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Some thoughts on collaboration – @Odellbrewing @MikkellerBeer @stillwaterales @3starsbrewing @oliverale

Collaborations, they’re coming hard and they’re coming fast. They’re coming from the West coast and they’re coming from the East coast. They’re coming from right here in the Chesapeake. But why?

Motivation behind collaborations can be as different as the ales, lagers and wild beers we’ve seen cranked out over the last few years. The reasons brewers collaborate range from pragmatic purposes to pie-in-the-sky motivation. Jim Koch probably knew Infinium wasn’t going to change consumer perceptions of beer, but is changing consumer perception a bad hope for your product?

On the pragmatic side, when breweries collaborate there is the possibility their product will reach a greater audience. Suppose you brew in a small state and only get your product out to your home state. A brewery with greater distribution can literally put your product on shelves in a market never seen. As Stephen Jones, brewmaster at Oliver Breweries in Baltimore, Maryland put it, “a collaborative brew gives both breweries additional exposure and extends our brands beyond their normal reach.” Jones spoke specifically of the series of collaborations between himself and Brian Strumke, founder of Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Jones said he was “particularly thrilled that some of the Channel Crossing series has been distributed beyond my regular somewhat limited distribution courtesy of Brian’s larger scale distribution network.” Included in that network was the tapping of a cask of Channel Crossing #3 on an Italian craft beer cruise and a spotting of Channel Crossing #3 at Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen.

Of course the Boston Beer Company isn’t the only American craft brewer heading to Europe to collaborate, “I have done collaboration brews in England with both Dark Star and Thornbridge” says Odell Brewing Founder, Doug Odell. Many craft brewers find the beauty in collaboration in that if it is successful it presents opportunities for further collaboration, “Thornbridge and Odell will continue our collaborative relationship when we brew together next year in our brewery. The beer will be sold both in the US and UK.” Perhaps needless to say, chances of getting this beer in the DMV are slim.

One collaborative brew released closer to home was the collaborative Saison between 3 Stars Brewing Company and Evolution Craft Beer Company. The Syndicate Saison was released and rolled out during Savor week, beginning on Memorial Day. As 3 Stars Co-Founder Dave Coleman said of his relationship with Evolution Founder Tommy Knorr, “some brewers, because this is such a tight community, have friendships that cross brewery lines, so its kind of like two buddies getting together to brew.” As any zymurgist knows, collaboration is very common within the world of homebrewing. Similarly, within the world of American craft beer, a homebrewer’s influence often carries into the brewhouse. We need look no further than Odell Brewing Company’s wildly popular Single Serve Series “Friek.”

Odell elaborated via email, “Friek originated from a Kriek I made about 4 years ago with Eric Menchen, a Northern Colorado homebrewer. It was his recipe. Our brewers brewed 2 more test batches, changing and modifying the recipe. Eventually we made it a mix of cherries and raspberries, hence the name.” Of course having homebrewers in the brewhouse is also popular in Baltimore.

So what’s in a name? Sometimes, lots. In the case of The Syndicate, Coleman said, “we threw a few names back and forth until The Syndicate stuck. We wanted something that described the relationship between the two breweries…the semi ‘clandestine’ nature of doing it without anyone getting wind of it, also reinforced the perception of what it is that a syndicate does.”

Coleman and Mike McGarvey, 3 Stars cofounders, launched the Syndicate at least once per night, every night of SAVOR week. The kickoff commenced at ChurchKey on Memorial Day and ended at The Big Hunt on Saturday. Rumor on the street is an Oliver Ales and 3 Stars Collaborative beer will be released during DC Beer Week.

In more impossible to ignore Baltimore beer news, this just happened. But before that happened, this happened. More on that later (and in another post).

In the meantime, leave us your favorite collaboration beer or the collaborative brew you’re most looking forward to below in the comments.

Photo: L to R: Volker Stewart of The Brewers Art, Stephen Jones of Oliver Ales/Pratt Street Ale House, Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and Hugh Sisson of Heavy Seas.
Image Credit: Alexander D. Mitchell IV

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