Collaboration beers mix and match local craft brewers

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2014 - 3:26 PM

Eight local breweries worked in pairs to create collaborative craft beers that will debut at a weekend block party.

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Summit brewer Mike Lundell, left, and founder Mark Stutrud, right, with Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo of Bang Brewing.

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Two breweries aren’t always better than one. But brewers in Minnesota and across the world regularly put their creative heads together to produce new flavors.

On a sweltering July day, Schell’s brewer Jace Marti joined the Sociable Cider Werks team at its northeast Minneapolis brewery. The two breweries were pooling their combined 155 years of experience (Sociable accounting for eight months) to brew a specialty graff, or malt-forward cider, for Red Stag Supperclub’s eighth annual block party this weekend.

“Having Jace there was like a whole other set of ideas, expertise and perspective that made for — this is going to sound really dramatic and I don’t mean it to be — but a pretty inspiring, creative conversation about how we can develop something new and interesting,” said Jim Watkins, co-owner of Sociable.

Co-sponsored by the Growler magazine, Sunday’s “In Cahoots” event at Red Stag paired eight breweries into four teams to create one-off collaboration beers for the party. The best brew, as chosen by a fan vote, nets a donation to the team’s charity of choice.

“Collaboration, it really embraces the spirit of craft brewing,” said Summit founder Mark Stutrud.

For In Cahoots, Stutrud and Summit brewer Mike Lundell joined forces with fellow St. Paul outfit Bang Brewing to revive a sparkling ale that Summit discontinued in 1994 (no relation to Summit’s new knockout Southern Cape Sparkling Ale). Mining Summit’s vault and naming the beer “Mark” after Stutrud was Bang’s idea — a nod to the microbrew pioneer, but made in accordance with Bang’s all-organic ethos.

Despite being St. Paul “soul mates,” as Stutrud put it, the two are on opposite ends of the brewery spectrum. After 28 years, Summit is a 130,000-barrel-per-year Minnesota titan, which will have 90 employees by year’s end. Meanwhile, Bang, in the South St. Anthony Park neighborhood, is one of the state’s youngest and smallest breweries — an 11-month-old nanobrewery run by spouses Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo in a silo near Summit’s original home.

“Red Stag sent us an e-mail asking if our staff wanted to pour beer [at the event]. Sandy sent back an e-mail saying, ‘Staff?’ ” Jay quipped.

The In Cahoots lineup also features a golden ale from Fulton and Dangerous Man, and a double smoked red ale from Duluth’s Bent Paddle and Fitger’s Brewhouse.

Collaboration beers brewed by two or more breweries are nothing new. In the mid-aughts, Colorado’s Avery Brewing and acclaimed California brewpub Russian River discovered they each made a beer named Salvation. Rather than duking it out in the courts, they released a tag-team brew dubbed Collaboration Not Litigation Ale. Though it was hardly the first collaboration beer, the back story was a marketing dream and it’s become one of the nation’s most famed joint releases.

While he’s not involved with In Cahoots, Surly brewer Todd Haug has been one of Minnesota’s more active collaborators. Last winter Surly lit up the sudserati with Blakkr — an imperial black ale in concert with Texas’ Real Ale and raved-about Indiana brewery Three Floyds.

“For me it’s a personal thing, it’s a relationship thing,” Haug said. “Everyone I’ve brewed with collaboratively, except for one this year, goes back to at least a year-plus relationship.”

This year alone Haug has hooked up with three overseas breweries, including De Proef in Belgium, where he brewed the Long of Tooth strong ale, which could hit the Twin Cities this month. A co-release with Norway’s Lervig Aktiebryggeri and Oslo black metal band 1349 is due this fall, coinciding with the group’s new album.

Surly’s cooperative releases may have been forged in friendship, but Haug acknowledges the buzz-building potential. Blakkr allowed all three breweries to get their brand in states in which they don’t normally distribute. “Just that word of mouth, that kind of marketing goes a long way in craft beer,” he said. “We all mutually benefited from that. It sounds like something that came out of a marketing meeting or something, but no, we just all like to hang out and drink beer.”

Breweries don’t have to cross state lines to see a collaboration bump. Last year Jamie Robinson, brewer and co-owner of Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub, launched Hot Box, a beer with northeast Minneapolis’ Indeed Brewing Company. State law prevents brewpubs from selling their beers to bars and liquor stores, but since the imperial smoked pepper porter is brewed at Indeed and released through its distribution channels, it gives Northbound a small, seasonal presence outside its south Minneapolis pub.

“Besides the fun of brewing it, that is the main reason as a business we do it, because there’s no other way to get our beer in a liquor store,” said Robinson, who previously worked with Indeed brewer Josh Bischoff at Town Hall Brewery.

But more than any marketing boost, brewers extol the collaborative process as a means of swapping ideas and techniques.

“Craft brewers end up learning more from each other than we do from a technical conference, a book or whatever, because it’s real experience,” Haug said. “It’s not theory or engineering. It’s actually practical and applied.”

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