Beer Man

Black Shirt Brewing Hires New Head Brewer As Founders Step Away

David Sakolsky is taking over at Black Shirt Brewing.
David Sakolsky is taking over at Black Shirt Brewing. Dustin Hall/The Brewtography Project
The founders of River North Arts District beer pioneer Black Shirt Brewing have apparently stepped back from day-to-day management of the distinctive taproom and hired a new head brewer, David Sakolsky, to tilt the operation in a different direction. The news comes as a surprise, because brothers and co-founders Chad and Branden Miller have been dedicated fixtures at Black Shirt since it opened in 2012.

Sakolsky, who co-founded New Hampshire's award-winning Deciduous Brewing in 2014, specializes in brewing farmhouse styles and mixed-fermentation beers — particularly goses and saisons — and he plans to make those styles at Black Shirt. As a result, the brewery will shift away from its signature hoppy red ales.

They won't disappear altogether, though. The Red Ale Project grew out of the Millers' core philosophy: Do one thing and do it well. And it "thrived under the watchful eye and creative oversight of Black Shirt co-founder Branden Miller and former head brewer Aaron Holstad," the brewery said in a statement released Thursday. "Pushing the limits of the style and exploring its potential was at the heart of the project."

click to enlarge
This stylized photo shows Black Shirt founders Branden Miller (left), Carissa Miller and Chad Miller.
Black Shirt Brewing
“Red ales are a part of who we are, and they’re not going anywhere," adds Black Shirt spokeswoman Meghan Howes. "Having David at the helm allows us to engage a wider swath of savvy beer consumers who might otherwise have dismissed Black Shirt due to its concentration on red ales.”

Black Shirt, which began serving pizza in 2017, has also changed its logo and will begin producing smaller batches. As a result, its four canned beers aren't likely to be back on liquor store shelves any time soon.

The Millers declined to discuss the details behind the sudden change, But Chad and his wife, Carissa — also a co-founder — have moved to the Western Slope, though Chad is still partially overseeing the brewery and spending some time in Denver. Branden has moved to Crested Butte to pursue a "new opportunity," Howes says. Former head brewer Aaron Holstad, who is Carissa's brother, is moving to Switzerland.

A New Hampshire native, Sakolsky helped found Deciduous, and his beers were lauded by several magazines and websites. In 2015, for instance, Deciduous was ranked as one of the 33 best new breweries in the U.S. by Beer Advocate. A year later, Deciduous was named among the "Best Beers, Brewers, and New Brewers" by RateBeer. Sakolsky left after a falling out with the other owners of the brewery.

Prior to that, he worked for Blue Lobster Brewing, and has apprenticed for both White Birch Brewery and Hill
Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vermont.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes