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Collaboration Ales

September 4, 2010

To look at the craft beer landscape in America today, it’s hard to believe that the craft beer industry only took off within the past 20 or 30 years. Many former home brewers really hit the ground running once craft beer started to become popular, and the result of this is that many American breweries are now raising the bar for craft beer all over the world, and are steadily earning a progressively larger share of the overall beer market.

Despite this rapid growth and the crowding and competition that comes with it, there is a phenomenon in the craft beer world which speaks volumes about craft brewers, and also about the people who enjoy craft beer. I’m talking about the trend of collaboration. It’s rare in a market economy to see companies willingly and enthusiastically collaborate with one another purely for the love of their craft, but it goes to show that when great minds work together, awesome things can happen.

Some breweries sponsor annual homebrew competitions, which help to pave the way for up and coming brewers and expose their beer to a much wider audience. Some brewers choose to work directly with other prominent brewers, and the result is the collaboration ale. One of the most recent, and best, collaboration ales is the Saison Du Buff, which is a collaboration between Stone (San Diego), Dogfish Head (Milton, DE), and Victory (Downingtown, PA). At 6.8% abv, it’s an ale brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, which mixes in with a strong hop character to give it an herbal, vaguely citrus taste and aroma.

Another good collaboration ale is Collaboration Not Litigation, which is a Belgian-style ale created by the head brewers at Avery and Russian River. As it says on the label, this beer came about when the brewers at Avery and Russian River realized that they both brewed a Belgian-style ale called “Salvation,” and instead of arguing over naming rights they decided to just work together and blend the two. There have been four separate batches of Collaboration Not Litigation but I’ve only tried Batch #3, which at 8.97% abv has an orange-copper and hints of toffee, dark fruit, and caramel. It has a fairly sweet character from the Belgian candy sugar used in the brewing process, with just a hint of Belgian yeast at the end. Another collaboration ale I recently got around to trying is the Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse, a pale Weiss Bock at 8.5% abv that is the result of a collaboration between the Brooklyn Brewery and the German-based G. Schneider & Sohn brewery. Fittingly, it tastes like a cross between Brooklyn Lager and Schneider’s Hopfen-Weisse, so it’s strong and flavorful, but smooth and fruity enough that it pairs well with food.

It is true that collaboration ales tend to be a little on the expensive side, but I guess that’s to be expected when there is more than one brewery involved. Even so, collaboration ales are definitely worth checking out because they’re almost always excellent, and they are a big part of what keeps craft beer interesting.

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