Barrett Tillman, Formerly of Deep Ellum Brewing, Embraces Nature as He Creates in Costa Rica

BlackMan Brewing is still going strong, just in Central America instead of Dallas.
BlackMan Brewing is still going strong, just in Central America instead of Dallas. courtesy of Barrett Tillman
More than two years ago, we were writing about how one of the hottest brewers of Deep Ellum Brewing Co. left to go “gypsy.”

It was then that we got to taste the work of Barrett Tillman in his very own brews under the label BlackMan Brewing, commonly from bottles he’d share in North Oak Cliff’s Small Brewpub.

“His beer is wild, unpredictable, tenuous. It's likely to have a mouthfeel and flavor profile unlike anything you've tasted in a pint glass recently. It's quiet but boisterous and always a little risky,” the Observer's Beth Rankin wrote in 2018.

Today, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, DEBC has seen dramatic shifts and Tillman is marking his first full year living in Costa Rica.

It’s there he’s learning Spanish, missing Texas barbecue and keeping his particularly funky beers brewing.

“I am contracting beer releases with Whale Tail Brewery in Uvita de Osa. Sharing space, and [such] nomadic brewing allows me to engage with the local community. Life is simple. I’m either home, bottling small-batch beer, or brewing,” he said in an email Sunday.

click to enlarge Tillman at a market in Costa Rica - COURTESY OF BARRETT TILLMAN
Tillman at a market in Costa Rica
courtesy of Barrett Tillman
He’s developing processes for beers fermented at ambient, environmental temperatures. Much of his work is with wild yeast and microflora native to Costa Rica. His hope is to use those to develop a signature line of yeast.
He’s excited about cultures pulled from cassabanana squash, an aromatic fruit that tastes like cantaloupe crossed with banana, he says.

“The BMB beers made in Costa Rica are soft, complex, layered and also nuanced. It’s beer for the Ticos labeled by the color (Blanca, Rubia, Dorada, Gris and Especial “La Obra Otra”),” he said. “I can express expertise by the color, dropping beer style from the label and description. Each batch is by the brew at ambient environmental temperature with native yeast, [which] is more traditional in approach.”

He uses ingredients purchased in the market, as well those he finds in nature.

click to enlarge Mataron cashew fruit - COURTESY OF BARRETT TILLMAN
Mataron cashew fruit
courtesy of Barrett Tillman
“We create, together, vintage ales bottle-conditioned to age well. I am learning to hold space to hear from farmers and nature. I pray my ales speak of this journey. The experience is shared. We are together dependent on the moment. The locals also work with nature," he said.

For now, we’re interested in a few brews, such as La Obra Blanca, a 5.5% ABV white ale brewed with floral spices and lime peel. Though the Cabriola, a 3.7 ABV little red ale sounds good to have on-hand with its sweet, fruity, caramel biscuit-malt flavor with a low earthy hop profile.

Tillman said brewing in different places has given him the opportunity to connect with communities.

“I am learning a lot about what profession means to a community. I am a brewer by trade. Beer products are my specialty,” he said. “The beers are now far less extreme. The locals drink national lager beer. I am challenging [the] brewing process and technique while challenging myself to make wild, beer enjoyable. Beer produced here [is] for a community to be proud.”

But don’t get terribly excited if you’re reading this from Dallas: The brewer is keeping his beers in Costa Rica for now. Tillman said he plans to travel with beer for pop-ups and tastings — we certainly can’t wait for that. Keep in touch with that news and new brews through Tillman's Instagram.
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.