By Savannah Hayes Orr
Collaboration feels so natural in the Colorado craft beer scene. It’s one of those rare industries where a rivalry is hard to find. Craft breweries truly support each other. You need a few extra bags of two-row pale malt? Call your neighboring brewery. Having your taproom grand opening? Invite all the other surrounding breweries and taprooms. One brewery’s success only elevates the entire industry.
The Colorado Collaboration Festival was created in 2014 by the Colorado Brewers Guild and Two Parts, an event production and promotions company, with the intention to bring guild members together to create one-off, sometimes ridiculous, brews.
Taking place in Denver during Colorado Craft Beer Week, March 16-23, the festival will showcase more than 100 beers from more than 200 breweries. Unlike years past, this year’s festival celebrates collaborations during a full week of events and has a theme “Craft Beer – It’s In Our Nature.” While I absolutely recommend you attend this event that brewers have been preparing for months, my focus is to encourage you to visit your local taproom and taste these collabs at one of their sources. Where new friends became partners, where old friends reunited and just the right amount of interesting ingredients harmonized to create a damn good beer.
On the day I shadowed their brew, Horse & Dragon brewers Josh Evans and Titus Bentley, along with owners Carol and Tim Cochran had all ventured 20 minutes down Interstate 25 to brew with Noel Bennett and Zach Weakland at High Hops. A few days earlier, locations were reversed and the same beer, well kind-of, was brewed at H&D. It was clear that almost everyone knew each other, greeting with hugs and, “Oh, hi!” Exclamations of envy were made over pieces of equipment; Carol told Zach she was jealous of their brewery piping, which was so endearing, to be honest. In this tight craft beer community, you might have only met someone is passing, but you’ve drank their beer, sat in their taproom and feel like you really know them through their beer.
H&D brewer Josh was excited to try something really different. Having never worked with the crew from High Hops, he knew this would be a sharing of the process — an opportunity to get out of his wheelhouse. “Collaboration brews give you a license to experiment and bounce ideas off people who have the same passion.” The brewers decided on a blonde baltic porter because, well, have you ever heard of a blonde baltic porter?
A typical baltic porter has a similar color and clarity to a stout, with robust malty sweetness, and some chocolate notes. “Similar to a stout, but softer, not so heavy.” Josh also liked the history of the beer; being a cross between English Porters influenced by Russian Stouts. This blonde version is comprised of lager yeast, saaz hops and a complex malt bill of pilsner malt, which is light in color, Munich 10, which is caramelly, approaching deep golden and a small amount of pale chocolate malt, which is a bit darker. Cocoa nibs added some chocolate notes and they’re shooting for an ABV of 8.5%.
But, as with most collab brews, there will be two versions of this beer. Every brewhouse has a slightly different setup, slightly different equipment, which will cause slightly different finished products. H&D has a 15 bbl system while High Hops brewed on their 10 bbl pilot system. High Hops uses direct fire to heat their mash kettle, while H&D uses a steam jacket. Both used a German lager yeast but sourced from different yeast houses and there are also slightly different ingredient ratios.
It wouldn’t be a collaboration brew day without the fun, yet slightly daunting task of discussing beer names. Although this brainstorm session came easy — the most likely being the combination of their respective brewery names — which work together quite perfectly as “high horse or hop dragon.” We’ll just have to wait and see and drink.
Lookout for these northern Colorado collaborations coming to a taproom near you:
Berthoud Brewing and Mountain Cowboy Brewing: American Amber with Coffee
Black Bottle and Accomplice: Blueberry Protein Milkshake IPA
Black Bottle and Zwei: Rye Pilsner
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project and Omnipollo: Imperial Dessert Stout
Crow Hop and Butcherknife: Berliner Weisse
Funkwerks and Reuben’s Brews: Barrel-aged Brett Saison with Cherries
Gilded Goat and Goat Patch: Herb-Spiced Sour
Gilded Goat and Pink Boots Society Fort Collins: Hoppy Blonde Ale
Horse & Dragon and High Hops: Blonde Baltic Porter
Left Hand and 4 Hands: Barrel-aged Imperial Milk Stout with Boysenberry
Left Hand and Wild Blue Yonder: Brett Pale Ale
McClellan’s and Pink Boots Society Fort Collins: Brown Ale, Cask Conditioned and on CO2
McClellan’s and The Inveralmond Brewery: Cask Conditioned New England IPA
New Belgium and TRVE: Experimental Sour
Purpose Brewing & Cellars and Paradox Beer: Modern Farmhouse Ale
Red Truck and 1623 Brewing: Experiential Belgian Ale
Red Truck and Snowbank: Bland Stout
Timnath Beerwerks and Maxline: Hazy Red IPA and India Pale Lager
Timnath Beerwerks and The Hop Grenade Taproom: Pale Ale with Citra and Mosaic hops
WeldWerks and Cerebral: New England Double IPA with Nelson, Citra, and Sabro hops, also available 16oz cans Wiley Roots and Fiction Beer: New England Style IPA