Mashing in

This month, veteran brewer Charlotte Cook discusses the creative benefits of collaboration


Tomorrow I am going to brew my first collaboration beer since before the pandemic. It’s very exciting; I love brewing collaborations. The day itself often involves a lot of sitting around in someone else’s brewery, feeling a bit chilly and not totally knowing where the loo is, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn new techniques and try out a style of brewing you might not always get the opportunity to do. 

Collaborations, where two different breweries create a beer together, are also a great way of bringing some positivity into beer, and for smaller brewers they can really open the doors to a wider audience. When I was a brewer at The Scottish Brewery I would get incredibly excited about collaborations, especially as most of them were really good fun and I got to talk to the head brewers from some extremely prestigious overseas breweries. That said, half the time the brewers might come, take a few photos and then disappear off, leaving the home side brew team to finish the job. 

In the early days of craft beer in the UK, a collaboration brew day was meticulously planned for weeks in advance, recipes discussed in detail and brewers sworn to secrecy before the pairing was announced. These days, things seem a little more relaxed, brewers often picking the hops on the day and deciding fermentation profiles on the fly. 

Now we can collaborate with a brewery in the USA via Zoom

The fact that collaborations have become less rigid also signifies to me a slight reduction in stiffness across the whole beer industry, now we can collaborate with a brewery in the USA via Zoom and, as the Brave Noise Initiative shows us, collaborations can happen all over the world. Brave Noise is a global collaboration in which breweries sign up and pledge to provide safe and inclusive spaces with transparent policies, and in return they get the recipe and brew the beer, with a good chunk of the profits going to charity. These global collaborations are new, but potentially provide an inclusive and innovative way for breweries to work together and to bring new people into the fold. 

Collaborations have also become somewhat less of an excuse for the cool kids to hang out together, and instead are used as networking and learning opportunities by both sides. I have worked at breweries where, when a collaboration was proposed by a smaller brewery, the response from the big boys was incredibly reminiscent of Gretchen Weiners in Mean Girls saying “you can’t sit with us”. A lot of those smaller breweries would now scoff at the thought of collaborating with the increasingly irrelevant dinosaurs and are themselves leading the charge with innovative brewing. 

Brewing can quite often be a lonely job, with long and unsociable hours spent on your feet in damp and freezing breweries, so getting to do something different is always good fun. The social aspect of collaborations is almost as important as the beer that comes out of them. I’ve made some long-lasting friendships from collaborating, and certainly learned a lot of new techniques that I’ve taken away and used in my own brewing. As a brewer, you should never think that you’ve learned all that you can about the craft; I come across new information on a nearly daily basis, and while I can’t utilise all of this knowledge immediately, I can squirrel it away until that day comes. 

Collaborating is a beautifully organic way of sharing resources

Techniques in brewing are constantly evolving, and our use of things like fermentation aids and mixed yeast strains are still decades behind wine makers. Collaborating is a beautifully organic way of sharing resources and collectively improving the industry, as well as holding each other to better professional standards. The brewing industry has come on leaps and bounds in the past decade, with consistency and quality improving across the board, and as such consumers have become used to a pretty high standard of beer in general. This wouldn’t have happened without brewers collaborating, and I’m really happy to see that collaborations continue to thrive and indeed brewers coming up with inventive new ways to collaborate, even if Covid means we can’t always meet up in person. 

I for one am very excited to be getting on a 6am train tomorrow and travelling to a brewery that I both like and admire, to create something that encapsulates a little bit of both of us and send that out into the world for you all to experience. The best bit of being a brewer is making beer that people enjoy, but it’s a little bit more special to do it with a mate.

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