In the United States, it’s not uncommon to find long lines outside of breweries like Jester King, Allagash and Black Project, which specialize in producing spontaneously fermented beers. These Belgian-style sours are incredibly complex creations, and educated beer geeks are willing to pay high prices for a single bottle.
In Belgium, the situation is a little different. Breweries there sometimes transfer these lambics, as they are called, straight from wooden aging vessels to tanks and then directly into kegs or even plastic bags. The beers are served flat, fresh and cheap. They're a drink for the masses rather than just the educated few.
Brandon and Lisa Boldt will bring that tradition to Colorado starting on Saturday, April 14, when they open Primitive Beer, a small blending facility and taproom in Longmont that will serve uncarbonated sour lambic-style ales. All of the beers and blends will be aged in wooden puncheons for nine months to three years.
Located in a walkable part of Longmont’s Prospect neighborhood, Primitive will only be open two days per month, but its beer will be relatively affordable compared to similar lambic-style ales. The Boldts will have it on tap for $18 to $20 per pitcher, and in 1.5-liter (about 51 ounces) boxed bags for $25 a pop. That’s about half of what a similar spontaneously fermented sour might cost in a bottle at another brewery.
“We’ve always wanted to use the Belgian methodology, which is not to overcharge,” Brandon says.
While a few U.S. breweries have made uncarbonated, or “still,” sours, the Boldts believe they are first to sell beer in boxed bags, which are familiar to most wine drinkers — especially college-age kids who play a drinking game called “slap the bag” — and have been around for quite a while in that industry. The bags should also help get across the message that the beers are supposed to be flat, as opposed to most bottled beers.
“This is definitely an experiment,” says Brandon, who acknowledges that it may take a while for people to understand what Primitive is doing. But he and Lisa are willing to wait, especially since they will both keep their full-time jobs at Odd13 Brewing; Brandon has been the head brewer on Odd13’s taproom system for four years, while Lisa has managed the taproom for two.
The couple had always planned to launch a side project of their own that specialized in beers that take several years to make, Lisa says, but they weren’t sure how. “Then we went to Belgium,” she notes, and after trying still sours, they realized, “This is all we want to drink. ... It was so casual, so common. We thought, why not go all in?”
To make the beers, Brandon starts at Odd13, where he brews the wort (unfermented beer) and then trucks it to the Primitive taproom in Longmont. There he pours it into a large, flat, open-topped vessel called a coolship and allows it to sit overnight (for roughly twelve to sixteen hours). The windows are kept open, and a large fan sucks in air from the outside, along with naturally occurring yeast and bacteria. These microfora inoculate the beer and begin the fermentation process, adding wild, funky, fruity, dry and sour flavors and aromas. The beer can only be produced during the colder months because it has to cool naturally.
From there, it is aged in wooden casks for anywhere from nine months to three years. Some of the beers are blended, while others are aged with fruit or hops or other ingredients. Primitive currently has about fifty wooden puncheons along with some port and wine barrels, but the brewery will acquire more as it goes. All of the ingredients, from the malt and hops to the fruit and yeast, come from Colorado.
In Belgium, where spontaneously fermented beers have been brewed for centuries, the styles are usually called lambic or gueuze. Lambics are young beers — sometimes served uncarbonated — while gueuze beers are blends of multiple lambic vintages that are allowed to re-ferment in the bottle. In 2017, in an effort to honor Belgium's tradition without appropriating the words "lambic" and "gueuze," a coalition of of U.S. breweries led by Austin's Jester King came up with its own terminology and mark, called Methode Traditionnelle, to denote beer that is brewed following the standards of Belgian brewers.
Primitive plans to adhere strictly to the Methode Traditionnelle standards.
The base blend is called Unbroken Boulevard of Green Lights, and it will be the first beer that the Boldts sell in bags; they will also have it on tap on opening day, along with five variations. Life’s Complicated was aged with plums, while Friends of Friends of Friends was aged with peaches. Pretty Chill Time includes peaches and hops; Accessibly Business Casual has cherries; and Excessively Business Casual has double the cherries.
They'll all be poured from six refurbished English hand-pulled taps, which Primitive uses to help remind people that the beer isn’t carbonated. “It’s serious beer, but we're silly people,” Lisa says of the names.
The taproom itself is gorgeous. Candles and mood lighting highlight both the wooden barrels and the coolship, which is tucked beneath an indoor pergola and decorated with plants, while a mural that creatively depicts the brewing process is painted on one wall. And Primitive might be the only brewery in Colorado that has washcloths in the bathroom rather than paper towels.
Primitive will be open on the second and fourth Saturday of every month from noon to 10 p.m. Many customers are part of a membership club, which is now closed. But the public is welcome to come in and sample beer and buy boxes to go.