February houses Valentine’s Day, the 24-hour period where folks are expected to drop their normal routines in favor of either pleasing, or chasing, a significant other with extravagant gifts and grandiose gestures of kindness. Apart from people celebrating the idealism centered on the pairing of two individuals, breweries have also been dipping their toes in these gleaming waters through various collaborations. These combos are birthed from neighboring businesses, and sometimes national competitors. Typically, the concoctions are well-received and delicious.
“We like to reach out to other breweries,” Devils Backbone Brewmaster Jason Oliver says. “Each collaboration is different because you’re either working with an individual or a group. One cool thing is there’s no set formula. Sometimes it’s complimentary and sometimes it’s contrasting. It’s a cool way to step out of our comfort zone.”
This trend isn’t likely to be a fleeting infatuation either, as more and more craft breweries plunge headfirst into the rapidly burgeoning industry. The ever-increasing number of businesses creates a plethora of opportunities for brewmasters to put their heads together. This is true whether the beermakers are similar or vastly different. Often, the unions create beverages for events or simply because they’re big fans of one another.
“Collaborations get started in a number of different ways,” says Jeff Hancock, president, cofounder and head brewer at DC Brau. “It normally happens when sharing the same space or a cobranded event with another brewery. It’s kind of like a ‘I dig what you do’ and ‘I dig what you do as well’ type of conversation.”
In Denver, these idea exchanges have earned their own festival with Collaboration Fest. Organizer PJ Hoberman says the nationally recognized celebration of these unique brews is always a sellout. Though it started as an idea for Colorado Craft Beer Week, it is now a gathering where breweries from across the country flock.
“I don’t think you’ll start seeing collaboration-only beer bars anytime soon,” Hoberman says. “But collaborations have been a part and will continue to be a part of this incredible industry. It’s a way for brewers to work with and learn from those they respect.”
Though the most common collaboration involves two companies actually in the business of producing beers, that’s not necessarily a prerequisite. DC Brau has been known to collaborate with bands, and a number of national breweries have joined forces with artists, nonprofits and other various organizations. While this isn’t a traditional beer merger, it’s still an exchange of ideas.
“I’d love to work on a beer with a well-known English metal band called Orange Goblin,” Hancock says. “Following in the same trend, I’d love to work with local metal outfit Clutch on a brew as well. I’ve been a fan of Clutch since I was in high school, and they all grew up locally.”
While patrons reap the rewards most, other entities enjoy the unions as well. The DC Brewer’s Ball on March 4 offers DMV breweries a ripe opportunity to connect with one another, and the organizers of the ball themselves in an effort to produce things folks in the area have yet to taste. Not to mention, it provides a chance to build camaraderie to raise awareness for a stellar cause, such as last year’s creation from Belly Love Brewing Company and Adroit Theory – the first ever Brewer’s Ball collaborative beer.
“We’re excited to announce that Belly Love and Adroit Theory will be at it again for this year’s event, brewing up something special,” says Erin Leahey, a Brewer’s Ball organizer and the senior developmental director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “Their collaboration is a true testament to the generosity of the craft beer community at large, and that is what collaboration is all about.”
However, it’s still important to find the right dance partner. When making any product in tandem, the breweries must be on the same wavelength; not necessarily in practice, but in the vision of their coopted creation.
“[Last year], we did our first two collaborations ever,” says Chris Van Orden, Port City Brewing Manager of Marketing and Outreach. “It’s important to come up with something that shows everyone who both brewers are. With our collaboration with Schlafly Beer, we were going to do something that both of our respective fan bases would appreciate.”
The actual workflow varies tremendously, with each brewery visiting one another at separate times, or doing one big batch at a singular location.
“Another collaboration we did was with DC Brau, and we went out for a couple of visits,” Van Orden says. “We’ve been growing together, and we know each other very well.”
The fusion of ideas isn’t limited to proximity however, as Devils Backbone’s Oliver cites a collaboration effort with the nationally prominent Sierra Nevada Brewing Company based out of Chico, Calif.
Devils Backbone is currently in the midst of a collaboration adventure pack, working with Virginia breweries Parkway Brewing Company, Ocelot Brewing Company, Mad Fox Brewing Company, O’Connor Brewing Company and Three Notch’d Brewing Company. The pack is set to be available in early April.
“It gives you inspiration to do beers you normally wouldn’t do, or it gives you an excuse to do a beer that you’ve wanted to do for awhile, but couldn’t find a justification [for],” Oliver says.
DC Brau is working on a few collaborations this year as well, including a project with local black metal band Darkest Hour titled Savor the Swill, a Belgian Farmhouse IPA with Union Craft and an imperial Pilsner called Conflict of Interest.
If I were to attempt to write every collaboration due for 2017, the enormous list would probably be longer than an issue of On Tap, but the ones above and the DC Brewer’s Ball in March provide a glimpse of what happens when breweries sit in a room together and create. And why wouldn’t they? Artists in all mediums routinely combine knowledge, and the craft beer industry is ultimately no different.
“Everybody gets to learn how other folks do it, and it’s really helpful,” Van Orden says.