Let's get it on - part 2

In the concluding part of his look at the phenomenon of collaborations, Adrian Tierney-Jones meets the brewers reaching beyond the beer-o-sphere for inspiration

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There is more to a brewing collaboration than a couple of breweries getting together and making a beer to the soundtrack of metal. If we wanted to go all philosophical, then Trappist beers are the original collaboration brews, an alliance forged between the sacred world of Cistercian monks and the profane one of commercial brewing. While we’re on this astral plane, you could say that brewing is akin to an act of prayer, with the same routine followed time after time, meanwhile fermentation is nothing but the silence in the cloisters as the monks go about their ethereal business.

However, back in the material world, the next stage of collaborative brews has been the ones that take place between brewers and non-breweries, whether it is for a political cause, a brand of Yorkshire pudding or the one with what a brewer said to me was a ‘dead yeast spread’. I presume he was talking about Camden Town’s 2021 link up with Marmite. I admit to experiencing a moment of lassitude when reading about it but on tasting thought it a credible take on a Rauchbier. 

A lot of these collaborations demonstrate that beer can be a positive force. For instance, after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, Texas-based Weathered Souls’ head brewer and co-owner Marcus Baskerville launched the Black is Beautiful initiative with over 1200 breweries around the world becoming involved. Baskerville produced a base recipe for a stout and then those who wanted to be involved put their own spin on it. Given the urgent need for the brewing industry to demonstrate a sense of inclusivity, this was a vital collaboration. 

PHOTO: Weathered Souls

This sense of welcome has also been seen with LGBTQIA+ beer collaborations. During the early part of the summer, The Queer Brewing Project was involved with the Tate Gallery’s Tate Eats, alongside fellow brewery Drop Project, to produce All of Us or None of Us. This was described as a ‘playful pale ale’ and brewed as part of the Pride Month edition of Tate Modern Lates.

According to Andrew Downs, Operations Director at Tate Eats, which has been collaborating with breweries for over 20 years, "Tate Eats tap takeovers, and collaborative partnerships with breweries across the UK, are put together to support the exhibition programme here at Tate and to provide a more immersive experience for visitors to the Tate galleries. Another motivator is that we like to champion independent creative businesses as creativity and collaboration are part of Tate Eats’ DNA. We firmly believe in championing independents and these collaborative partnerships are a way for us to do this within the brewing industry."

"When we start thinking about the next collaborative project we need to be sure that the chosen brewery is (a) able to deliver a consistently good quality product and (b) the right choice to create a beer to support the chosen exhibition or artist. So we will take a deep dive into the approach/motives/inspiration of the artist or exhibition and then think about which brewery would be the best fit for this project. After that, we approach the brewery and if it is up for the project, we will sit down together and explore the exhibition or artist to develop the best approach for the brew."

PHOTO: Fork & Brewer x I Am Hope

For a future project, Downs and his team have been working on a beer with Burning Sky’s founder Mark Tranter, which will accompany a forthcoming Cezanne exhibition at Tate Modern. An extra arty bonus is that Burning Sky’s highly talented illustrator, Simon Gane, will create a Cezanne-inspired label for the beer. 

Further unconventional collaborations have seen breweries come together with non-brewing companies that produce crisps, chocolate and exterior paint (Northern Monk I’m looking at you). Over in New Zealand, along with two other breweries, the brewery Boneface teamed up with an animal shelter to make a beer whose profits were donated to the organisation. Former Thornbridge brewer Kelly Ryan is Boneface’s Brewery Manager and recalls another collaboration at a previous place of work, Fork & Brewer, where he teamed up with a mental health awareness programme called I Am Hope.

"This is run by an ex-comedian and all round legend Mike King," he says, "and we brewed a beer where all proceeds went in to help them out. They place mental health advocates in schools around New Zealand and undergo a lot of programmes and roadshows around mental health, so I was hugely proud of being a part of this collaboration."

Another intriguing journey that brewing collaborations are taking is when a brewery works with a different drinks maker, for instance a vineyard, cider-maker or distillery. Cider certainly seems to be a major attraction, with Tom Oliver being a popular collaborator. Back in 2019, Burning Sky hosted a very special brew day which involved Oliver as well as The Kernel and Mills Brewing. The resulting beer, which was spontaneously fermented in Burning Sky’s coolship, was then added to a series of oak barrels with each of the four participants adding their own in-house mixed fermentation culture (in Oliver’s case cider lees from three different cider apple varieties). The result was Four Friends, a blend of all four beers. Other breweries have collaborated with gin and whisky makers, while the Yeastie Boys went to a New Zealand vineyard for what they styled as a strong white ale. 

PHOTO: Burning Sky Brewery

"Collaborations with other breweries can sometimes be a little paint-by-numbers," says the brewery’s co-founder Stu McKinlay, "so I really enjoy the technical challenge of collaborating with other types of businesses. It so happened that Gladstone Vineyard was just down the road from where my folks live, so we'd been there and met them many times. After a few chats, we decided we'd release one of their wines as Pushmi and then make a co-fermented beer — Pullyu — to sell alongside it. The Pushmi Pullyu is, of course, the double-headed animal in the Dr Doolittle stories. Beer and wine often sit together but there is also often a tension between them so the name seemed apt."

"We essentially made a base beer and then dosed it with a Belgian-style candi sugar that we made ourselves with white sugar and the Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier blend from Gladstone. It was a very similar process to making a strong Belgian-style ale but with the deliciously aromatic and acidic white wine replacing the water you'd normally use in the production of traditional candi sugar.’" 

Sometimes looking at social media or tasting the fruits of a collaboration, it is easy to believe that everything seems to go right when breweries get together. It normally does, but not always. I recall one collaboration I and several other beer writers were involved in ended up with the first brew developing a stuck mash. The brewer was all for making it the next day but one of the owners tersely told him he had to do it again that same day. Speaking with various breweries, however, you are more likely to hear about technical difficulties rather than anything too controversial, as Adnams’ Production Director (and former Head Brewer) Fergus Fitzgerald recalls. 

PHOTO: Untappd © Vee B

"The beer that went the most wrong was a Stone Double IPA with Mitch Steele," he says. "It tasted great in the end, but it did block the wort cooler due to what we thought was an enormous hop charge in the kettle. We were having a beer while the wort was running off when we got the call to come back, and a few hours were spent unblocking the wort cooler.  

"The Avery collab was probably one I wouldn’t want to repeat, but nothing to do with the brewery, brewers or the beer. Our now Head Brewer, Dan Gooderham, took them out one night for some food and beers. They had a lot of oysters and the following morning we had a call from the hotel to say that they wouldn’t be coming out as they had turned an unnatural shade of green. Meanwhile Dan, who had eaten exactly the same food, was right as rain and mashing in at 5am!"

Then there are the awkward collaborations. One brewer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me that the hardest one he oversaw was with a much smaller brewery, whose owner was very outspoken about the industry online. "I thought we would take them on," he says, "as they were so anti family brewers, and one of the things he said to our brewers while he was brewing was that our best-selling beer wasn’t that good and that another beer, which had won loads of awards, was ok. They weren’t very happy. He didn’t have a lot of empathy though I am glad we did it, maybe we opened his eyes a bit more to family brewers."

As for the future of beer collaboration, there seems a healthy sense of joy and articulation in the way the industry approaches it. Neptune co-founder Julie O’Grady told me that she thinks that they are still relevant: "If you are doing it for the right purpose, it brings people together, can enhance knowledge and forge good friendships." While other brewers I spoke with expressed a similar sense of positivity at the thought of coming together with other breweries. Whether it’s about working together or supporting a good cause, brewing collaboration is here to stay. Just ask the Trappist monks.

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