It’s easy to end up with hop-related choice paralysis when scouting for beer. New names and proliferating styles abound, so when two or more breweries appear on a badge, bottle or can, I jump at the chance to kill several birds with one stone.
Collaboration brews are as commonplace post-craft revolution as beards on brewers; in what’s still a tiny section of the market, cooperation is as big as competition.
It’s a David and Goliath situation with global brewing behemoths on top, but fortunately the collective Davids are mates. I’m raising a glass to this spirit of camaraderie and innovation in the first of a new series on life-giving beer.
And (of course) yesterday was World Beer Day, so don’t take down the bunting just yet, but do feel free to raise an eyebrow at new research by a UK brewery showing Britons have rated their dear own British craft beer the best in the world...
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Heads and hops come together in the brewing industry because of shared ideals and common interests, says Graham McAteer of London-based Fourpure brewery.
“Whether it be expertise, ingredients or imagination there is never a shortage of ideas for new beers and new concepts,” he says.
The brewery’s recent Continental Collaboration series saw it work with six global, like-minded counterparts – “they weren’t chosen because they were the most hyped or trendy in the world,” adds McAteer. The results range from a session pale ale to more out-there creations like a satsuma and seaweed gose.
With projects like this, beer lovers can sample the delights of faraway breweries we might never have had access to otherwise. Smaller producers can enjoy the reach and resources of larger ones, which remain fresh and interesting. And collaborations often result in big, boundary-pushing flavours. That’s what happens when you put a bunch of beer geeks in a room together.
The challenge is getting them before they’re gone – the vast majority of collaborations are one-off brews. They’ll be talk of the town among beer enthusiasts, sell out in a flash, then fade into the ether.
Time and place
Geographical ties inform projects as much as ideological ones: McAteer points to the North Sea Bridges series between Scottish and Scandinavian brewers, launching at Leeds Beer Week later this month.
While the likes of Northern Monk (which is so hot right now) takes its cue from the north of England’s identity with its ongoing Patrons Projects. Beers in this series are made in collaboration with breweries far and wide, alongside athletes, artists and creatives from around Northern Monk’s Leeds locale.
“The idea was always to provide an opportunity to showcase progressive northern talent to a new audience,” says founder Russell Bisset. “Cross pollination is key to the whole initiative.”
Cans tell collaborators’ stories, which are the inspiration for the beers themselves. When working with fell runner Ricky Lightfoot (yes, that’s his real name) for example, “lower alcohol, big flavour” brews that work post-race or mid-hike are on the cards. That sounds like the kind of hike I could go for.
“People say they’ve been introduced to artists, or that they’ve spotted the mural we’ve commissioned that’s a celebration of our industrial heritage, and learned more about the history of the region,” says Bisset. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Come together, right now
Signature Brew comes at collaborations from another angle. Music fans will be familiar with choosing the best of a bad beer bunch at concerts, served lukewarm in a plastic cup.
And while new wave beers have boldly entered our pubs, bars and shops, their advance into gig and festival venues has been sluggish. The Leyton brewery’s founders, sick of suffering lacklustre selections, set about making beer for live music events.
Collaborations with artists were the way in. “We used bands of all different genres as our mouthpieces,” says co-founder Tom Bott. “It was our view that music fans would listen to them, not us.”
Band-beer collaborations aren’t new, but between two industries which prize authenticity highly, they can be left wanting and appear gimmicky.
So Signature involves artists throughout the process: tasting and brainstorming, brewing and canning. It can be refreshing, says Bott, to work with collaborators unswayed by the latest trends.
Consider the niche carved out. You can find Signature’s seasonal collaborations and core range (added to the lineup in 2013) taking over taps at venues and festivals, while it scooped the Society of Independent Brewers’ Business of the Year 2018.
Two high-profile collaborations are slated for later this year, but Bott’s lips are sealed on the artists, there’s plans to crowdfund a new brewery to triple capacity.
For now, look out for the self-titled Banfi grapefruit (sweet and) sour or the crisp, pineapple scented Festival Saison – both ideal for crushing in the summer sun.
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