Collaborations; we work as a team and we do it my way…
Creative industries, unsurprisingly, lend themselves to collaborations. Art, music, science, motor vehicle manufacture, all vying to extend their wares through diversity. What a fantastic way to explore new ideas and challenge existing ones, by hanging out with a group of individuals and blending ideas and experiences.
Collaboration, too, is a perfect description for what happens in the brewing world. Not compromise, not subjugate, not take advantage of but collaborate. A harmonisation, a meeting of minds, pure exploration and creation. It’s one of my favourite aspects of this great industry. They can be as hotly debated as a Leigh Sales tete-a-tete or something that more resembles a best mates DnM after a night at GABS.
We’ve been a part of over 40 collaborative brews since our inception. Some as close to home as Croft Brewing, others further afield like Evil Twin and Two Birds. Our first was with Kaiju and remains one of my favourite beers. Many have been more miss than hit but all have been successful in my opinion. Only one was ever brewed as a pilot batch prior to brewday, so pure experimentation is a fundamental aspect of each beer.
Collaboration as an ideal is always something I’ve been fond of. After years studying and then working in a research lab I found that I learned more and thought more when chatting over a coffee rather than sitting in a lecture hall. There’s something distinct about the casual nature of friendly converse that helps me think laterally. I could never seem to force information in (or around) when reading a text book and could rarely even stay awake when listening in a dark, air-conditioned room to Professor Clarence McNofun. What’s more is that sharing of ideas and, where applicable, resources is fundamental to any community. It helps us explore, it helps us improve, it helps us grow. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t always been the notorious brewers that I’ve learnt heaps from on brewday. I’d say Brewtal Brewing or Croft Brewing have helped me develop more personally and professionally as a brewer than any of the others.
Brewdays for collaborations are exceptionally fun, burdensome and exhausting. If you host, you generally get in a few hours early, clean, sort and set up. You then (self imposed) feel like a cross between a tour guide, a parent and a wait staff for the day. You then end up saying everything is done and dusted, make your goodbyes and spend the next two hours cleaning up. If you’re the guest, it’s sublime. You’re almost out to make up for all the times you’ve hosted and probably exacerbate all the drawbacks of hosting. Admittedly I’ve only brewed at four other breweries so my view may be skewed 😉
Conceptualising the beer for collaborations is as diverse as the breweries we’ve partnered with. Some brewers are fastidious, detailing IBUs, colour and fermentation speed months before brewday, others we have changed the recipe while mashing in. Honestly, I value and appreciate all different types and approaches, it’s part of the fun. There’s often a lot of back and forth via email on the fine details. Others have been decided and locked in in less than half a pint. We have yet to destroy a batch from a collaboration and I would honestly drink them all, so I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach to developing a recipe.
Logistics, compensation, RRPs and LUCs and who gets what is perhaps the hardest part of collaborations, especially since brewers are so terrible at commerce (and communication). No one ever makes a commercial return from these things. In my opinion the cost to the host brewery should be covered by R&D. Trying to fit this beast into a commercial framework has the potential to defeat the reasons for doing it. For smaller brewers they almost need to be able to wear the cost of one batch of beer, as it that’s what it’s going to cost to put it all together, potentially.
At the end of the day, collaborations have been one of the highlights of my time so far at Newstead. It’s ingrained in our ideals and something we will continue with vigour. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and hang out with friends while making something born of community. I’m not sure if any other Australian brewery has released over 40 collaborations but if they have, well I would definitely be keen to make a beer with them.