12 beer professionals explain how a collaboration beer comes together. 
Ratio Beerworks and New Belgium Brewing
Credit: © Dustin Hall and The Brewtography Project

Collaboration beers have become an increasingly prominent sight in the craft brewing world. You’ll spot them on tap at beer bars, sporting packages with multiple brewery logos on retail shelves and in offerings from some of the biggest names in the industry like Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams. Denver even hosts an annual festival dedicated to these brews: Collaboration Fest.

The idea behind these “collabs” is straightforward: two or more breweries work together to create a new brew – an ode to the craft beer ethos of working together instead of squabbling over market share. But how are these beers actually made? Are these strictly conceptual collaborations or are both brewers literally throwing hops into the boil? Is work split evenly or are things more akin to one of those infamous “group projects” from high school? We reached out directly to brewers and others in the industry to find out how a brewing collaboration actually goes down.

On the essence of a collaboration, from Tobias Krause, events manager at Two Parts, organizer of Collaboration Fest

“A collaboration beer is more than just a beer. It's an idea, a thought, a dream that somehow becomes a reality between two people. It's a chance to do something different, to stir the pot a little bit, which can sometimes be the best part about making a collaboration beer. It's a one-off project (most of the time), and you really don't know how it's going to turn out until the product is finished.”

On the differences between brewers, from Cory Forster, The Bakers’ Brewery, Silverthorne, Colorado

“It can certainly be a bit like herding cats, as we all head off in some random direction, but we're also all pretty out spoken and not afraid to tell our comrades we don't like something either. We narrow it down eventually, and of course, whoever's turn it is to host the brew gets a bit of extra say to go along with the extra work involved.”

On the basics of collaboration, from Brandon Proff, managing partner at Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company, Denver, Colorado

“A collaboration beer is a chance to A) have an excuse to hang out with people we really like, B) pick the brains of our peers and (more often than not) learn something new, and C) if being brewed at our place, host a brewery we love and shower them with ridiculous amounts of hospitality.”

On how collabs come together, from Stuart Ross, head brewer at Magic Rock Brewing, Huddersfield, England

“Collaborations usually begin after a few beers chatting with other brewers at festivals. I met Sam [Richardson, brewer at Brooklyn’s] Other Half on a festival cruise in the Mediterranean last year…. We exchanged a few emails, discussed styles and ideas. We came up with a recipe, visited the brewery, hung out, had some beers and good food.”

On creating the recipe, Scott Witsoe, owner and brewer at Wit’s End Brewing Company, Denver, Colorado

“I am not a musician, but I think [a collab beer] is our version of jamming together…. As for determining the recipe, I often find the discussions to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the process. We all have a slightly different process or take on approaching recipe design. There are many moments on both sides where we say to ourselves ‘I never thought of that…’ so in addition to having fun, we learn from each other.”

On choosing a style, from Vasilia Venizelacou, sale operations, Northern Monk Brew Company, Leeds, England

“As part of our Patron’s Project series … we brewed a Black IPA with [Manchester, England’s] Marble because JK, their head brewer, is the king of Black IPA’s. He loves brewing them so made sense to use his expertise and passion as part of the collaboration.”

On not sweating the details, from Ryan Kilpatrick, founder at Fiction Beer Company, Denver, Colorado

“Usually the details work themselves out. Which brewery will be used? Usually the one that can make space in the schedule. Who will handle which aspect of the brewing process? Usually the one who had the idea. In our experience it is all very easy going and fun, which is what makes collaborating so much fun.”

On deciding on the nuts and bolts, from Tristan Chan, marketing manager at Ratio Beerworks, Denver, Colorado

“Typically the two parties will meet to discuss the style of beer and ingredients they wish to utilize, often times drawing from elements each respective brewery is recognized for in proficiency. From there they'll also settle on ancillary marketing decisions such as naming and design work, and finally they must settle on which brewery will actually brew the beer on their system.”

On who does the work, from Jason Buehler, head brewer at Denver Beer Company

“Some collabs have been completely unorganized shit shows, and others have been well thought out and well planned brews…. As far as the actual brew day, the work is almost solely done by the hosting brewery. The visiting brewer shows up, drops in some hops for a photo op, drinks a lot, and might help clean out the mash tun. Otherwise, the hosting brewer does all the work.”

On who really does the work, from Andy Astor, keg orator at Elevation Beer Company, Poncha Springs, Colorado

“The craft beer industry is one of the most convivial, supportive, and borderline incestuous businesses out there. This is especially unique when you consider how young this industry is and how explosive the growth has been. In that spirit, brewers love collaboration… [But] as far as the nuts and bolts of who does what and why…. it is typically one guy actually working, and the rest of us standing around drinking beer and shooting the shit.”

On being a good host, from Dave Bergen, brewmaster and owner at Joyride Brewing Company, Edgewater, Colorado

“The host brewery should offer their guest a beer early and often.

On what makes collaboration beers so special, from Steve Kurowski, operations director at Colorado Brewers Guild

“Almost no other industry would tolerate, allow or even understand this concept. Many of us don’t see craft beer as an industry; we see craft beer as a community. A community that all works together to show the United States that beer is more than a yellow, fizzy drink that comes in a red, white and blue can. Beer is amber, red, brown, black, and golden.”