Ambassadors of Beer
In America, collaboration beers are everywhere these days. American brewers are getting together with one another and also traveling abroad to bring American-style beers to breweries all over the globe. The openness that helped build America’s craft beer is being spread around the world, as U.S. brewers have become beer ambassadors.
In the late 1990s, Garrett Oliver brewed what must surely have been one of the earliest collaboration beers when he traveled to Brakspear Brewery in Henley-on-Thames, England, to make Brooklyn Bridge Bitter with Peter Scholey. The original plan was for Scholey to brew in Brooklyn, too, but Brakspear closed before that could take place. Instead, a few years later, Oliver brewed Brooklyn Best Bitter with Giles Dennis at J.W. Lees in Manchester, England. While Dennis wasn’t particularly happy with the beer they made together, consumers loved it and J.W. Lees continued to make it as a spring seasonal for several years, beginning in 2001. Later that same year, Dennis came to Brooklyn and brewed Manchester Star with Oliver, based on a recipe from 1884, and made with as many of the original ingredients as possible.
Oliver has also brewed Brooklyn Christmas Ale in Denmark and, in 2004, King’s County Brown Ale at Nørrebro Bryghus, also in Denmark. In 2006, Oliver travelled to Sheffield to brew at Kelham Island Brewery, winner of the Champion Beer of Britain at the 2004 Great British Beer Festival. The Brooklyn Smoked Porter they made won best of show at the Bradford CAMRA festival, a regional beer event in Saltaire, West Yorkshire.
Later the same year, Oliver brewed Brooklyn Cuvée d’Achouffe, with thyme, candy-sugar and the house yeast from Brasserie d’Achouffe at Les 3 Fourquets, the brewpub that Achouffe owns. Pierre Gobron and Christian Bauweraerts of the Belgian brewery later visited Oliver in Brooklyn to brew there. Oliver’s list of collaborations is long and also includes England’s Thornbridge Brewery.
Undoubtedly, Garrett Oliver’s best-known partnership was with Hans-Peter Drexler of G. Schneider & Sohn in May of last year. The arrangement grew out a decade-long friendship between the two brewers, and the result, Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse, was a weissbock pale in color but weighing in at 8 percent ABV. It was dry-hopped with Hallertauer Saphir (a.k.a. Sapphire) hops and used Schneider’s weissbier yeast.
Several weeks later, Drexler brewed the same beer with Oliver in Brooklyn, the only difference being that American hops and malt were used. Brooklyn Brewery laid out fifteen hop varieties for Drexler to choose from, and he picked the unlikely combination of Amarillo and Palisades. Drexler said of the endeavor. “We did this collaboration in order to learn some things and to create some nice new beers, maybe even a new beer style. And, more importantly, to have fun.”
Over the last decade, many other American brewers have traveled abroad as Ambassadors of Beer, spreading the gospel of great beer and sharing what they’ve been up to with beer cultures that have either been mired in tradition or not yet developed their own.
An American Attitude
As Garrett Oliver reminisces over his own experiences, he’s quick to point out that the collaborations have provided an “opportunity to learn and work with other brewers, to see how they operate” and also to “bring what was happening in the U.S. to other places,” especially those with more conservative traditions. Having been doing collaborative beers for some time now, Oliver feels privileged “to have been among the pioneers. It’s fun, I’m glad to see more people doing it.” He adds, “Not only is it a way of learning, but also of spreading the message of total American openness. It’s had a major effect on other brewing cultures.”
Dick Cantwell, veteran brewer of Big Time and Elysian in Seattle, echoes that sentiment, recalling a seminar at a Craft Brewers Conference a few years ago where brewers openly discussed recipes and techniques. Afterwards, a German brewer stood up and told the assembled group: “I have to tell you, this kind of discussion would never happen in Germany.”
When Alan Shapiro, a alum of ground-breaking beer importer Merchant du Vin, started his own importing business, one of the things he wanted to do was build on the global relationships he’d made over the years. Inspired by winemaking legend Allen Shoup’s Longshadows series of wine collaborations, Shapiro developed the Brewmaster’s Collaboration with Dirk Naudis at De Proef Brouwerij in Belgium.
Tomme Arthur, of The Lost Abbey, participated in the first collaboration brew at De Proef. Together with Naudis, he created a beer that brought together elements of both American and Belgian brewing traditions: Amarillo hops, Duvel yeast, Brettanomyces. It was the most hops De Proef had ever used in a single batch of beer. This year, they just completed the second Brewmaster’s Collaboration, this one with Jason Perkins of Allagash Brewing. Next year, Shapiro plans on approaching a Midwest brewer for the third collaboration.
Sometimes the inspiration to collaborate comes from simply being immersed in the brewing traditions of other nations. One case in point is the team of five American brewers—Tomme Arthur, Adam Avery, Sam Calagione, Vinnie Cilurzo and Rob Tod—who traveled through Belgium together. While there, they collaborated with Jean-Pierre van Roy, of Cantillon brewery in Brussels, on a hoppy beer. Generally using a spoon to add hops, van Roy stood over the kettle with a 44-pound bag of Amarillo hops, asking how much of it to put in. The five visitors said, in unison, “All of it.”
To Calagione, the instinct to collaborate feels as natural as breathing. “Anytime you get a few brewers in a room drinking, invariably someone says, ‘Hey, let’s do something.’” And so the idea of brewing a beer together evolved over the Belgian trip. Unlike typical collaborations, they didn’t create a recipe together but instead each took a base beer brewed at the Lost Abbey’s brewery in San Diego (because it had the available space at that time), and aged it in different barrels provided by each of the five breweries—with their own bugs inside. After sixteen months, the five reconvened to blend the beer.
Once the project was announced, many online commenters speculated that the group wouldn’t be able to work together because each had strong opinions and ways of doing things, but according to Arthur, “It didn’t take that long, because we all get along.” While traveling in Belgium, the five had stayed in touch with their families by phone, and the Belgian phone system, Bel Proximus, inspired the beer’s name, which eventually became Isabelle Proximus.
Tomme Arthur, who hosted the Isabelle Proximus brew, also recently did a collaboration with Hildegard van Ostedan at Brouwerij Leyerth (a.k.a. Urthel) called Ne Goeien (Flemish for “Give me a good one,” something you’d say to a bartender as you entered a bar). And Tonya Cornett, owner and brewmaster of Bend Brewing, will soon be coming down to San Diego to brew at the Lost Abbey.