What’s the Deal with Collaboration Beer?
You may have noticed in your local liquor store, pub or even on your social media feed the growing usage of the word “collaboration” on a beer label. Over the past few years it has become the newest big thing in the craft beer world. It is when two (or more) breweries join up to jointly design and brew a beer. Usually they cooperate to decide the style and design the recipe with the beer being brewed at one of the breweries (although sometimes at both).
Okay, fair enough. Sounds like fun. But why are they becoming so popular and what are they really about? Allow me to take a stab at answering both questions.
I believe they are becoming an increasingly popular feature in the beer scene for one very simple reason: standing out. Let me explain. The craft beer industry is growing rapidly. There are constantly new breweries opening and new beer being imported from around the world. And the ever fickle craft beer consumer is always on the lookout for new and interesting beer. It creates simultaneously a virtuous circle and a vicious cycle. Variety is a good thing. Lots of beer options means more consumers walk away happy. New breweries and new beer from existing breweries expands the world of beer.
However, it also creates an unfortunate logic. Many, many beer drinkers are quite happy sticking with their reliable stand-by, be it the mainstay of a local brewery or a classic from one of the pioneers of craft beer. However a large segment of craft beer consumers are notoriously promiscuous in their beer choices. They happily jump from beer to beer to satisfy their beer cravings of the moment. This approach regularly leads to a tendency to try the new beer on the shelf. After all it is uncharted territory.
That is all fine. Except it creates inordinate pressure on craft breweries to keep finding new ways to catch the drinker’s attention. Thus the rise of seasonals, one-offs and special edition beer. Collaborations are an easy way to create a new, unique beer to be the shiny new bauble on the shelf. Plus people seem to like them, creating the incentive to keep doing more.
The more important question, in my opinion, is what is really going on with collaboration? Why do breweries want to partner up when they could just as easily put the new beer out themselves?
There is a joke in the beer world that collaboration brews are really about creating a day when a group of brewers can hang out at the brewery drinking each other’s beer while one poor schmuck does all the work. And that is not all that far off the mark, to be truthful.
But that actually is the point. One of the reasons they do it is for the camaraderie and fellowship. The beer world is a small world. Most of the brewers in a region know each other quite well and even across borders breweries build reputations. A collaboration brew offers the opportunity to get together, talk shop, swap beer and collectively enjoy the thing they love passionately generique cialis cialis 1x20mg – brewing beer. In the process they share knowledge, tips, techniques and insight. So, in a way, collaboration brews are way more about the brewers than they are the customers. We consumers are just the lucky beneficiaries.
Second, ideally collaboration beer should be about sharing ideas between breweries and creating a beer that exemplifies the strengths of each brewery. I am not sure how often that actually is the case these days, as often the beer being made seem like they could have come out of any brewery. But when synergy is the goal, it can be amazing. The example I like to think of is the re-occurring collaboration between Brooklyn Brewing and Weisses Brauhaus G. Schneider & Sohn, called HopfenWeisse. They intentionally blend the soft, estery notes of Scheider’s classic weizen beer with the American hop-forward attitudes of Brooklyn to create a truly unique and original beer.
Third, collaboration is also about cross-pollination. The names of both breweries goes on the label and, often, both breweries support the marketing efforts. The dual parentage potentially opens the door for both breweries to new drinkers. Someone who enjoys Brewery A but hasn’t heard of or tried Brewery B will try the beer and – maybe – be inspired to try Brewery B’s beer the next time. And vice versa, of course. Likely a small number of consumers actually do that, but craft breweries know market share is won one drinker at a time.
It may seem that collaboration beer is just another fad. But it isn’t. Given its anchor in the logic of craft beer and its momentum arising from the social connection it creates between brewers I predict we will see brewers getting together to create jointly crafted beer more and more often in the coming years.
Jason Foster is an Alberta-based beer writer, educator and certified beer judge. He is the beer columnist for CBC Radio’s Radioactive, Edmonton’s Vue Weekly, Saskatoon’s Planet S Magazine and writes regularly for a variety of magazines. He is also the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to craft beer on the prairies and beyond.