You're going to spill beer on your shirt. That part is guaranteed. But when people understand why the owners of Black Shirt Brewing have decided to serve their red ales exclusively in glasses with slanted rims, it will all make sense.
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Made by Offero Vessels in Golden, the glasses are based on a coffee-mug design that is engineered to capture the aromas of a beverage as you bring the glass to your lips.
"It will make people slow down and consider what is going on in that glass," says Black Shirt co-founder and head brewer Branden Miller. "When people first see it, it's a little off-putting, and the beer will end up on your shirt. But it's a risk I'm willing to take."
But it's not the only risk. Miller and his brother Chad and Chad's wife, Carissa, have put everything on the line for Black Shirt, which is tentatively scheduled to open in August in the River North neighborhood, and they are doing things a little differently. First, there's the beer. "My dad always told us you should focus on one thing and do that one thing better than anybody else," Miller says. "So, we are brewing one style and one style only, red ales, in hopes of showcasing the four ingredients in beer." For instance, they plan to brew an imperial red rye IPA that will bring out the bready flavors of certain rye malts; their red saison, meanwhile, will highlight a Belgian yeast strain.
Then there's the neighborhood. Located right next to a liquor store on busy Walnut Steet between 38th Avenue and Downing, Black Shirt won't be the first brewery in RiNo, but the Millers have incorporated a lot of RiNo into the feel of their place.
The bar and the tables in the taproom are all made from the flooring of box-car trains -- and, in fact, you can watch the trains go by from the back deck of the brewery, where Black Shirt is growing its own hops and vegetables. A light-rail station is also being built just a block away to complement the bus stop right outside the bright red front door.
Miller, who works at Duo, will also have a small food prep area inside the brewery, where he hopes to get some of his chef-minded friends in the restaurant business to whip up plates of cheese or charcuterie or whatever they want. But it's the red ales and the Offero glasses that will really set Black Shirt apart.
The brewery will start with 250 stemmed glasses, which it will use for full, twelve-ounce pours, and 250 stemless glasses, which it will use for beer flights.
To drink from one of the glasses, you raise the lower portion of the glass to your lips, letting the higher side rest against your forehead (or glasses, in some cases). It can be awkward at first, and if you've had a few or forget what you are doing, it's very easy to spill.
The effect, though, is similar to what happens if you cup your hand behind a glass of beer or wine, or a mug of coffee, to trap the aromas against your nose. Doing so elevates your senses, while the glass design actually forces you to pay attention to every sip, changing the experience of drinking into a much more active one.
And that's exactly how Offero founder Mitch Bangert, a Wyoming fly-fishing guide, came up with the idea for the slanted design. A coffee geek, he was at a tasting when the host asked everyone to cup their hand behind their mugs as they were drinking. "They claim that 80 to 85 percent of your enjoyment of something comes from your olfactory senses. An example is that when you have a cold and can't smell, everything tastes like crap," Bangert says. "So if you can enhance your olfactory senses, it makes everything taste better."
It was a lightbulb moment. Bangert scoured the Internet for a mug design that had the concept built into it. He couldn't find one and decided to do it himself. After some trial and error, he began selling his mugs at trade shows and quickly garnered a lot of attention -- and some awards -- from coffee and wine drinkers. So far, he has applied for four patents on the glasses and has received approval for one. Now, he's onto beer.
Bangert, who started bringing his own coffee mugs with him to restaurants, met Miller at Duo one morning. "We started talking, and he totally got it," Bangert says. Since then, Miller has been Bangert's sounding board when it comes to the design.
"It really accentuates the flavors of beer," he says. "I think the beer industry is going to go nuts over it." So far, Black Shirt is still Offero's only beer client, but Bangert has had discussions with several other breweries across the country.
Breweries that don't mind a little spilled beer. "It's interesting," Bangert says of the awkward factor. "Around 90 percent of the people just love them right off, but some people don't feel comfortable with them. It makes them claustrophobic." Bangert encourages people to take off their glasses or close their eyes when they are drinking, "because when it hits you, you are sort of becoming one with the glass." Focus on one thing and do that one thing better than anybody else.
Drinking from the Offero glasses has changed Miller's perceptions so much that even the sight of a regular old pint glass makes him angry now -- and he doesn't want his red ales served in one.
The Millers will have four on beers on tap when they open this August, but would like to have eight on tap eventually. They'll make them with a four-barrel brewing system along with a smaller, ten-gallon pilot system for more unusual beers. The brothers have two fifteen-barrel fermenter and six 27-gallon fermenters.
And while it might seem strange that they are limiting themselves just to red ales, there are actually a lot of beer styles that fall within that parameter.
There are three red styles and one sub-style, according to the judging categories at the Great American Beer Festival: American-style amber/reds range from light copper to light brown and are characterized by a medium hop bitterness, flavor and aroma; Imperial reds have intense hop bitterness, flavor and aroma and a higher alcohol content; Irish-style reds have a medium hop bitterness and a low to medium, candy-like caramel malt sweetness; and Belgian-style Flanders/Oud Bruin Oud Red Ales (a subcategory of Belgian-style Lambic or Sour Ales) are characterized by a lactic sourness and cherry-like aroma or flavor that is sometimes a little sweet.
But that's just the beginning. Using certain malts, like Crystal, Munich and Victory, can give almost any style of beer a reddish color. (Black Shirt plans to get most of its malts from the Colorado Malting Company and most of its hops from local farms as well.) But the red ale designation will also give more people a reason to visit, Branden says, especially in the increasingly crowded local brewery market in Denver.
Focus on one thing and do that one thing better than anybody else. "What's cool is that a lot of the other breweries that are opening are focusing on one style," Miller says. River North Brewing, for instance does mainly Belgian beers, while Prost will stick to German lgers when it opens in LoHi later this summer.
Our Mutual Friend Brewing, just a few blocks away in Five Points, is planning to malt its own barley, which will make it special in another way.
"I don't do German beers, but I love them, so when I want a German beer, I'll go over there," Miller says. "When people want a red ale, they'll come to us."
And if they like the beer enough, they'll try really, really hard not to spill.
Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan and on Facebook at Colo BeerMan
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