In sharp contrast to the giant beer conglomerates who are buying up their competition, Bay Area brewers are doing the complete opposite. They're collaborating with their fellow craft brewers.
Collaboration beers are usually one-time projects where two or more craft breweries combine resources, ideas and techniques to create a beer. Many times, these beers provide the refreshing fuel for a particular event or festival and are often sold to fund a cause or charity.
Why do craft brewers collaborate? Why not just go it alone on a project? 21st Amendment Brewery cofounder Shaun O'Sullivan responded: “New ideas on brewing and ingredients come out of these projects, allowing the collaborators to step out of their everyday wheelhouse and flex their creative muscles. It also gives the craft beer drinker an opportunity to try something unique and new. There is the added benefit that most of these collaborators are friends, so we get to spend time together. And from a marketing perspective, it also may allow a brewery that is not distributed in certain markets to be exposed to new customers. Everyone wins.”
Magnolia Gastropub’s Owner and Brewmaster Dave McLean has similar reasons for collaborating: “I think it is simply in our DNA as craft brewers. While collaborations today seem to prominently take the form of special beer releases, there is a long history of brewers working together in a variety of ways, from forming guilds to producing festivals and events. It may have something to do with beer being such a social beverage or simply that we all just love what we do so much and enjoy the work of our colleagues, who are also often friends. And the end of the day, it’s extremely gratifying to work in such a close-knit and well-aligned community and any collaborative projects that come from that dynamic are, in addition to anything else, just plain fun. Even those of us who have made brewing a business or career can remember the days of hanging out with friends brewing beer at home. And, not only do we remember it but I think it continuously inspires us. I suppose it's the artistic side of brewing that is most satisfied by collaborating — it's not unlike musicians creating new music with different people.”
Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido has made collaborations a part of their business model and regularly make specialty beers with different breweries including locals such as 21st Amendment and Bear Republic. Mitch Steele, Brewmaster at Stone, gave his reasons for collaborating: “For us, it’s about stretching our boundaries. Working with other brewers gives us the opportunity to brew with new ingredients or experiment with beer styles we’ve never tried brewing before. The craft beer community has a unique bond so we also enjoy solidifying friendships with the brewers who work with us on these beers.”
Here’s what’s in the pipeline from a few of our local collaborators:
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, Great Divide Brewing Company, and Five Rabbit Cervecería–These three have partnered together to produce the Cultivate Farmhouse Ale, a Saison-style beer, that will be poured locally at this Saturdays Cultivate Festival in Golden Gate Park.
21st Amendment and Elysian Breweries–Cofounder Shaun O’Sullivan has some future projects on the horizon: “We are in the process of doing a pumpkin beer with Dick Cantwell from Elysian Brewery out of Seattle, Washington. It will come out this fall and will blow your mind. In 2014, we are looking at doing a collaboration brew with an indie rock band that I am super excited about. All good stuff.”
Social Kitchen and Southpaw BBQ–These craft brewers just released a new collaboration beer called The Seventy-Five. Social Kitchen’s Brewmaster Kim Sturdavant noted that, “The inspiration was that we both hold Type 75 liquor licenses which give us certain privileges and restrictions for selling our beer. At some point we decided we brew a collaboration beer with 75 ingredients, at 7.5% abv. I don't think I ever would have gone through with it, but Phil (Phil Cutti, Southpaw Brewmaster) has an extensive home brewing background and homebrewers do crazy stuff all the time, so it felt logical and totally doable to him. The result is great!”
If you would like to do more than just drink collaboration beers, Southpaw BBQ is having a three-session class on 6/11, 6/23 and 7/10 where participants will brew their own collaboration beer with Phil Cutti. Space is limited; check the Southpaw website for details.