My last blog detailed the background to what we think is the World’s Largest Collaboration Brew. At our latest count, we have 44 breweries involved, all having been visited, brewers contacted and concepts for the brew discussed (resulting in the aforementioned recipe).
It has definitely got me thinking about collaboration. Does it count as a collaboration if you don’t have 50 or so people crammed into a building, each one lined up and throwing in a hop cone in some type of ritualistic manner? I did the usual thing of looking up what collaboration means. It spoke of the act of working together with a person or group of people to create or produce something. This pretty much answered my question… of course it’s a collaboration!
This is a word, though, that some in the beer and blogging world cringe at. Overpriced, luxury beers (in mind’s eye) due to the expense of flying brewers from around the world so as to pay for the cost of such a marketing gimmick. I recall the excellent A Good Beer Blog making reference to this last year, disagreed wholeheartedly and am quite happy to explain why I think collaborations are amazing.
1 – FUN. I used capitals here because they ARE so much fun. You have to remember that the majority of craft (or micro, or larger-than-micro-but-still-completely-awesome, or artisan, or great beer, or well-thought-out-and-perfectly-made-beer) brewers got into doing what they’re doing because they love it and are ridiculously passionate about their jobs. Getting all of these people together, whether in person or as a collection of thoughts, ideas and recipe variations is an absolute blast. For myself, having been out of the NZ brewing community for eight years, this has been amazing. Meeting all of these like-minded, energetic people, having a laugh and putting something together that encapsulates the fun.
2 – Education. What brewers do involves two things. Science and art. I always look at beer development as a bit of a picture. I visualise a pint glass and imagine the flavours that I want in there, the aromas that cascade from the foam of the glass, the colour, the marriage of grain and flower, of malted barley and hops, the balance in the mouth and after the first and second and third swallow, the texture of the beer. All of these things I see and imagine. This is the art. The science then involves the actual process of creating the beer. How to tease the picture from the raw materials. Getting that pint glass just right using that which has come from the soil. The tiny seed that has become the barley grain… the germination, the biochemical process, the malting. The hop bine and it’s shoots bursting from the soil in the spring. The little fungus that changes the wort into beer. The water that has flowed from aquifers or fallen from the skies. You can see how the science and the art meld together so well. The education of collaboration lies in the different experiences that each and every brewer has had. The equipment and the flavours that they have pulled from the ingredients. This is what makes collaboration great.
3 – Creation. Brewers do what they do for a couple of reasons. They want to survive off their hobby (or jobby as I like to refer to it). They want to promote something that they believe is great. They want as many people as possible to taste what they have produced and (hopefully) enjoy it as much as they do. They want to realise their beer-dreams and put these into something tangible. They want to drink beer. Collaboration results in creation of beer. How can that not be good!
4 – Marketing. Like it or lump it, it’s essential for us to get the word out there. If you have not one, but two or even forty four breweries talking about a beer that they’ve been involved with and then push the recipe out there for them all to brew and generate excitement in their local areas with, then it has to be great for beer in general. Most of us have little to zero marketing budgets. We have to be a little savvy and use things like social media and word of mouth to let people know what we’re doing. Collaboration is great for this.
5- Family. That’s what brewers are. Whenever a bunch (or hopsack or zentner or bushel or tanker or flocculation or whatever other great collective noun there is that involves brewing) of brewers gets together there is always a sense of belonging. A sense that we’re all slightly whacky, just like most families are. We laugh together, we disagree, we argue, but we’re all still trying to do the same thing. Collaboration enforces this, brothers and sisters getting together and working on something fun.
I’ve had the greatest times collaborating on beers. The Thornbridge/Brooklyn Brewery Alliance series with Garrett Oliver from the US, a couple of brews with Agostino and Mauro from Birrificio Italiano in Italy – SuJu, Sparrow Pit (not yet released) and Italia, the hoptastic Epic Halcyon and the Epic Thornbridge Stout with Luke from Epic in NZ, Colorado Red with Doug from Odell Brewing in the US, Coalition Ale and ThornStar with the awesome MarkStar Tranter from Dark Star Brewing in the UK, the sumptuous Fyne Bridge Black IPA with Fyne Ales up in Scotland, each one has been amazing.
Creating something and putting out there to be scrutinised by others, however, is always a slightly nerve racking experience. I’m talking lying awake at night, wondering if you made the right choices in the grain bill, querying the beer name and the label design, pondering the maturation period… could it have been longer. All that kind of stuff runs through your head. Beer drinkers are often a vociferous lot (usually more so when it comes to the internet as a communications medium as opposed to telling a brewer to their face), you know that flavour and taste and aroma are completely personal, you know that it’s not going to be for everyone, but you still worry how your baby is going to be received.
Generally it’s great. Beer is exactly that. Often people pull out the whole beer is just beer call. That is just like your personal preferences when it comes to what beers you like. For the guy or gal who finishes work and is thirsty and wants something liquid to pour down their throat, beer probably is just exactly that. It’s definitely something different for brewers.
Our NZ Craft Beer TV collaboration brew day was amazing fun. Thanks to those who made it… Wendy From Valkyrie, Paul from Croucher, Ron from Mike’s Organic Brewery, Rhys from Peak, Shane and Sam from Steam and David and Tom from Cryermalt. Oh yeah, and Luke and myself from Epic!