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Collaborative Brewing: A Growing Trend in the Craft Beer Industry, Part 1

Brewers working together to make something great.

Collaborative brewing is a trend that has been impossible to ignore lately.  It’s rampant in the craft brewing community.  Beer Blotter couldn’t be more excited about this.  It’s a concept that we wholly embrace.  Communicating, sharing, supporting, uplifting.  We do our very best every day to create a dialogue.  To talk to brewers, bar owners, bartenders, bar patrons…beer lovers of every kind, to teach and to learn.  To build upon this incredible community, to be a constructive member, to both give and receive.  It’s a small faction of a larger concept…life.

It’s a really good feeling to be a part of a sub-culture of like-minded souls.  We love and respect beer, you love and respect beer, let’s hug.  When breweries that exist in the same sub-genre of commerce and compete for the same consumer’s (our) money decide to hug instead of scratch and claw, we get a little emotional.  It reinforces how special it is…this community of ours.  Breweries supporting each other, coming together as colleagues, teaching and learning from each other, and creating something special for us all instead of stepping on each other to reach the top alone.

A warming, parallel example of this hand-in-hand approach to capitalism can be found in the independent music community.  Though it is not as common as it once was, the split 7” epitomizes this concept.  Two or more like-minded bands join together to release an EP length record or CD, most traditionally with one new song from each band and one cover of one the opposite band’s songs.  This can be very valuable to the musicians because it allows for a co-mingling of fans.  Where one listener may have supported one band on a split and previously been unaware of the other band(s) work, there now becomes an instant increase in listenership.  A simple concept, the more folks that hear your work the more potential for success.  It’s pretty obvious when you think about it, but it takes a special kind of someone to put it into play and not feel threatened.  Most “corporations” wouldn’t dare.

Russian River Brewing Co and Avery Brewing Co.'s collaboration beer

One of the first collaboration beers that I remember being privy to was/is Collaboration Not Litigation, an incredibly cleverly named beer by Russian River Brewing and Avery Brewing.  This cross-pollination spawned from the quandary that both breweries had a beer named Salvation, Avery’s a Belgian strong golden ale and Russian River’s a Belgian strong dark ale.  Instead of taking it to litigation in the court room, they hashed it out in Avery’s Boulder, CO brewing space and blended the two.  The resulting concoction was truly a masterpiece (not surprising at all when you observe the work of these two master-brewers) and it continues to be blended and bottles to date.

One of the very first series of collaboration beers came at the hands of the ever –industrious De Proef Brouwerij.  The Signature Series began in 2007 with a collaboration with Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing.  This Belgian strong pale ale could easily sustain my beer needs for the rest of eternity.  So good!  The second, Les Deux Brasseurs, saw Allagash assist in brewing a golden ale fermented with multiple strains of Brett.

At this point it was quite obvious that De Proef had a firm finger on the pulse of American Brewing.  Any doubts that their choice in counterparts came with a roll of the dice were quickly squandered.  And, above all, the prophesy embedded in the split 7” theory was brought to fruition.  To Belgians: a starter course on the strength and boldness of American brewers, while simultaneously proving a knowledge and respect of tradition; to Americans: introduction to a great, and inspirational, international member of the “in it for the community” brewer.  Just mild research on De Proef brings to light their revolutionary “brewery for hire” stance that simply epitomizes the collaborative spirit.

The third, and most recent, was with Bells Brewery.  This was a smokey Belgian dark ale of much intrigue.  The 2010 edition of the Signature Series will be an Imperial Flanders Red Ale brewed in collaboration with Terrapin Beer Co. of Athens, GA.  Beer Blotter has one of each edition saved up in the cellar, and the addition of the 2010 release just may spawn a Signature Series Vertical Night.  The recent announced that the first two editions will be re-released in mid-April of this year gives hope to the not-so-obsessive beer drinker/collector to reproduce just such a vertical.

Quite possibly the most notable collaboration in brewing history is the creation of Isabelle Proximus, or, the beer brewed by the Brett Pack.  When a brew of any kind is made by the likes of Tomme Arthur (Port Brewing/Lost Abbey), Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River), Rob Tod (Allagash), Adam Avery (Avery) and Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), beer nerds are going to freak.  When that beer is a barrel aged sour ale inspired by Belgian lambics, game over!

The story starts in November of 2005 when Sam Calagione was working on his second book, Extreme Brewing.  In preparation for his drafting of said book he asked each member, of what would then become the Brett Pack, to take a trip to Belgium with him and tour numerous Gueze and Lambic producing breweries.  Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen and Boon, amongst others were visited and studied.  Amidst their travels and through various sour beer inspired (drunken) conversation, it became relevant that a collaborative Lambic inspired beer should be made back in the States.

In November of ’06 the travelers reconvened at Port Brewing in San Marcos, CA, each with 4 oak barrels and house cultures from their own sour brewing program in tow.  One base beer was brewed under the direction of all 5 brewers and then aged in 18 of the barrels.  After the aging, each was tasted and then a blending of 17 of the samples produced the final product.  Beer Blotter had the distinct privilege of tasting this extremely rare beer both on tap and in the bottle thanks to the crafty folks over at Brouwer’s.  It was, as I’m sure you can imagine, an orgasmic experience for the ages.

There have been so, so many more collaboration brews of note in the past few years that we will just have to wait until part two for more on them.

To be continued…

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