Vail Ale with Altitude column: Everyone wins when craft brewers collaborate
VAIL CO, Colorado
By definition, collaboration is the act of working with someone to produce or create something. Now, a craft brewer’s translation: A few craft brewing friends get together and questions like, “What if we were to make a beer with (fill in blank) that tastes like (fill in blank)” are tossed about, inspiring a one-of-a-kind collaboration beer.
Until the craft beer movement, the word “collaboration” was not part of the brewmasters’ vocabulary because our giant counterparts historically have been more preoccupied with market share versus a shared market. Enter the creative and daredevil spirit of the craft brewer.
For craft brewers, collaboration is about working together and trying new things; getting out of the same old routine, and bouncing ideas off each other. Remember, for craft brewers innovation and the willingness to explore what the experience of drinking a beer can be are prized assets for a brewery. While most breweries tend to seek out other breweries of similar size or focus for these collaboration beers, in some cases, brewers go the distance and collaborate with an entirely different industry – like musicians or winemakers. That in a nutshell is the beauty of collaboration, the sky is the limit.
One of the first examples of craft brewers working together was a beer called “Collaboration not Litigation” that was made by two breweries that chose to celebrate the fact that they had used the same name for a beer, which normally would cause lawyers to begin sharpening their teeth. While many would say that collaboration beers are really just passion projects for the brewers involved, some brewers do team up to cash in. For example, at a Chicago brewpub, I once came across a collaboration beer sarcastically named “Obvious Marketing Ploy.” But I digress.
Collaboration among craft brewers is a unique and special phenomenon and since the total amount of craft beer sold is still less than 10 percent of all beer, we tend to think less in terms of competition and more in terms of collaboration. Case in point is the Brewjolais Nouveau Beer that I made with Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium Brewery and Ben Parsons of Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery.
For this beer, we really just wanted to see what a beer fermented with grapes and wine yeasts would taste like. Well, maybe Ben the winemaker didn’t want to muddy the beautiful complexity of his grapes by adding barley and hops to them, but he still provided the grapes and wine making expertise. In my humble experience, it was a collaborative masterpiece. But don’t take my word for it, come decide for yourself.
Charles Andrew Brown is currently the man with his hand on the helm of Colorado’s oldest and largest brewpub, the Wynkoop Brewing Company. He started his professional brewing career in 1999, when he attended the American Brewers Guild Craft Brewers program. Since then he completed an internship at the Elysian brewpub in Seattle and has worked at several breweries in Colorado before finding his home at the Wynkoop.