Black Project: Denver’s top secret(ish) brewery

Founder and Head Brewer at Black Project, James Howat, explains how he’s using his microbiological expertise to brew beer in a unique fashion in the US’ premier brewing location.

If you head south out of Denver on the city’s South Broadway, with the stunning Rocky Mountains on your right, you might come across a brewery and taproom which sounds like it belongs in Langley, Virginia, rather than Colorado.

But Black Project Brewing is no top-secret mission – not only can you sample its produce, but you can also see the brewing apparatus used to craft its unique rotating selection of beers. Saying this, the Black Project is no ordinary brewery, it does not pump ordinary beers through its pipes. And luckily for us, its Founder, James Howat, is no CIA operative (that we know of) and is far more partial to a chat than the folks at Langley.

Here, he spills the beans, laying the project’s secrets bare.

Shady beginnings

Although Howat is not designing secret spy aircraft or reconnaissance satellites like some of the now well-known so-called ‘Black Projects’ of the past, the story of how the brewery arrived in its current guise does share some characteristics with those backroom ventures.

“We could only afford to enter one beer in the Great American Beer Festival (GABF),” said Howat, whose brewery and taproom was then called ‘Former Future’. “I was telling people about this spontaneous fermentation beer I had brewed, and they would reply with ‘what are you talking about? We haven’t heard about this!’ – I didn’t know whether it would be any good or not!

“We called it the Black Project because it was this big secret. I had investors, as we had just opened, and I was taking cash out of the register to buy barrels, because we wanted to keep it locked down. It actually won a medal at GABF, and so from there we started releasing other beers we’d made in bottles every few months. People would be queueing to get hold of one.”

Eventually, Howat found that the Black Project beers he was brewing on the quiet were becoming less and less of a secret. “It was like lightning in a bottle.”

As a result, the Black Project became public knowledge and took up more and more of Howat’s time until eventually, Former Future was renamed Black Project Brewing, with several beers manufactured each month.

What makes Black Project unique?

Two words separate Black Project from almost all of Denver’s other 150 plus breweries: spontaneous fermentation.