One of the more unique characteristics of the craft beer industry has always been an attitude of sharing. It’s not unusual for direct competitors to discuss with each other the details of their processes, ingredients and recipes.
One of the ways that this ethos manifests is brewery collaborations. Since at least the early 2000s, brewers have been coming together to jointly formulate recipes and brew on each other’s systems. As the number of breweries has grown in the past few years, the competition among them has also stiffened. But this hasn’t dampened the will to work together. Perhaps counterintuitively, the number of collaborations has risen.
Niko Tonks, head brewer at Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis, sees this as a good thing. “Yeah, it’s more competitive,” he concedes. “But there are still deeply illogical, noncapitalistic things happening all the time, which is a source of solace for me.”
Tonks, who has participated in a number of collaborations at Fair State, cites several reasons that brewers seek them out. “Sometimes it really is like a clinic,” he says. “You hope to pick the brain of a brewer that you really admire.” While the basic brewing process is the same everywhere, every brewery has its own tweaks that others can learn from.
“The more breadth of experience you have,” says Tonks, “the more you are able to pick and choose the things that work for you.”
Oftentimes, collaborators aim to combine characteristic elements from each brewery for new and unique results.
“What happens is people will bring either a process or an ingredient from each end,” Tonks explains. For example, a recent collaboration between Fair State and a brewery in New York brought together the wild yeast and bacteria culture used in Fair State’s sour beer program with raw buckwheat grown in New York state.
Sometimes collaborations are just pure fun — an idea hatched over a round of beers. Coming together to make it happen is an excuse for brewer friends to share their passion.
There are currently two Fair State collaborations available in the Twin Cities. Clarity of Purpose IPA — brewed with the Surly Brewing Co. — is a clear take on the popular and typically cloudy New England IPA. Malts specifically grown to reduce haze-causing compounds, combined with cold-conditioning, clarifying centrifugation and massive application of hops late in the brewing process, results in a nearly clear beer with the juicy flavor profile typical of the style.
Clarity of Purpose bursts with pineapple, lemon citrus and floral hop flavor, with very little bitterness or malt character to obscure it. A bit more of both however, would be welcome. The beer comes off thin and lacking the structure that malt and bitterness would provide. But the absence of doughy and chalky qualities from suspended yeast and proteins is definitely a plus. Clarity of Purpose is available in cans throughout the Twin Cities.
Morgendunst (“morning mist” in German) is a collaboration between Fair State and Pollyanna Brewing Co. in Lemont, Ill. It was inspired by the New England IPA style. While exchanging disparaging remarks about cloudy IPA, they hit on the idea to create a hoppy version of hefeweizen, the German-style wheat beer that is traditionally cloudy.
Heavy hop additions post-fermentation and fruity notes from the yeast strain give this beer intense flavors of overripe tropical fruits like banana, mango, guava and pineapple. At 25 IBU it’s bitterer than a normal hefeweizen. That bitterness is enhanced by fermentation-derived clove notes to give an impression of pale ale level bitterness. Morgendunst is only available on draft at the Fair State taproom in northeast Minneapolis.
Braupakt Hefe Weissbier is another hopped-up hefeweizen made by Munich’s Weihenstephaner Brewery and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Weihenstephan is world-famous for its wheat beer. Sierra Nevada arguably invented the American-style pale ale. Braupakt presents a perfect marriage of the two styles.
Full-bodied bread and cracker wheat malt provides the base. Layered on top are a mélange of banana and clove, along with floral and citrus-peel hops. A touch of traditional German hops adds a subtle spicy note. Bitterness is sharp and assertive. An addition of caramel malt gives another nod to the typical pale ale profile.
New Glarus Brewing is one of the best breweries in the Upper Midwest. Their beers are in high demand nationally, but are distributed only in Wisconsin. Thanks to a collaboration with Belgium’s De Proef Brouwerii, whose beers are sold in Minnesota, we can get a taste of New Glarus without a trek across the border.
Abtsolution is a strong, Belgian dark ale brewed with Wisconsin-grown hops and lactose (milk sugar) to further highlight the Dairy State. Rich caramel and bread-crust malt lead, with plum and dark cherry fruitiness coming in mid-palate. Low cocoa and peppery spice offer a counterpoint. French and American oak bring side notes of oak and vanilla. The intensity of the alcohol in both flavor and warming sensation is the only downside to this otherwise luscious beer.
Local favorites Steel Toe and Indeed Brewing took a novel approach to collaboration for their Tan & Black. Instead of brewing a single beer together, each one brewed a different beer with the intention that they be blended.
Tan & Black presents as a flip of the layered black and tan. Whereas that blend is typically a black stout floating on top of a golden ale or lager, the Steel Toe/Indeed version puts the dark beer on the bottom. That beer is a rich, wood-aged, rye bock that features dark-toast and caramel malt with undertones of raisins, cocoa and rye spice. On top is a nitrogen-dispensed, wood-aged blond ale with notes of honey and bread.
When combined, the balance at first favors the bock, with the blond providing mostly bitterness and a hint of spicy hops. Midway through the glass, the beers blend and the flavors merge. The overall palate lightens and the honey/white bread of the blond begins to emerge.
Because state law forbids breweries from selling another brewery’s beer in their taproom, Tan & Black is not being poured at either Indeed or Steel Toe. Availability is limited to select establishments, with a list at steeltoebrewing.com
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.