Alberta’s Breweries Collaborate

Small Batch Innovative Beers

As craft beer slowly picks away at the overall market share of beer sales, it has become commonly accepted among craft brewers that the success of one brewery is good for all other craft breweries.

The rising tide floats all boats, so to speak—and indeed the rise of craft beer’s popularity in recent years has led to not only the increase of market share, but also the exponential increase in the number of craft breweries in general.

Although there is competition among craft brewers—to suggest otherwise would be naïve—craft beer lacks the ultra-competitive or even cut-throat nature that is often associated with big beer. Even still, it may be difficult to envision an environment that supports collaboration and the open sharing of recipes and industry information, but the collaborative spirit does indeed exist within the craft beer world, and in no small way either. Today, it would be hard to find a craft brewery that hasn’t released a “collaboration brew”. This concept has gone beyond simply being a fun idea where brewers get together to see what craziness they can come up with, and is clearly established as an entirely new market segment—with craft beer fans eagerly anticipating new and innovative beers that are commonly brewed in small batches as limited releases.

Calgary’s Village Brewery has clearly embraced the collaborative spirit. From day one, Village has been committed to working with others and for others. This is clearly evidenced by the company’s policy of donating 10% of the proceeds of beer sales to various community initiatives. Village’s commitment to community and collaboration is further evidenced by their willingness to help new breweries in the local craft beer community. A great example of this is the Village Friend. Every year, Village Brewery invites a newly-opened brewery to collaborate on an idea. Brewers from both breweries get together and plan out a recipe and ultimately brew a beer. It is then packaged and sold, and a portion of the proceeds go to the new brewery with the intention of helping out the brewery in some way—often specifically helping fund a particular item for the new brewery—such as lab equipment to help with quality assurance.

This year’s Village Friend is a collaboration with Calgary’s Zero Issue Brewing, which opened its doors this past summer. Zero Issue’s Kirk MacDonald is no stranger to the Village crew, having spent time at Village as a brewer, so in this case collaboration may come even more naturally.

The beer is an Imperial Golden Stout. Wait a minute—how exactly can a stout be golden, when the characteristic roasty, chocolate, and coffee flavours of a stout come from the dark roasted malt, which would naturally make the beer quite dark? Jeremy McLaughlin, Village’s quality control manager and brewer, says that for this beer, all of the coffee and chocolate notes come from coffee and chocolate–and the only malt used is pale in colour. They use coffee from local roaster Calgary Heritage Roasting Co. along with cocoa nibs, and Tahitian vanilla, sourced from a local Calgary spice shop, Silk Road Spice Merchant. The beer is due to be out late January.

Another collaboration that was brewed in December and set for a January draft-only release (hello growler bars…) is the combined efforts of Wild Rose Brewing and Last Best Brewing and Distilling. The yet unnamed beer will be a dry-hopped sour with ample amounts of Citra and Galaxy hops. Wild Rose’s Jonas Hurtig describes it as “kind of like a New England Kettle Sour”, to which Last Best’s Phil Brian adds (with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek), “because we love new-school, drinkable, refreshing sours, but don’t like to make money very much…” Despite being an expensive beer to brew, this one will surely be a hit with sour beer fanatics and new-school IPA drinkers alike.

Despite being an industry that is becoming more and more competitive every month, with new breweries opening nearly on a weekly basis in Alberta, craft brewers continue to maintain a collaborative culture—one which favours supporting other breweries and celebrates successes collaboratively. Let’s hope this culture sticks around as more and more breweries enter the market. In any case, we are sure to see many more innovative collaborations in the months and years to come.