Last week, Canadian brewery Collective Arts Brewing held a series of events across DC in honor of their expansion into the DC market, hosted by industry leaders like Greg Engert from Neighbourhood Restaurant Group and Erika Goedrich from Craft Beer Cellar.
I took the opportunity to meet with several of the Collective Arts Brewing staff at Midlands Beer Garden, to find out more about their beer and their unique brand.
Collective Arts Brewing: From the Great White North to the DMV
Located in Hamilton, a suburb of Toronto, Collective Arts Brewing started nearly six years, and they’ve been in the US market for the past three years. Collective Arts started selling in Boston and New York State initially, owing to geographic proximity, but have now expanded into 16 markets, including DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.
In Canada, the brewery is required to sell through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario or warehouse beer stores that are essentially run by “Big Beer,” so the United States has provided a more open market. In addition to the US, the brewery also has a strong presence in the UK, Sweden, and throughout the European Union.
As Collective Arts Brand Ambassador Aaron Setton, explained, “We are trying to be part of the greatest beer scenes around the world, wherever they happen to be. Demand for [North] American style hop-forward beer is so great that the product moves fast enough to justify international shipping.”
A unique aspect of Collective Arts is their effort to connect emerging artists with craft beer. “Creativity can be a self-perpetuating cycle. We want the beer, the art, the spirits, and the music [that is connected to the brewery] to flow from each other,” Setton said.
That spirit is evident in the interesting and wide-ranging art on every label; each can in a 4-pack of a specific beer product has different art on it. The art is rotated every three months to create something like a traveling art show.
Each quarter Collective Arts issues an open call for artists to submit existing designs (they are not asked to produce new or custom art) to Collective Arts. The brewery then creates an independent jury made up of trusted artists and industry representatives who select the designs that the brewery will work with. Collective Arts then licenses the work for eighteen months and begins to feature it on cans.
When it comes to musicians, Collective Arts makes “pairing suggestions” for a particular beer and song, which you can find via an SMS code on the can labels or on the website, and they have a new initiative, Audio Visual Lager, working with an independent record label in Toronto to pair four emerging bands with a poster artist. The musicians and artist will be featured on 4-packs of the beers.
This passion for combining art and beer comes from an artisanal approach to brewing and the fact that one of the founders came from a graphic design background while the other has long been in and beer manufacturing.
The craft beer scene in DC is incredibly diverse and competitive, so it may seem unusual for a Canadian brewery to enter the market. According to Sales Manager Tom White, “[Collective Arts] likes to think of ourselves as a global brand. We want to be everywhere that beer is important.”
Collective Arts believes DC is one of those places and plans on making their brand a fabric of the city by engaging the art and music scene here as well. They are currently in discussions with several local artist collectives and will likely be doing a call for local artists to participate in their can art program, similar to the process in Toronto. Also, craft beer lovers can expect collaborations with local breweries such as Aslin Beer Co.
At 50-60,000 barrels per year, Collective Arts is among the fastest-growing breweries in North America, on par with local breweries like Port City. They will be working with Legends Distributing as their wholesale partner for the area, which should provide Collective Arts with the scale to meet increased demand and a network to ensure staying power.
Craft beer fans can expect Life in the Clouds (hazy IPA), Ransack the Universe (a crisp West Coast IPA), Jam Up the Mash (dry-hopped sour), and the Guava Gose to be available at accounts across the city.
I enjoyed a dry-hopped session IPAC Hazy State, a well-balanced, aromatic, and drinkable hazy IPAs when at Midlands. You can purchase cans of Collective Arts brews at Craft Beer Cellar and the Yes Organic Market in Petworth, and can check in with Legends Distributing to find if they will be selling at a bottle shop or grocery store near you.
DC would like to thank Tom White, Aaron Setton, and the rest of the Collective Arts Brewing team for taking the time to speak with me.