One-off brewer collaborations a trend that's going global

Piet Meirhaeghe (left), a Belgian brewer, raises a glass with (from left) Bruno Delrue of t'Gaverhopke brewery in Belgium, Jean Broillet IV of Tired Hands brew-pub in Ardmore. and Delrue's wife, Gudrun. The two breweries collaborated on A Long Way IPA.
Piet Meirhaeghe (left), a Belgian brewer, raises a glass with (from left) Bruno Delrue of t'Gaverhopke brewery in Belgium, Jean Broillet IV of Tired Hands brew-pub in Ardmore. and Delrue's wife, Gudrun. The two breweries collaborated on A Long Way IPA.
Posted: July 20, 2012

JUST A ROUGH guess here, but at their current pace, brewers across the nation will hook up with competing beer-makers to produce no fewer than 250 separate collaborative one-offs in 2012.

Pricey and exotic, these collabs generate tons of excitement among craft-beer enthusiasts and — perhaps more importantly — demonstrate why America's small breweries are so different from the big guys'. You will never see the button-down buds from St. Louis happily sharing recipes with the Rocky Mountain fellas from Golden, Colo. Mega-corps don't collaborate; they assimilate. But in the past week alone:

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales of Michigan and Maui Brewing released Sobrehumano Palena 'Ole, a red ale made with passion fruit and cherries.

Jester King of Texas and Denmark's Mikkeller released Drink'in the Sunbelt, an organic, hoppy wheat beer.

Terrapin Beer Co. of Georgia bottled its spiced Reunion Ale '12, a beer it brewed with Shmaltz Brewing of San Francisco.

Two Portland, Ore., breweries — Lompoc and Migration — released Awry Wit, while on the other side of the country, Portsmouth Brewery of New Hampshire and the Alchemist Pub and Brewery from Vermont released Squidgy Black.

Cigar City released Church on a Hill, a cognac-barrel-aged barley wine that it made with fellow Floridians from Swamp Head Brewery.

And Brux, the long-awaited Sierra Nevada/Russian River collab, hit the shelves and immediately sold out.

Philadelphia brewers are having just as much fun.

Last month, Scott Morrison of West Philly's Dock Street Brewery hosted French brewer Daniel Thiriez for a day in the brewhouse. The two were brought together by Monk's Café owner Tom Peters and Shelton Brothers importers of Massachusetts, which handles Thierez's beers.

"Daniel was right at the top of my wish list," Morrison said. "We didn't know each other, but Tom and the Sheltons made it work. And in the brewhouse, it turned out we kind of have a common vision. What I've been doing for years is similar to what he's been doing."

Indeed, both are known for farmhouse-style ale — typically rustic pale beers made with yeast that imparts distinctively dry, earthy flavors.

Together, they made a light-bodied ale that Morrison describes as being somewhere between a classic, full-bodied saison and a thinner table saison. It's just over 4 percent alcohol by volume, "really light and refreshing with a ton of flavor," he said.

The beer goes on tap in early August and should be available in bottles in September.

Meanwhile, this week Ardmore's new Tired Hands brew-pub tapped A Long Way IPA, a collab from owner Jean Broillet IV and Bruno Delrue of t'Gaverhopke in Belgium. Bittered with plenty of distinctively pinelike Simcoe hops, the ale was spiced, at Delrue's suggestion, with star anise.

"It gives the beer an earthy, refreshing quality," Broillet said.

It's a collaboration that began with an innocent email.

About five years ago, Broillet — then an assistant at Iron Hill Brewery — and his wife, Julie, were heading to Europe on a biking trip and thought it would be fun to visit some breweries. They contacted a bunch, and t'Gaverhopke was the only one that responded, Broillet said. "We stayed at their café most of the day, drinking beer with Bruno and his wife, Gudrun, who actually does most of the brewing. Since then, we've been fast friends."

Delrue visited in 2010 for Philly Beer Week, and Broillet sent him home with a bottle of his double India pale ale.

"From the start, both Bruno and Gudrun were hop-adverse," Broillet said. "They didn't understand why anyone would want so much hop flavor and aroma. But after that bottle, I think they were converted."

By the time Broillet returned to Belgium in 2011, the two agreed to brew a new version of double IPA, this one made from Broillet's recipe and t'Gaverhopke's house yeast. Its floral Amarillo and Cascade hops paired perfectly with the apricotlike quality of the yeast.

The joint effort worked so well, t'Gaverhopke added it to its regular lineup. Look for the pair's beer in bottles with a name that reflects the spirit of a successful collaboration: Bitter Sweet Symphony.

"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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