Clichés are of little use in determining the virtue of collaboration. Do too many cooks spoil the broth, or are two heads better than one? Adages aside, the communal, come-and-taste-it spirit of independent brewing has yielded some delightful and delightfully unexpected collaborations between brewers, cooks and even musicians in the pursuit of a better beer.
The most visible of recent brewery co-operations is New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series. With a steady and successful line of regular ales on offer, the Ft. Collins-based brewery uses Lips of Faith as an opportunity to make beers, it sometimes seems, solely on a dare.
New Belgium’s most recent collaboration with the Indiana brewery 3 Floyds is particularly daring. The Gratzer revives a long-neglected Polish recipe, using Lublin hops and introducing a small amount of Lacto bacteria (a souring agent) to the brewing process. It’s a wheat beer, though you’d never guess it from the pitch-black color and grape must/grape Robitussin aroma. The first sip produces similar cognitive dissonance, as the low ABV (4.5 percent) and light-bodied quality of the Gratzer belies its stout-like appearance. It drinks dry, carrying the strong taste of coffee, leather and oak smoke with a sour bite on the finish and nary a note of sweetness. Fittingly for a resurrected and fairly funky-flavored beer, the bottle features a crew of Romero-style zombies, lurching along on New Belgium’s signature beach cruiser bicycles.
Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing reached across culinary boundaries for its collaborative brew, working with that city’s well-respected chocolatier Christopher Elbow to produce the Chocolate Ale for the Smokestack Series—like Lips of Faith, an uninhibited brewing line. Much like the Gratzer, the Chocolate Ale subverts expectations. While beer snobs might reasonably assume the Chocolate Ale to be a stout or porter—styles whose character frequently incorporate chocolate—it is in fact an English-style strong ale, with a deep red-copper hue and robust flavor. The cocoa nibs mark their presence as subtle aftertastes on the back end of a sip, but the body of the beer is much heavier on nut, peanut and other legume flavors.
Dogfish Head is probably the most recognizable avant-beer brewery in the United States, so its partnering with the experimental vocalist/electronic musician Julianna Barwick for Rosabi Imperial Pale Ale makes for an inspired effort. Barwick contributed her love of wasabi and the red rice of her native state of Louisiana to the recipe and loaned a hand with the initial boil; Dogfish Head handed her recordings of the mechanical processes of its newly expanded operations to create a four-song, 10-inch record, pressed in an edition of 1,000 and sold exclusively with cases of the beer. The resulting beer—which goes easy on the wasabi and delivers an expressive but not overpowering hoppy flavor—and ethereal, dreamlike music of the record make a perfect pair.