Beer Man

Former Future Changes Name to Black Project, Switches Focus to Sour, Wild Beers

Former Future Brewing is a thing of the past. The present lies with Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales.

James and Sarah Howat, who founded Former Future on South Broadway in 2014, have decided to refocus and rebrand their brewery — changing the name, the decor and, most important, the beer menu — after the popularity of their side effort, Black Project, took off in the past year. They have been hinting at the change on social media over the past few weeks and will reveal the new look today at 2 p.m.

“If I could, I would run both breweries, but we can’t open another tap room, so we had to make a choice, financially and legally,” explains James Howat. “It’s a little sad to leave Former Future behind, but it made sense for us to just put all of our energy and our focus behind one brand.”

As part of the change, Black Project will take over some space from an antique shop next door, where it will be able to store one hundred oak wine barrels for aging beer, along with other, larger wooden containers, possibly some puncheons or a foeder (both are large wooden barrels). The brewery has also ordered a ten-barrel custom-made copper coolship — an open-topped fermentation vessel — which will replace the two large stock pots that Howat now uses.

Former Future opened in early 2014 with a Steampunk theme and a lineup of beers that ranged from saisons to pale ales to the standout Salted Caramel Porter. But soon after opening, the Howats began experimenting with beers fermented with naturally occurring yeast that was captured from the air around the brewery — a longtime interest for the couple.

Those experiments resulted in the creation of the the Black Project, a secondary brand dedicated to wild and sour ales fermented primarily with the naturally occurring yeast and other microbes. One of the beers immediately won a medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival and began attracting attention from sour- and wild-ale lovers (Black Project won a second GABF medal last year). Westword profiled the Howats and Black Project in a cover story last fall, just before the festival.

Capturing yeast this way was common in Europe — Belgium in particular — for centuries, and the technique relies mostly on happenstance: The yeast that ferments the beer is whatever happens to land in an open vat of beer, rather than a cultivated strain consciously selected by a brewmaster. Brewers today are able to isolate certain wild strains, however, in order to create the flavor profiles they are looking for. Belgium’s Cantillon is the most well-known brewery making spontaneously-fermented beers, but several U.S. craft brewers do, too.

The Howats have been capturing the yeast by putting their coolship on the roof of their building, after which they propagate the yeast, brew the beer and ferment it in wooden barrels inside. The new coolship will be located inside, in a room with open windows (which is similar to traditional spontaneous-fermentation breweries). They could only make a limited amount, however, and bottles typically sold out within hours of going on sale at the brewery.
In recent weeks, though, Former Future experimented with putting only Black Project beers on tap in the tap room to see how they would do. “They always outsell the other beers,” Howat says. “The people who are already coming in here are buying these beers already.” In addition, people from other states and other parts of Colorado have been seeking out the brewery because of its focus on spontaneous ales. “We have a chance to be the only brewery in the state doing 100 percent” spontaneous fermentation, he adds.

Black Project will likely have six to eight of these beers on tap at all times, and although most will have sour, wild or funky notes, some will use wild yeast to make beers that taste “clean,” Howat says. He will do this by isolating certain strains of yeast that have different flavor profiles. One, for instance, will be an IPA.

The new look, new beers and the new name will all make their grand entrance today at the brewery. There will still be some Salted Caramel Porter on tap for a few weeks as well, for those who love it.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes