beer column

Collaboration beers seem to be everywhere these days.  

There are many draws for both breweries and consumers.  So let’s start with why the breweries have taken to the practice so eagerly, in non-exhaustive list format, in no particular order:

1.  The craft beer community is just that, it’s a community.  Breweries aren’t in competition with each other, they consider themselves all part of a brewing community that cares about and shares with each other.  So it’s only natural to want to brew together too.

"Beer is, first and foremost, a convivial drink," explains Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at New York's Brooklyn Brewery and editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer. "So we are colleagues, brothers and sisters first, and competitors second."

One of the unfathomable parts of craft brewing to other business people is the lack of trade secrets in the industry.  Brewers happily share their recipes with each other, and with home brewers.  When you’re not worried about the brewer down the street “stealing” your secret recipe or ingredient, there is nothing holding you back from sharing ingredients with them, or inviting them over to brew with you.

2.  Brewers can learn from each other through collaborations.  If you’re an accomplished sour brewer, it’s not surprising that a brewer wanting to learn more about brewing sours would approach you.  

This can be seen across brewing traditions as well.  Brewers from one country visiting another to learn about styles and methods, and brewing a collaborator batch along the way.  And thereby introducing their beer to an entirely different audience.

3.  If you’re a new brewery, you can introduce yourself to the craft beer world quickly, and positively, by collaborating with an established brewery.  And you can do that before you’re even open for business.  

For established breweries, collaborating with a new brewery can be advantageous too as it can give your customers warm fuzzies that you are lending a hand to the up and comers.

4.  A large number of professional brewers come from home brewing backgrounds.  And home brewers are nothing if not collaborative.  It almost seems like an oxymoron to homebrew with others, but like any grassroots movement, people with similar interests flock together and share information and enthusiasm about that shared interest.  Professional brewers keep this spirit alive, and some foster it by allowing home brewers to join them at the brewery to brew a homebrew recipe on the big system.

5.  Collaboration can also be a way around litigation.  If two breweries brew a beer with the same name, rather than fight it out in the courts they could brew it together and not infringe on a trademark.  That kind of amity is gold when your product stands for local, quality and innovation.  Thinking outside the corporate model is a large part of what is appealing about craft beer to consumers.

As for consumers, collaboration beers are good for them too:

1.  I love a beer with a good story, and without fail, collaboration brews have a good story behind them.  Like when Avery Brewing (Colorado) and Russian River (California) discovered they both brewed a beer named Salvation and they collaborated rather than fight over the name.  They call their beer “Collaboration Not Litigation”.  Right away that story makes me want to drink that beer, before I even know anything else about it.

2.  The stories about how the craft beer community collaborates and helps each other, and generally goes against capitalistic thinking makes drinking craft beer feel like a much bigger act than just merely drinking beer.  Seeking out collaboration beers is definitely part of that bigger act - it’s not every consumable product that gives you such an option.  It feels good to drink a product that has been lovingly crafted for you.

3.  Collaboration beers are often experimental as well – which is exciting for consumers.  One-offs and crazy concept beers are fun to drink.  Just as brewing them is a creative endeavor for the brewer, getting to try these experimental beers opens up new worlds of taste to consumers.
4.  Beer festivals are a great venue to showcase new releases and collaborations.  I wouldn’t say that you see a particularly large number of collaboration beers at a beer festival, but if you’re at a festival and you’re not going to be able to try beers from all the different breweries in attendance, choosing a collaboration beer can check two breweries off your “to try” list.  And, as collaboration beers are often limited release beers, it may well be your only opportunity to try that beer, so go for it!

Both Portland, Oregon and Denver Colorado have Collaboration Festivals – a whole beer festival devoted to collaboration brews.  Denver’s is the bigger of the two.  This year’s fest was the third annual [March 19th] and featured 85 collaborative beers from 151 breweries from five countries, and the 2200 tickets sold out in three days.   Beer nerds love rare brews.  And brewers love to make unrepeatable beers.  It’s a perfect symbiosis!  And it’s particularly special for beer drinkers when brewers will brew those beers for them, even though there’s no profit in them at a festival of these types.  

5.  There are also collaborations for a cause.  Like the Vancouver Craft Beer week collaboration between local brewers to produce a special beer for the week, with proceeds going to charity.  This year`s brew is a saison and proceeds will go to Music Heals.  Look for it in 650ml bottles in time for the festival May 27-June 5.

And the International Women’s Day brew – a beer brewed around the world by different collaboratory groups of women brewers in support of the Pink Boots Society, empowering women in brewing.  This year’s local collaboration beer, a gose will be available any day now, at the Dogwood Brewing tasting room.

6.  When a larger brewery collaborates with a smaller one, without it's own distribution, the collaboration beer can be distributed by the larger brewery and get into the hands of consumers more easily.  Yay!

Which brought us to the tasting portion of the show.

I brought in a couple of the beers from the collaboration 12 pack from Parallel 49 - Brews Brothers, Volume 2 - the Classic Rock edition.

This is the second year for P49 to produce the Brews Brothers boxed set.  It is comprised of 12 different beers brewed in collaboration with 12 other breweries, including local favourites Strange Fellows, Doan's and Four Winds, and breweries from farther flung locations like Fernie, Barkerville, and Crannog. 

Parallel 49 prides itself on its ability as a larger brewery to help its smaller friends out.  They look for new breweries without product in liquor stores, or with minimal distribution in the Lower Mainland and collaborate with them, brewing the beers at Parallel 49's brewery and using Parallel 49's distribution to get them to thirsty consumers.

You can buy the Brew Brothers box at the tasting room and liquor stores . There will also be a tap takeover of these beer at 12 Kings on April 29th.

Purple Haze – black currant sour made with Moody Ales (Port Moody). 8% - pours a beautiful purple colour.  American sour wheat ale with black currants for fruity tartness and colour – it`s summer in a bottle!

Gimme Shelter – apple ipa made with Cannery Brewing (Penticton). 7%  A snakebite-inspired beer, with a witbier base and fermented with saison yeast.  The spicy yeast and floral citrus notes from the dry-hopped motueka and citra hops sit atop a slightly apple flavoured wheat base.

Run to the hills – Belgian golden strong made with Barkerville Brewing. 8%   A traditional golden strong ale, with a light body despite its high alcohol content.

Beer Picks:

More collaborations, of course!

4 Winds collaboration with Trou du Diable (Shawinigan)
Exil d’Eden Apple Oat Table Saison – 5%. 650 ml bottles at private stores and on tap at the 4 Winds tasting room.

Bomber / Doans collaboration
Living Skies rye pilsner – on tap at Bomber and in 650 ml bottles at both tasting rooms

Whistler Brewing – Fernie Brewing – BC Craft Beer Guild collaboration
Spring Shred ruby red ISA (india session ale) – 4.7%. Available in 650ml bottles 


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