Barrett Tillman, founder and leader of BlackMan Brewing in Dallas, Texas, has ambitious goals. “I’m about bringing people together that are very good at what they do,” says Tillman. And so far his beers have been making good on his ambition.
Tillman spent some time making cider before working as a head brewer at one of Dallas-Forth Worth’s largest breweries. But working for someone else’s brewery doesn’t allow creative control, you tell someone else’s stories. That wasn’t what Tillman wanted to do.
“Get to know the story behind your beers,” he says. “We’re asking our consumers to reach into their pockets and not buy a six pack of beer but to buy a fine bottle. And as a brewer myself, all of my beers are inspired by something. That’s my niche. That’s me as a person.”
So Tillman struck out on his own. As a brewer without a brick and mortar facility, he’s been called a “contract brewer” but he just calls what he does “making rare beer brewed with friends.” Sometimes that’s at a local Texas establishment, Small Brewpub, and sometimes it’s international, such as his Lichtenhainer, a historic style of smoked Berliner Weisse that is manufactured at Treintaycinco Fábrica Artesanal de Cervezas in Costa Rica.
Tillman likens the flavor profile of BlackMan Brewing’s Lichtenhainer, “Smoking Lit”, as bacon, grapefruit, and brett. Brettanomyces is often cited for its ability to layer complex flavor profiles into beer. It can contribute notes of cherries, or stone fruit, or have stranger descriptors like olive tapenade, barnyard, or bleu cheese flavors.
BlackMan Brewing Influences
If Tillman’s influence sounds familiar, perhaps you’re thinking of another well-known contract brewer, Stillwater Artisinal’s Brian Strumke. Tillman has borrowed concepts and ideas from Stillwater and likes the idea of a DJ “who just so happened to be into beer, who just so happened to be making the styles of beers that I like. Saison is right up my alley,” he says with excitement.
Tillman’s saisons are slowly becoming the stuff of legend. His MVP Saison is a hoppy saison aged on wild yeast. His “Gesho Forest” does have hops, but only for a bittering charge, allowing the aroma of the ingredients used—cinnamon, hickory, and African Gesho bark—to come through. “My real focus is trying to pull complexity out of wild yeast,” he says. It is the Belgian motif that moves Tillman. As he speaks of his house culture, a mix of brewing yeast and bacteria, his passion is palpable.
“When you walk into a beer store, the Belgian beers are the beers that have the dust on the bottles,” Tillman notes, “Everyone’s fighting over the IPAs and stouts. But to make a beer that can be on the shelf and be this beautiful thing three years down the line, that’s real skill. That’s art. And so that’s the reason why it’s like fine wine—it gets better with time. But you have to create it that way.”