Behind the Scenes with the Brewers of Denver’s Collaboration Fest
On March 19, Denver will host the third annual Collaboration Fest beer festival. Featuring around 75 collaborations by brewers from around the world at Sports Authority Field at Mile High (the home of the Broncos), it’s one of the largest events of its kind in the country.
What makes the event especially unique is that each of these beers is intended to be a one-time only creation, specifically brewed for and drank at the festival. So for those who won't be Colorado this weekend to try these works of brewing synergy, we've got a behind-the-scenes look at a dozen of the teams set to be featured and some insight into the process behind their beers.
Avery Brewing and Call to Arms Brewing
The pairing of legendary Boulder brewery Avery with recent Denver start-up Call to Arms speaks to the spirit that drives Collaboration Fest. The three founders of Call to Arms, which opened last year, all formerly worked for Avery. Not only is there no animosity, these old friends wanted to team up to make Breeze’s Mom – a bright, hoppy American stout. Call to Arm’s Jon Cross, dressed in white, is surrounded by members of his former workplace – from left to right – Ross Meinert, Fred Rizzo and Josh Rapp.
Boulder Beer Co. and Fat Head’s Brewery
At its heart, beer is about socializing, and Collaboration Fest isn’t just a chance for brewers across the country to make beer, but to talk about beer as well. Here brewmaster Matt Cole (left) from Ohio’s Fat Head’s chats with David Zuckerman (middle), co-owner and brewmaster of Boulder Beer, with Boulder’s “Beer Jedi,” affectionately known as “Chicken Dan,” listening in. The two breweries collaborated on Co-Hopitation – a style they’ve called a “Hopfenweizen,” dry-hopping the hell out of a Hefeweizen base to give it the pop of an IPA.
Crazy Mountain Brewing and Stillwater Artisanal Ales
Stillwater Artisanal’s owner, head brewer and Baltimore native Brian Strumke (top center) is known for being a “gypsy brewer” – a fun way of saying he brews in other people’s facilities instead of his own. So he probably didn’t feel out of place working in Edwards, Colorado, with Crazy Mountain on Neoteric – a Sour Wild IPA brewed with loads of fruity hops and Brettanomyces yeast for a final product that should be juicy and tart. From left to right, Alex Connelly, Audrey Young, Alex Flores, John Allshouse and Jesse Nansel represent Crazy Mountain.
Epic Brewing and Ska Brewing
Brewing isn’t all fun and drinking. A bit of labor is involved as well. Somehow, Ska co-founder Dave Thibodeau got stuck hauling the grains while the two head brewers, Justin Hyde from Epic (left) and Thomas Larsen of Ska (right), chatted in the background. Ska and Epic, from Durango and (originally) Salt Lake City respectively, collaborated on Skeptic Ale – an American IPA that will be partially aged in Peach Street Distillery Peach Brandy Barrels with peach puree before the brewers blend it with a fresh brewed version of the same IPA. Then they will dry-hop the whole thing with Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand.What's a Day at America's Most Creative Beer Fest Like
Factotum Brewhouse and Tow Yard Brewing
The collaboration between Denver’s Factotum and Indianapolis’s Tow Yard brought out the local media for good reason. The inspiration behind this brew was none other than the Super Bowl winning hero who called both cities home: Peyton Manning. Named Oatmaha, the Oatmeal Pale Ale was built off more than just clever wordplay; it also featured ingredients native to both states—corn from Indiana and sage from Colorado to add an earthy tone.
Former Future Brewing and Brewery 85
East meets west in this collaboration between Denver’s Former Future and Greenville, South Carolina’s Brewery 85. But for the beer, called Tee Time, the inspiration was entirely southern. It’s an American-style amber infused with black tea to give the brew some classic sweet tea notes. Posing from left to right is James Howat (Former Future), Brook Bristow (South Carolina Brewers Guild), Will McCameron (Brewery 85) and Aly Hartwig (Former Future). Oh, and one black brewery cat.
Beryl’s Beer Co. and Goose Island Beer Co.
Beryl’s head brewer Eric Carter Nichols (left) and Goose Island cellarman Taylor Nelson (right) made perfect sense as collaboration partners: They’ve been friends since attending brewing school in Munich. But despite one working in Denver and one in Chicago, the beer they created – Papa Eder Weiss – was inspired by the drinking from their school days – a classic Bavarian wheat updated with the modern hop aroma of Australian and New Zealand hops.
Gravity Brewing and Marshall Brewing
Part of the fun of events like Collaboration Fest is the ability to try something bizarre. For Louisville, Colorado’s Gravity and Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Marshall that unique brew will be Dillsner – a classic German Pilsner that’s had dill added during conditioning. John Frazee of Gravity works to pack the beer with German malts while Eric Marshall from Marshall brewing uses his phone – maybe to Google if anyone has ever made a dill beer before.
Little Machine Beer and Sun King Brewing
Denver’s Little Machine and Indianapolis’s Sun King may be nearly 1,000 miles apart, but each brewery has some common roots. Sun King’s Dustin Boyer (left) and Adrian Ball (middle) and Little Machine’s Brett Williams (right) all spent time working within the Rock Bottom Brewery chain, making a collaboration brew the perfect time to reminisce. Together, they devised Diptych – a Scotch ale with muscovado sugar and oak.
Odell Brewing and Stone Brewing
Billed as a beer ten years in the making, Odell’s Brent Cordle and Stone’s Laura Ulrich met long ago when the two were working in Odell’s packaging department. Tough Ulrich left Fort Collins a decade ago for the sunnier climate of San Diego and Stone, the pair dreamed of one day creating Reunification – a chocolate coffee raspberry Russian imperial stout that was split evenly to age in whiskey and rum barrels before eventually being rejoined together in the final blended brew.
Ratio Beerworks and New Belgium Brewing
Colorado collaborators Ratio (from Denver) and New Belgium (from Fort Collins) got really hands on for the making of Let’s Get Incredible – a Brûléed Grapefruit Saison. New Belgium’s Cody Reif donned both a cowboy hat and a torch to fire up a couple of the 200 grapefruits that went into the brew while Ratio’s Jason zumBrunnen watched on with excitement. The beer’s name, meanwhile, comes from the two breweries mutual appreciation of ‘90s rock. “I got into the music scene back in high school due to a band called Lifter Puller,” said New Belgium’s Andrew Emerton. “One of my favorite Lifter Puller songs is called ‘Let’s Get Incredible!’ Of course, the dudes at Ratio dig that band as well, so we went with it.”
Great Divide Brewing Co. and TRVE Brewing
Denver’s Great Divide is known for brewing big beers while the city’s TRVE bills itself as a “heavy metal brewery.” So the two brewers’ decision to make a straightforward German beer style, a Helles called To Helles and Back, might seem unexpected. But that’s the point: While everyone else tries to experiment, these collaborators want to stand out by trying to knock something simple out of the park. David Wright (Great Divide) and Zach Coleman (TRVE) are shown getting the mash going for this clean lager. Guess which one works for the “heavy metal brewery”? Hint: sunglasses.