There was a whiff of xenophobia at the first American Beer Month held July 2000. Gathering for a rally on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a throng of brewers and beer lovers was asked to swear that each would “savor the flavor of American-made beer, responsibly, moderately and exclusively.”
That attitude has changed, as collaborations between American craft brewers and their foreign counterparts, marrying Old World traditions and expertise with American ingenuity and creativeness, have become increasingly common.
Highly anticipated is an upcoming collaboration between Boston Beer Co., the nation’s largest craft brewery, and the Weihenstephan Brewery in Freising, Germany, the world’s oldest beer maker (official founding date: 1040). Details on the new beer are incomplete—as of press time in February the parties had yet to even choose a name. But Boston Beer chairman Jim Koch describes it as an uncategorical beer, with a double-digit alcohol content but a Champagne-like effervescence and crispness on the palate, quite unlike a traditional German doppelbock. The brew will undergo multiple fermentations, possibly with both top- and bottom-fermenting yeast strains.
Koch says that their Swedish importer brought him and the head of brewing at Weihenstephan, Dr. Josef Schrädler, together. The former monastery brewery, now run by the Bavarian government, “is the keeper of the world’s oldest brewing tradition,” notes Koch, who adds that he can’t help feeling “something reverential” whenever he climbs the hillside that leads to the brewery. But, he continues, “that technical expertise is focused on perfecting what has already been done for a long time. My suggestion was, let’s develop an entirely new style within the confines of the Reinheitsgebot, something radically different.”
The groundbreaking beer will be brewed in both countries, and corked bottles should appear on the market sometime in spring 2010. “It’s been an energizing experience for the both of us,” says Koch.
In the meantime, SBS Imports in Seattle has released the third beer in its Brewmaster’s Collaboration series: Van Twee, a co-production of John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery and Dirk Naudts of Belgium’s De Proef brewery. It’s described as “a deep amber-chocolate colored porter-dubbel hybrid, with Michigan sour cherry juice and Brettanomyces in the secondary fermentation.” SBS president Alan Shapiro notes that De Proef is always the host, but he rotates the American partner by region. Next year head brewer Spike Buckowski of Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, GA, will collaborate on what Shapiro describes as “an imperial Flanders red.”
Still another joint effort brought together Jean-Marie Rock, brewmaster at the Belgian Trappist brewery Orval, with Steven Pauwels of Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, MO. The two met in late October to craft a limited-release, Saaz hop-accented imperial pilsner. The beer will be released in early 2010 as part of Boulevard’s Smokestack series of one-off specialty beers.
For Rock, the collaboration gave him an opportunity to recreate a recipe from his youth at the long-defunct Lamot brewery, and to observe the U.S. craft-brewing scene. Pauwels said he learned a lot about a European brewing technique called first wort hopping, in which hops are added during the lautering process, before the beer is transferred to the brewkettle. This early hopping is supposed to produce a subtle, floral aroma in the finished beer.
The project also gave the two Belgians (Pauwels hails from a village called Eeklo between Brugge and Ghent) a chance to rekindle a cameraderie that had been forged at the 2001 Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, OR. “It’s us against the big guys. We’re in the same camp,” laughed Pauwels.
Greg Kitsock writes a biweekly column for the Washington Post and is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.