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Comprehending Collaboration

The collaboration between Brooklyn Brewing and G. Schneider & Sohns is an example of what a collaboration beer can be.

You may have noticed on your favourite liquor store shelf recently the appearance of beer made by two breweries, the so-called “collaboration brew”. Collaborations have been around for a long time, but in the past couple/few years have increased in popularity. Many collaboration beer have been interesting and creative and you get a sense of both breweries in one beer. However, recently, I find the beer could have been produced by any one of the breweries and the other name is there just for kicks.

I starting thinking about the collaboration beer trend and, as things these things happen, it resulted in a Beer 101 column, which you can read here.

My thinking led me in two directions, both of which I try to do justice in the column (with mixed success). The first was to understand WHY breweries want to engage in collaboration so much. In short I conclude that it has multiple benefits for them. First (and maybe foremost) it gives the brewers to hang out for a day with their colleagues, swap tips and stories, drink each others beer and generally build the craft beer community. Second, it creates a natural marketing win-win. Each brewery can take advantage of a consumer appreciating the beer, in their minds, hopefully, creating new customers going in both directions.

But my second level of thinking was about what collaboration could be vs. what it is. Too often I find the beer is a possibly interesting but standard beer that could be brewed anywhere. More rarely the breweries find a way to inject a unique feature in the beer that reflects both breweries.

It is that latter achievement that I find myself focusing on. My favourite collaborations are one where the resulting beer reflects the relative strengths of each brewery. You can get a feel of each brewery in the beer. What is behind that is an intentional process. For most collaborations, the question seems to be “what would be fun to brew?” For the ones that really stand out, the brewers look at their relative line-up and ask “what can we do that displays the best of both of us?”.

The example I like to use, both because the beer is brilliant and reflects that principle of mutuality, is the Brooklyn Brewing-G. Schneider & Sohn ongoing collaboration known as Hopfen-Weisse. It is a classic German hefeweizen with a distinctly American hop mentality. It is an imaginative and unexpected combination of flavours and approaches.

Not every collaboration has to reach that height, but I do look for a reason why the two breweries are working together.

I actually get the simple motivation of an excuse to brew together – it is fun and interesting for the makers of the beer and am happy to sample the results. But the concept of collaboration brew, in my opinion, suggests something a bit bigger. Increasingly I find myself asking “why did they do this?” When I can find an answer, great. Often these days, however, I can’t really come up with a good one, which says something.

Which isn’t to say we should stop sampling the beer, because most of the time it is pretty good. I just want to see a clearer communication of the motivation behind the collab.




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