Black Project, TRVE

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

JAMES AND SARAH HOWAT of Den­ver, Colorado’s Black Project Spon­ta­neous & Wild Ales love brew­ing with grapes, not just for the fla­vor con­tri­bu­tions they pro­vide, but also for the fer­men­ta­tion ben­e­fit. Black Project is ded­i­cated to spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion—no pitched cul­tures, no in­oc­u­lated bar­rels, just 100 per­cent cool-ship-cooled wort and the air­borne cul­ture that then fer­ments the beer.

With many of their spon­ta­neous beers con­di­tioned on fruit, they add the fruit to fin­ished beer so that refer­men­ta­tion oc­curs but the ba­sic char­ac­ter of their spon­ta­neously fer­mented, lam­bic-in­spired beer re­mains in bal­ance. With grapes, how­ever, they take full ad­van­tage of the wild mi­croflora—wild yeast and bac­te­ria—that live on the skins of grapes (the same mi­croflora that wine­mak­ers have used for mil­lenia to fer­ment wine). That mi­croflora, to­gether with what­ever the wort picks up through their cool­ship, han­dles all the fer­men­ta­tion du­ties.

“We crushed and destemmed the grapes in house, then did an ex­tended mac­er­a­tion on them, punch­ing them down ev­ery day and let­ting them soak on the skins,” says James Howat. “We did a free run to get a lit­tle lower acid­ity and tan­nin ex­trac­tion (also be­cause we don’t have a press that’s worth a damn), and it’s a lit­tle bit waste­ful, but we got sixty-ish gal­lons of juice per thou­sand pounds of fruit. Then we took that juice and blended it with beer out of the cool­ship.”

Howat sus­pects that the wild cul­ture from the grapes han­dled more of the fer­men­ta­tion load be­cause the amount of wild yeast typ­i­cally found on grape skins is much higher than that found in am­bi­ent air.

While the fruit they ac­quire from vine­yards on Colorado’s West­ern Slope varies from year to year, they’ve de­vel­oped some clear fa­vorite va­ri­eties. “Cab Franc this year was re­ally berry and jammy,” says Howat. “Mer­lot is more stereo­typ­i­cal ‘red wine’ to me—good tan­nin and nice acid­ity. Mal­bec was choco­latey in an al­most bizarre way, but also fruity—like cherry hot choco­late, al­most.”

Howat in­sists the re­la­tion­ship be­tween sour beer and great wine is closer than most wine­mak­ers are will­ing to ac­knowl­edge. “There have been some stud­ies that show that Bret­tanomyces plays a lot larger role, in fine red wines es­pe­cially, than peo­ple talk about,” says Howat. “I think that’s great.” —Jamie Bogner

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