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Blogging Day and Collaborative Beers

Session #39

The Session #39 - Collaborations

It’s been a while since I sat down and worked on a post for Blogging Day. Given that today’s topic is near and dear to my heart, I thought I would weigh in. Thanks to Mario over at Hop Press for hosting.

Last weekend, I attended the 20th Southern California Homebrewers Festival and gave a presentation on Collaborative Brewing as part of the festivities. As I was writing my presentation, I began to understand that there are, in my estimation, about 5 reasons why collaborative beers come to fruition. For the talk, I tried to key in on how each of these elements drives different beers and the partnerships that come out of them.

1) Marketing – All Collaborative beers have some form of marketability about them as you’re bringing two (or more brewers) together to create a newly imagined beer. As such, the new beer has the potential to reach two sets of craft beer fans. However, this is probably the biggest slippery slope of the 5 Collaborative reasons in my mind. Why is that? Well, I believe the entire Collaborative brewing process needs to have roots in sustainability. The more gimicky these projects get then the less interesting they become to the consumer. When Run DMC and Aerosmith collaborated on “Walk This Way,” it wasn’t the 15th time some rockers got with a rappers. Nope, it was fresh.

I was lucky enough last fall to have been part of a Marketing based Collaborative Brewing Project that was put together by the Wetherspoon Pub Group in the UK. I detailed my experiences in a previous blog post. Needless to say, I believe this approach to Collaborative Brewing is heavily rooted in marketability yet there is value for the brewers involved. I was lucky enough to travel to Kent and brew in England’s oldest brewery. That didn’t suck.

My fear is that Marketing-based Collaborative beers will fall into a black hole where things are no longer imagined but rather engineered by the guys sitting in strategic meetings with notebooks on what the public wants next.

Imagine if you will a large room with a conference call between two large formerly domestic brewers. One Executive “Yes, we think it’s crazy too. You take our Lime infused lager and combine it with your Tomato infused Malt Liquor and BLAMMO you have Cuban Street Juice-something totally new…”

Just Shoot me if this happens…

But I do fear the day when Collaborative beers are less about imagination and more about SKU’s and push pull scenarios. It will happen on some level. This much is true.

2) Opportunity – I counted all of the projects that I have worked on over the last 7 years and a bunch of them fall into this category. My first Collaborative beer (with Peter Brouckaert of New Belgium) was Mo Betta Bretta which we brewed at Pizza Port in Solana Beach. For Peter, it was an opportunity to leave the big brewhouse and get back to his small brewing roots. For Pizza Port, it was the chance to work with a very imaginative brewer on a whacky brewing project. We ultimately settled on brewing a 100% Brettanomyces fermented beer. It may have been the first commercially All Brett Beer ever produced and sold in this country. Score one for Opportunity and the launching of other all Brett Beers (In your Best NASA like Voice repeat after me “This is one Giant Leap for all Brettmankind…”) To this day, Mo Betta Bretta remains one of my favorite Collaborations. Peter was so giddy in my brewhouse that day- like a kid in candy store that day.

3) Friendship – If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the bulk of Collaborative beers are made with this in mind. When friends sit down over pints of beer, stories flow and guards get let down. The funny thing about friendships and beer is how powerful they can be. If you look at the Stone Brewing Collaborations there seem to be an endless stream of possibilities. When Greg, Steve and Mitch sit down and list who they might want to work with, it’s a veritable who’s who of brewing.

Hildegard Van Ostaden of Urthel

In 2008, here at Port Brewing, we produced a batch of beer called Ne Goeien Saison. The recipe was written by Hiledgard van Ostaden who along with her husband Bas run the Urthel Brewery in Belgium.

It was over a couple of beers during a judging session at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival that I invited her to come brew with us at Port Brewing. I’ve been brewing for over 14 years now but I had never actually brewed with a Belgian trained brewmaster. Working with Hildegard presented exactly this type of opportunity.

4) Travel – Numerous Collaborative beers that I have been involved in have afforded me time to travel away from this brewery. And when I get away from the day to day grind that is brewing here at Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey, my imaginative powers start working in ways they just can’t around here. So, I like to look at Collaboration projects that involve travel. In 2007 I was afforded the opportunity to head to Belgium to work with Dirk Naudts at the De Proef Brewery on a new recipe for a beer called Signature Ale. Since the De Proef Brewery is essentially a contract brewing facility, they do not open their doors to most breweries and tourists. The possibility of getting to see one of the most technologically proficient small breweries in all of Europe presented itself, I jumped at the chance.

5) Technique – Last February we produced the very first batch of Hot Rocks Lager. The recipe was written by Tonya Cornett of the Bend Brewing Company. (See the photo gallery.)

Tonya Cornett, Bend Brewing Co.

Tonya Cornett, Bend Brewing Co.

What was great about working on this project was opening Tonya’s eyes to a process that she has now taken back to her brewery. Our use of the historical stein beer methodology (albeit an updated one) showcased flavors don’t always have to come from the four traditional brewing ingredients. At Bend Brewing Company the patrons now get to drink Roxie each year as she has brought the Stein Beer process back to her patrons.

For me, these are the 5 driving forces behind all Collaborative Beers. I also happen to think that the best Collaborative Beer I ever worked on nailed these 5 elements to a “T.” Isabelle Proximus may go down as one of the most ambitious Collaborative projects imagined. You see, it’s the sort of beer that ties all 5 of these reasons together.

Isabelle Proximus

First it had amazing marketability – The five guys known as the Brett Pack getting together on one jam session. We mixed in a bit of opportunity in that we wanted to created a lasting story – a legacy piece if you will commemorating our epic trip to Belgium in 2006. The trip was rooted in our friendship and a desire to see old world Lambic producers and strike up friendships based on respect and admiration.

Isabelle Proximus was born out of our travels to Belgium and the bonds of 5 American Brewers sharing a like minded approach to brewing. Perhaps the biggest achievement, for me, is how Isabelle transcended brewing borders. Isabelle Proximus is a ridiculously rewarding sour beer experience. Most assuredly it is an American Invention. Yet, the spirit of the beer is purely Burgundian.

I am very proud of all the Collaborative projects I have been a part of. Yet, when they ask me which one I love the most, I don’t give a canned answer. I wax on philosophically about our baby Isabelle. She turns 4 this year and each year she keeps on evolving. Reminds me another 4 year old I know too.

I’m looking forward to more great Collaborative Brewing Projects. I know of one that especially interests me and a couple of my California Brewing friends. It’s something we’re code naming Small, Medium and Large at this point. If all goes well, it will happen in the next year or so.

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