Brothers Chad and Branden Miller started with a home-brewed family recipe when Chad was 18. Although it took 167 iterations and over a decade of preparations to turn this ‘red ale project’ into what is now Black Shirt Brewing Co., they are still very much rooted to their origins. “It’s finding your identity and feeling good about your vision and executing it, and that’s what we try to do every day,” said Chad.
“People see Red Evelyn on the shelves and go, ‘oh, another double IPA.’ But do you know the nuances are based on memories… a time and place and this woman, who has an amazing story?”
This brewing and life philosophy comes full circle with their fall-winter seasonal, Red Evelyn. Evelyn is a tribute beer to the brothers’ grandmother, Evelyn Miller.
“People see Red Evelyn on the shelves and go, ‘Oh, another double IPA.’ But do you know the nuances are based on memories? And what you smell will evoke a time and place and this woman, who has an amazing story, and had an amazing impact on my life?,” said Chad.”But when I moved away from Westcliffe I never really got to thank her or tell her what she meant to me.”
He went on to describe a seminal moment in his and the brewery’s development when he awoke from a dream where he finally got to thank his grandmother and decided immediately that he needed to brew Red Evelyn.
“Me and her were at my high school gymnasium and there was no sound. I got to tell my grandmother how much she meant to me and thank her for everything she’s done for me,” said Chad.
The resulting beer is an imperial red rye India pale ale with honey, but pigeon-holing it into a category belies the level of complex aromas and flavors that make it so special. The woman who bears its namesake has just as much of a storied past, as Chad explained Evelyn was involved in a horrific car accident at the age of 30, which left her disfigured in body, but not in spirit. Following a divorce from the Miller’s grandfather soon thereafter, Evelyn opened her own general store in Westcliffe, CO which she ran for 53 years. When the Miller brothers’ father passed away while they were still young, Evelyn took over the reigns as the family matriarch and helped raise them.
“Every little thing, foxtail pine in her yard, the currant bushes, the wildflowers that she grew. I brewed a beer so specific for those memories.”
The beer itself proves to be a struggle every year, due to several factors include a long list of ingredients and brewing with non-barley malt like rye which can gum up the mash.
“This year especially,” said Chad of this year’s Red Evelyn. “We brew it every year and release it in the middle of August for her birthday. This year’s batch did not go as planned, we dumped the batch, re-brewed it, and released it on December 19.” Chad takes it as a sign that their grandmother is still looking over the boys and keeping them on their toes. “We have to be on edge because something is going to go awry,” said Chad.
Additional components include hop varietals with grapefruit-like aromas and flavors, reminiscent of the morning breakfast she enjoyed every day; and the malt flavors of toffee, which she kept on a central table in her kitchen. Granted, all of these flavors can be found in many thousands of beers around the globe; however they aren’t typically all found together, and in such harmonious balance.
Great chefs talk of layering flavors when creating a dish, not just emphasizing one flavor note that drowns out other subtleties. Chad describes this beer, and others like it, in the same vein. Due to the extensiveness of the ingredients, and the labor-intensive nature of making this beer happen, little to no profit is made on its limited bottle release, which amounts to 2,000 bottles a year. For the Millers this journey has not been about the money, it’s been about creating a unique art form, and being able to express themselves and their ideologies on their terms. Red Evelyn represents the legacy the Millers are trying to build, which is tied so much to their family history. And thankfully for us, they’re sharing their memories one glass at a time.