Podcast Episode 235: Barrett Tillman of BlackMan Brewing Tells Stories Through Beer

When the former head brewer of a prominent Texas brewery left the large-scale production world for his own small project, the reasons were as much systemic as they were creative. Now, his Costa Rican-based brand is poised to grow… and tell new stories.

Jamie Bogner Apr 22, 2022 - 6 min read

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Barrett Tillman’s love affair with yeast started innocently enough—as his small group of homebrewing friends divided up brewday tasks, he arbitrarily chose yeast duty. Little did he know that choice would turn into a passion that would define his brewing career for the past decade.

Homebrewing led him to pursue brewing professionally, and over the course of a few years and a few different positions, he eventually landed at Deep Ellum Brewing in Dallas, where he became head brewer. Sour beer has long been his passion, and even in this commercial environment, he was able to bring his fermentation experience to bear, launching the brewery’s first kettle-soured beer.

However, a series of events led Tillman to question the systemic culture of craft beer and the toll it can take on individuals. The social requirement to be chief party officer led him to do things that he ultimate didn’t feel comfortable doing—from leading bar-wide beer chugs to drinking in an unhealthy way. Those behaviors ultimately led to a crux moment where Tillman was arrested for DWI while parked in his own driveway.

In this episode, Tillman recounts those experiences—the pressure to conform to a brewing culture that privileged the party (and beer sales) over people; the downside of compounding factors that led to him questioning his future in brewing; and the sabbatical and realization that caused him to search for new ways of working in the brewing world, to satisfy his need for authenticity and connection.

Today, Tillman runs his own brewing project, BlackMan Brewing, via contract-brewing arrangements with brewer friends in Costa Rica. On top of that, he’s working on projects stateside to extend the brand, and the philosophy of beermaking, in meaningful ways. Sour beer and complex fermentations remain his first loves and focus, but connecting people to beers with backstory is his newfound passion.

This episode is brought to you by:

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Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].

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