thing and try and do it better than anyone else.” Brewing beer is our family’s tradition that goes back hundreds of years, and red ale was the first recipe that we were taught. We brewed our flagship red ale for three years (165 times) to hone our craft and dial in our recipe. Our entire lineup of red ales (currently 16, which vary from a Red Saison to an Imperial Red Rye India Ale to a Red Porter) all start off from the same grain bill as our Colorado Red Ale. From there, we use different yeast strains, hop varietals, mashing techniques, hopping methods, minerals, spices, carbonation techniques, microorganisms and aging techniques to showcase the versatility of the Red Ale style. We have thousands of ideas of different red ales that have yet to make it to the brew kettle. Stay tuned!
What is it about red beer that inspires you?
The hue. It reminds us of our past and where we grew up. The Sangre De Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range awoke us to nature and its beauty. The red hue of those mountains is burned into our memories and will always have a special place in our hearts.
It seems that red beer is often overlooked. Do you agree? Why or why not?
New styles or takes on style are constantly being created and people tend to gravitate toward what is currently trending. We respect tradition but are constantly trying to innovate new ideas and methods to create something truly special. The red ale style lends itself to be very diverse — think West Flanders Reds, India Red Ale, Red Saison or Red Porter.
Can you briefly explain, to the average layman, what makes a beer “red?”
Barley is roasted to different degrees. We use 10-plus different specialty grains, which range from a pale yellow color to black as night. When combined in perfect harmony, these different grains create a red hue. We ferment all of our beer with top-fermenting ale yeast, hence the Red Ale Project.
Which of your current red beer styles did you find the most challenging to achieve?
Red Evelyn. We brew this beer in tribute to the life and memory of our grandmother. We wanted to design a beer that encapsulated our memories of her: the grapefruit she cut in the morning for breakfast, the pine notes that reminded us of the 30 foxtail pines that surrounded her house, the wildflowers she grew in her rock gardens and the spunkiness of her spirit.
We brew this beer once a year and release it on her birthday (Aug. 16). It is an Imperial red rye India ale that boasts 9.5 percent ABV with a grapefruit and piney hop cut to slice through the Belgian candy sugar and Colorado wildflower honey. We hope we made her proud.
Where can someone try your beer? Short of smuggling, could we possibly find it here in the mountains?
We built our taproom over the course of 2½ years and are always eager to show it off. Currently, our beer is only sold in 30 select liquor stores and 15 select restaurants and tap houses in metro Denver. Our hometown of Westcliffe just received their first shipment, and if our beer follows our hearts, it will be in the mountains soon!
Which red beer (yours or from another brewery) would you pour for that one lucky person on Valentine’s Day?
G’Night from Oskar Blues or Runoff Red from Odell come to mind as stellar choices for that special someone. If we could turn back time, Red Evelyn for Evelyn, of course.
Anything else you would like to add?
Well, we’ve worn black T-shirts for as long as we can remember. The name of the brewing company speaks of our history and what we stand for. We have no affiliation with college football or Italian fascism, for that matter. Think more counterculture and Johnny Cash than pigskin. Yep — black T-shirts, red ales and great music!
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