In the second week of February, the head brewer from Breckenridge Brewery in Denver, Colorado, came to brew a collaboration beer with me at Champion Brewing Company. Longtime head brewer and owner Todd Usry showed up at our place on a Tuesday with his nephew, Drew Usry, who is the Breckenridge sales rep in our area. Breckenridge is one of the largest breweries in Colorado and was the third to open in the now brewery-dense beer destination. The brewday was one of the most enjoyable to date, and while the day itself seemed to fly by, the collaboration was nearly a year in the making.
A few years ago, when Richmond ad firm WORK Labs was rebooting its own “WORK Beer” (a product the company had developed in collaboration with RVA’s Main Street Brewery), WORK Labs’ Andy Stites, a friend whom I know from growing up in the Virginia Beach punk scene, approached me, wanting my input on how the company might bring its beloved beer project back to life. I relayed some advice from a distributor friend of mine, and we went back to life as normal without much additional conversation.
Fast forward to early summer 2012, when I’m working full time at Afton Mountain Vineyards and doing the demolition of the former office space that Champion Brewing Company now occupies. I received a call from my friend Brad Perry, and while delivering wine to Stone Soup Books in Waynesboro, I talked about the potential for Champion Brewing Company to make a one-off batch of WORK Beer. Perry, whom I know through the Charlottesville punk scene, was and is currently working at WORK Labs and wanted to see if we could produce it. Breckenridge Brewery had been considered an option in the past as a potential producer, and as I explained that it would be a limited release due to our brewery’s size, the WORK guys thought it might be cool to put us in touch.
Todd, Perry, and I e-mailed about some general planning, and we began to make it come together (which was impressive, considering I had yet to even receive my tanks). Todd mentioned that he had wanted to produce a Dunkel Weisse (a dark-colored German wheat ale) that used “feature” hops [see Beerspeak 101], and never had an opportunity. I thought that sounded cool and we started bouncing off ideas and percentages of types of ingredients.
We settled on using traditional malts and Australian Galaxy hops, which are known for a peach-like aroma. After months of trying to fit it into our respectively tight schedules, we finally decided on the beginning of February. The Usrys arrived in the morning, and after a quick tour of the spot, we jumped into collecting mash water and adding grain. Drew had his first opportunity to work on the production side and was tasked with the rookie job of grainout, shoveling the heavy, wet spent grain into trashcans. Todd shared some advice on best practices, and we talked about growing up in Virginia, what took Todd from Richmond to Colorado, and how we came to be brewers.
In the late afternoon, Todd and Drew had to take off for a family function, and I got to clean and reflect on a really cool opportunity. My assistant Jonathan and I tracked the brew through fermentation and have been keeping Todd and the crew abreast of its progress. It’s now aging and will be released in our taproom and in select spots around Richmond toward the end of March. WORK Beer hopes to continue to connect local brewers with larger brewers in an annual collaboration series.
Feature hops (n.): A new style of hops that lends a specific character to beer, usually fruity.
Want a taste of Breckenridge Brewery? Head to Beer Run for a good selection. Hunter recommends the 471 Small Batch IPA, Extra ESB, Vanilla Porter, Oatmeal Stout, or Agave Wheat.