I begin this article at the end of a long, but thoroughly enjoyable brewday. Today was Champion Brewing Company’s first official collaboration brew, between myself and Devils Backbone Head Brewer Jason Oliver. The development of this collaboration is a result of a long and funny e-mail chain that began with an article regarding New York’s Brewery Ommegang’s production of a line of beers named after the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Jason, ever the dry wit, suggested we produce our own beer named for thrones, based on the movie Dumb and Dumber. Those familiar with the classic Farrelly brothers film will recall the turning point in the plot when (spoiler alert!) Harry goes on a date with the girl of Lloyd’s dreams. Lloyd exacts his revenge in a particularly cruel way, and this was the inspiration for the Chocolate Oatmeal Plum Milk Stout we produced, so named Lloyd’s Revenge.
Our silly concept was a lot of fun to create, but will become a high-test dark beer that we both take very seriously. Working together on a recipe is some of the most enjoyable work I have done to date. The collaborative brewing process reminds me a lot of arranging a song with a band. One person brings an idea to the table, usually with some particular direction in mind. Another chimes in and says, “That’s a cool idea. How about if we do it like this?” The originator responds, “Yeah, I like that, and how about this?” The conversation continues as both people work together to hone the original concept and incorporate the other’s input to achieve the ideal result.
Many brewers, particularly in America, have been taken with the joy of creating beer with another professional brewer, and the craft beer shelves are reflecting that trend. As a beer drinker, few things are more exciting than seeing a beer that two or more of your favorite breweries created together. Seeing something like a Dogfish Head/Stone/Victory collaboration beer was not unlike listening to Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “Watch the Throne”—an inevitably great meeting of creative minds (and again, with the thrones). The collaborative options available are increasing in quality and variety at places like Beer Run and the Market Street Wineshops. Here are a few of my favorites:
De Proef and Hair of the Dog’s Flanders Fred: This is a bottle-conditioned Flemish red ale that is barrel aged and has malt sweetness balanced with gentle sour acidity. Those unfamiliar with Flemish reds may first associate their sourness with Balsamic vinegar. Hang in there, because these sometimes-acquired tastes are the favorites of many worldwide.
Sierra Nevada and Russian River’s Brux: This is an awesome example of a “wild” ale, produced by two of the best West Coast breweries, and really two of the best in America. Funky flavors are produced by a bacterium called Brettanomyces bruxellensis. “Brett” is a winemaker’s nightmare, but does some very cool things in beers for those willing to try something new.
Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head’s Life and Limb: This is a very personal beer for the two owners of the respective breweries. The ingredients for this strong dark beer include barley from Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman’s family barley farm, and maple syrup from Dogfish Head owner Sam Caligione’s farm. It’s also great.
New Belgium and Lost Abbey’s Brett Beer: Like the aforementioned Brux, this beer is fermented with Brettanomyces, but it comes through in a much fruitier expression, with less sourness. This collaboration was found in 22 oz. “bombers” and is a pineapple and citrus hops combo. Lost Abbey, like Russian River, is impossible to find here, so when they do collabs that are easy to find, buy them up.
Terrapin and Left Hand’s Peaotch: This colloquially named brew was a 7 percent ABV ale brewed with peaches from Georgia and Colorado, the respective states of the two breweries. It is long gone, but was a summer dream, and no doubt the two breweries enjoyed tasting the differences.