"An amalgamation of breweries. A dichotomous combination of flavors. Tart and refreshing yet full bodied and malty. It’s not black magic, it’s BlackTart.”
Those four sentences culminated months of planning and hard work that resulted in the 2015 Cincinnati Beer Week collaboration beer BlackTart.
An effort from 15 local breweries — Bad Tom Smith, Blank Slate, Cellar Dweller, Christian Moerlein, Ei8ht Ball, Fifty West, Listermann, MadTree, Moerlein Lager House, Mt. Carmel, Old Firehouse, Rhinegeist, Rivertown, Rock Bottom and Triple Digit — BlackTart is a tart stout brewed with cinnamon, lactose and blackberries. The blackberries provide a tart, sweet, acidic fruit flavor, while cinnamon hides in the background, providing a subtle complementary note, and lactose, a common sugar derived from milk, adds sweetness and body to the beer. This stout packs a respectable punch at 8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Lindsey Roeper, president of Cincinnati Beer Week, was excited about being a fly on the wall as she listened in on the brewers while they refined the recipe. She knew it would be great but wasn’t sure how all the flavors would come together, she says. That’s when Jeff Hunt, head brewer at MadTree, said, “Picture eating a delicious, sweet, morning pastry with blackberries, with a real nice roasty coffee with just a hint of cinnamon.”
In that moment, Roeper says, it all came together for her.
Christopher Bistany, ale aficionado at Dutch’s in Hyde Park, has reviewed more than 7,000 beers on the website RateBeer.com. His take on BlackTart? “A surprisingly drinkable 8-percent stout. The nice tart blackberry plays well with the dark chocolate and mild coffee, and it’s not as sour as one may think. Bold, bright and unique. Really fun to try.”
BlackTart marks a departure in style and format for Cincinnati Beer Week’s annual collaboration beer: It is the first tart stout and the first collaborative beer to be canned. Previous Cincinnati Beer Week releases were higher ABV beers that made them more ideal for cellaring (after enjoying a few six-packs of course) and included the 2012 Barleywine brewed by Mt. Carmel, 2013 Baltic Porter brewed by Rivertown and last year’s Imperial Pilsner brewed by Christian Moerlein.
Local artist John Pattison, packaging and marketing materials designer at MadTree, designed the BlackTart can, which features a variation of the red and blue Ohio flag with 15 stars to represent each participating brewery. Cavalier Distributing, which distributes MadTree, was responsible for getting the beer to market.
The beer-making process involved all 15 breweries coming together for a brainstorming session at MadTree, where the beer was brewed, as they debated, discussed (and drank) before narrowing down the style, says Brady Duncan, MadTree co-founder.
Following the initial meeting, a series of emails were exchanged as the group finalized what ingredients they wanted to use. During these exchanges, Duncan credits Bryant Goulding, co-founder and VP of Rhinegeist, with coming up with the name.
Due to the complexity of the beer and the brewers’ commitment to quality, MadTree produced a 15-barrel test batch of BlackTart and brewers stopped back in over a few days to provide feedback on the initial run. Only a few minor changes were made before brewing the full batch that yielded approximately 90 barrels. (Duncan revealed that some has been set aside for barrel aging and is likely to be released in about a year.)
“It was a cool experience,” Duncan says. “A collaboration with 15 breweries can be tough. Fifteen chefs in the kitchen is a lot, but there was a lot of camaraderie. It was good to get together on brew day and hang out.”
The amount of breweries involved in Cincinnati Beer Week’s collaboration beer has more than doubled in three years. In 2016, the number of collaborating breweries is expected to increase by at least six. And as the number of local breweries grows, it gets increasingly more difficult to coordinate — Roeper indicated that there will likely be some changes next year.
BlackTart was released at MadTree on Jan. 8, where 50 percent of all BlackTart sales for the day — including T-shirts, posters and cans — went to community arts organization ArtsWave. The beer is currently available on draft or in a can at participating Cincinnati Beer Week venues. And due to the limited nature of the beer, Cincinnati Beer Week suggests confirming availability at your favorite venue before making the trip.
Chris Stevens is a craft beer enthusiast and runs the local beer blog Queen City Fresh. For more information on CINCINNATI BEER WEEK and to find BlackTart tapping events, visit cincinnatibeerweek.com.