Viper | Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Unfortunately this was promised. Between COVID restrictions and repercussions and rising costs in the beer industry, everyone predicted breweries would start closing. A few that made some questionable moves like expanding too quickly or spending money they didn’t have folded, but we could see that coming. (I’m honestly surprised an additional few didn’t close, especially those that expanded quickly.) Black Project, however, wasn’t on my closing radar. I thankfully grabbed the only Black Project beer I could find when in Denver last year – a collaboration with Mr. B’s Wine and Spirits, Viper.
Black Project Spontaneous Ales grew out of Former Future. Opened in 2014 by James and Sarah Howat, Former Future brewed IPAs, saisons and their standout Salted Caramel Porter. But at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) that year, Former Future won a gold for Black Project #1, an American Wild Ale. Due to that success, the Howats went full steam ahead with wild and spontaneous beer, fully transitioning to Black Project by 2016.
We here at ABV Chicago love Black Project. We first interviewed James at GABF 2015 and they immediately made my list of Best Booth (Beer) at the fest. The following year they received the honor of having my Beer of the Festival; eventually Black Project dominated too much of my GABF coverage that I promoted them to the GABF Hall of Fame. It was always a treat to visit them when in town for GABF. So it was salt in the wound that they announced their closure about a month before GABF last year. Having heard that, I made it a point to grab as much Black Project as I could while in Denver. Only Viper remained.
Mr. B’s Wine and Spirits is one of the best bottle shops in Denver. They’ve been open for 13 years at this point, so they’ve collaborated with a fair amount of Denver-area breweries on beer. For Viper, they brewed a “Méthode Traditionnelle” blended beer and dry-hopped it with Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau Blanc. It looks like it came out in October 2018, but Mr. B’s kept some back to release at various events and promotions over the years. Unfortunate that it’s a dry-hopped beer, but I’ll take what I can get.
Viper pours golden with very little head. What little head there is rests on the outer rim of the glass. Bubbles constantly flow up in the glass, while I can clearly see my finger on the other side. Notes of barnyard funk and moldy cheese come at you first and hard. I typically get those aromas – especially in this intensity – on Belgian produced beers and not American ones. A balance of lemon and lime joins the party while some grassy nose flavors round things out. A hint of smokiness even comes across as well as an overall basement must. A very complex and interesting aroma.
Unfortunately that funk promise really doesn’t encapsulate the palate experience with Viper. All that funk on the nose does show up, but it primarily appears on the back of the tongue and camps there. The entirety of the rest of the sip features a lemon curd tartness that absolutely dominates. The barnyard funk at the end prevents it from transitioning over to sour but the tartness is significant. Bitterness also arrives at the end of the sip but it’s less of the grass or pine variety and veers more towards a cardboard bitterness. Thankfully that bitterness doesn’t linger, as Viper moves across the tongue fast, leaving only tartness and some resting funk behind.
Have I had better Black Project beers? Yes. Does this encapsulate what Black Project did while a brewery? Also yes. I would definitely have preferred a Black Project beer that wasn’t dry-hopped and sitting around for a bit more than 4 years. It wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t what I know Black Project was capable of or what Viper must’ve tasted like fresh. I’m thankful to have been able to try Black Project’s beers while they were active and enjoyed them immensely. Not too many American breweries are making beer like this at the level they did. Black Project will live on in the shirt I have from them (and the last Oxcart I bought years ago). I’m sorry to see Black Project close up shop and wish for only the best for James and Sarah Howat. Hopefully they pop up doing something spontaneous in the near future.