Perhaps the only thing better than sitting down with a pint full of a fresh craft beer from one's favorite brewery is enjoying a collaboration beer from two, or even three, beloved brewmasters. While craft beer has always been a tight-knit industry, the number of high profile commercial collaborations has recently skyrocketed. These potation partnerships demonstrate a cross-pollination of techniques and flavors that couldn't exist without the involvement of both parties. Large breweries get the chance to tip their hat to smaller up-and-comers and reinforce their relevance, while newer, nimble outfits can gain exposure to thousands of potential new fans and reach distribution areas far outside their usual footprint.
While it is unclear when the first commercial craft brewery collaboration of the modern era occurred, the tale behind Boulder, Colorado-based Avery Brewing's 2006 release of Collaboration not Litigation Ale set the tone for the spirit of togetherness these projects embody. Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing and Adam Avery realized that they both made a beer called Salvation. The two Belgian-style ales both were pivotal brands in their respective portfolios and certainly worth fighting for, but instead the brewers got together and blended the brews to create something truly greater than the sum of its parts. In lieu of a costly court battle neither side wanted to wage, the groundbreaking compromise showed that craft breweries could defy conventional business norms and pick their own path with their friends at their side.
Breweries along Ohio's North Coast have been getting in on the collaboration camaraderie for years. Cleveland Beer Week 2010 spawned the Ohio Craft Brewers Association Collaboration Sampler pack. Cleveland Beer Week 2012 continued the tradition and upped the stakes with 15 participants teaming up for 6 exclusive, draft-only brews. Fat Heads has collaborated with Stone, Bear Republic, Victory and Columbus. Head Brewer Matt Cole even flew to England to contribute his signature skills at Shepherd Neame, Britain's oldest brewery. Hoppin' Frog founder Fred Karm forged a collaboration trail through the Netherlands and Denmark last year, creating three very special beers with De Molen, Fano and Amager. Market Garden recently revived a forgotten style with Victory and tapped two versions of Kennett Ale.
To celebrate the company's 25th Anniversary, Great Lakes has gone collaboration crazy this year. January saw the release of a Baltic porter formulated with Minnesota's Fulton Beer Company. Oregon's Deschutes saddled up with Great Lakes to create the "Class of 88" Imperial Smoked Porter. Each brewery played host to the other and will release 22-ounce bottles of the Porter later this month. Since two beers weren't enough, Great Lakes also recently crafted three different beers with Market Garden. Market Garden devised a recipe for an ESB called "2" while Great Lakes formulated a German Altbier called "5". The brewers then regrouped and synthesized 25th Street Pale Ale, a recipe that takes on the best qualities of both styles. The results will hit West 25th street taps this week!
Even with the current conjunctive craziness, it is doubtful that the wave of synchronicity is cresting right now. This year already has seen the first ever all female collaboration brew in Colorado, a unique partnership between Ommegang and HBO resulting in Iron Throne Ale, and Stone practicing "big brew theory" with actor Wil Wheaton for the forthcoming W00tstout.
What kinds of collaborations can we expect locally in the near future? Look for Fat Heads to team up with Midwest behemoth Three Floyds and for Hoppin' Frog to pair up with Crafted Meadery to introduce a braggot (a beer-mead hybrid).
Don't forget to say Cheers twice when toasting the brewers!