Nothing fattens the wallets of corporate lawyers quite like squabbling over a name. Last year, Mattel’s army of litigators forced Super Duper—a small manufacturer of educational toys for autistic kids—to destroy $500,000 in merchandise, claiming the sole right to any playthings with the word “Say” in the title. But when craft brewers Adam Avery of Avery Brewing Co. and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Co. realized they both had a beer called “Salvation,” they came up with a better solution than fighting in court. They decided to blend their beers and sell them together.
The Collaboration Not Litigation Ale became the vanguard for a whole movement of small breweries working together to create new beers. “The best part about it,” says Avery. “is that it shows that as an industry, we’re kind of a united front in the way we’re going to market. Our friendly neighborhood brewer isn’t really who we’re trying to steal business from. We only have 5 percent of the market share. There’s still a lot of that pie left on the table. So instead of businesses getting in fights over scraps and crumbs, we can get together to increase the image of the craft. One of the ways to do that is to show that we are really a brotherhood of brewers.”
Since Collaboration Not Litigation was released in 2006, more than 20 other joint-brewery beers have hit shelves. But the trend goes back much farther for Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, who’s unlikely to forget his first experience working with another brewer. “14 years ago, my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Paris,” he recalls. “I spoke seven sentences in French and one happened to be, je fabric la biere. which means ‘I make beer.’ I went to one of the few brewpubs in downtown Paris. The brewer was bilingual, so after a few pints he said, ‘you come tomorrow and you make beer with me.’ So, much to my wife’s chagrin, I was making beer on my honeymoon in Paris.”
Dogfish Head’s first commercial collaboration was the Golden Shower Imperial Pilsner brewed at Pivovar Herold B?eznice in the Czech Republic in 2006. Calagione followed that by inviting brewers Avery, Cilurzo, Tomme Arthur (The Lost Abbey) and Rob Todd (Allagash) to join him on a tour of Belgium. The five brewmasters commemorated the trip by creating a sour ale together called Isabelle Proximus. Since then Dogfish Head has brewed beers with Victory, Stone, Italy’s Birra del Borgo and craft beer pioneers Sierra Nevada.
“For us, it was a huge moment of pride because [Sierra Nevada] is the original Mac Daddy of craft brewing,” says Calagione. “Something like that really warms our hearts. But it also means that the people who were huge Dogfish Head fans might give Sierra Nevada a try when they may have thought it was their dad’s beer before that. Also, all the hardcore Sierra Nevada fans might see the collaboration and want to try the other Dogfish Head beers. So it’s definitely one-plus-one-equals-three, when you do these collaborations. You see the same thing in projects like Monsters of Folk or She & Him. It’s not a calculated marketing thing in the case of these indie bands or these craft brewers; they genuinely love and respect each other’s work. But it is a chance to put a new spin on what they’re doing and introduce their fans to other peoples work.”
founder Ken Grossman decided that collaboration would also make a great theme to mark a milestone for his brewery. “I started thinking about our 30th anniversary and how instrumental and helpful some of the very early leaders and pioneers were to our success,” he says, “so I chose a handful of people I had had contact with from the very beginning, and who helped shape the craft brewing industry.” He asked some of the godfathers of American craft brewing to help shape a series of anniversary beers: Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing, Jack McAuliffe of New Albion Brewery, along with beer advocates Fred Eckhardt and Charlie Papazian.
Still, all of this collaboration is just novelty if the beer is no good. “Unlike in the wine world, where the terroir is the dirt under the grape, in the beer world the terroir is the creative approach of each brewery,” says Calagione. “So every time I hear of breweries collaborating, I think of what each of their terroirs represent to me, I imagine them intermingling, and if it’s something I think is really interesting, I seek those beers out.”
1. Dogfish Head Stone Victory
Saison du BUFF (6.8% ABV)
A farmhouse ale brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, it’s a spice rack in a bottle.
2. Dogfish Head + Birra Del Borgo
My Antonia (7.5% ABV)
This unusual Imperial Pilsner is as far a cry from a Budweiser as wine is from water.
3. Sierra Nevada + Dogfish Head
Life and Limb (10.2% ABV)
This ale is brewed with maple syrup, and we’d be happy to have it on our pancakes. Best of the bunch.
4. Terrapin + De proef brouwerij
Monstre Rouge (8.5% ABV)
An Imperial Flanders Red Ale that doesn’t skimp on the American hops, creating a unique cross-Atlantic combination.
5. Sierra Nevada + Homebrewers Fred Eckhardt and Charlie Papazian
30th Anniversary: Charlie, Fred & Ken’s Bock (8.3% ABV)
A well-balanced Imperial Helles Bock from some of America’s home- and micro-brew pioneers.
6. Brooklyn + Schneider Weissbier
Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse (8.2% ABV)
This wheat beer balances the crisp German flavors with American hops.
7. Avery + Russian River
Collaboration Not Litigation Ale (8.7% ABV)
Like ebony and ivory, Russian River’s Belgian-style strong dark ale and Avery’s Belgian-style strong pale work together in perfect harmony.
Josh Jackson is Paste’s co-founder and editor-in-chief. He named his blog High Gravity.