Group think drink

More and more brew­ers are col­lab­o­rat­ing with other brewmeis­ters, bars and artists to cre­ate uniquely de­li­cious beers

NOW Magazine - Beer Guide - - BEER GUIDE - By SARAH PARNIAK

With Toronto in the midst of a bona fide beer boom, pub­lic de­mand for unique lo­cal brews has never been stronger. The province is home to al­most 200 craft brew­eries tak­ing a pas­sion­ate stand against bland, soul­less beer – and two (or three) sets of hands are of­ten bet­ter than one. Over the past few years, the creative minds and skilled hands within the craft com­mu­nity have joined forces to pro­duce some of On­tario’s most in­no­va­tive and mem­o­rable beers yet. But while the ul­ti­mate goal may be a pint of some­thing spe­cial, the ben­e­fits of col­lab­o­ra­tive brew­ing ex­tend far be­yond con­sumer sat­is­fac­tion.

Founder Steve Beauchesne and brew­mas­ter Matt O’Hara of Beau’s All Nat­u­ral Brew­ing Co. out­side Ot­tawa have done a num­ber of high-pro­file col­lab­o­ra­tions since Beau’s launched seven years ago this past Canada Day.

Their ini­tial part­ner­ship was with the fa­bled Dutch De Kon­ing­shoeven (aka La Trappe), one of eight pro­duc­ing Trap­pist brew­eries world­wide, an ex­pe­ri­ence that paved the way for fu­ture projects. Since then, Team Beau’s has worked with world-class in­die brew­eries like Que­bec’s Trou du Di­able, Seat­tle’s Elysian and An­ders Kiss­meyer of Den­mark’s Nør­re­bro Bryghus.

Their first col­lab with Kiss­meyer was a com­plex Abbey Tripel called Ven­skab (the Dan­ish word for friend­ship), bot­tled tes­ta­ment to the per­sonal re­la­tion­ships that spark and sus­tain the craft beer world. (Beau’s sec­ond beer with Kiss­meyer, a Nordic pale ale, is cur­rently avail­able at the LCBO).

Col­lab­o­ra­tions, just like beer-fo­cused fes­ti­vals and events, help gal­va­nize the lo­cal com­mu­nity and give brew­ers the chance to net­work and share in­for­ma­tion with peers fur­ther afield.

Beau’s B-Side la­bel (which in­cludes the Nordic PA) cham­pi­ons small in­ter­na­tional brew­eries by mak­ing and dis­tribut­ing their prod­uct lo­cally, some­thing that the com­bi­na­tion of shal­low pock­ets and provin­cial red tape would oth­er­wise pre­vent. Think of it as full-dis­clo­sure con­tract brew­ing for a noble cause.

Sup­port­ing com­mu­nity and cul­ti­vat­ing cre­ativ­ity are the pur­pose of brew­ing to­gether, it seems.

“I re­ally like the so­cial as­pect of col­lab­o­ra­tion, the chance to travel to another brewer’s base or play host here,” says O’Hara. “To me, a good brew buddy is some­one who wants to share knowl­edge, likes creative in­put and en­joys ca­ma­raderie.”

Be­sides al­low­ing brew­ers to do what they love with like-minded pals and pros, joint projects are gen­er­ally lim­ited re­leases brewed in small batches, which ups their vi­a­bil­ity and opens op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­per­i­ment.

“As much as col­lab­o­rat­ing is an ex­cuse to hang out and have some fun, quite of­ten it’s also an ex­cuse to try some­thing new with­out the usual amount of pres­sure,” says Beauchesne, who launched Beau’s with his fa­ther, Tim. With loos­ened pe­cu­niary re­straints, brew­ers feel free to push bound­aries and pro­duce brand new beers, some­times achiev­ing new lev­els of qual­ity that ben­e­fit the whole in­dus­try.

Iain McOus­tra, brew­mas­ter at Toronto’s Am­s­ter­dam, and Mike Lackey, brew­mas­ter at Etobicoke’s Great Lakes Brew­ery (which just won its sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Cana­dian Brew­ery of the Year award), make ex­per­i­men­tal one-offs to­gether of­ten. Their sec­ond large-scale brew, Ezra, a tart and funky farm­house ale with brett (Bret­tanomyces yeast) aged in lo­cal cider bar­rels from Spirit Tree, was just re­leased by the LCBO. Bar­rel-aged beers have been trend­ing for a while, but Ezra is the first to use lo­cal cider casks.

“I have a lot of re­spect for [Lackey] as a brewer. He’s cer­tainly not afraid of try­ing new tech­niques and styles,” says McOus­tra. “I think we have a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties, but we have dif­fer­ent lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence and dif­fer­ent palates as well.”

McOus­tra adds that col­lab­o­ra­tions breed fresh per­spec­tives, en­abling brew­ers to bounce ideas off each other and churn out truly unique, qual­ity prod­uct.

Speak­ing of new an­gles, not all brew unions hap­pen be­tween the es­tab­lished heads of award-win­ning brew­eries.

Rob Pin­gi­tore, owner of Bar Hop, had lit­tle brew­ing ex­pe­ri­ence when he opened his pop­u­lar King West beer bar two sum­mers ago. Matt Bod, Bar Hop’s knowl­edge­able bar­tender, had tin­kered with some “no good” home­brew batches, but that was about it.

They’ve since col­lab­o­rated with some of the city’s best, from Great Lakes and Am­s­ter­dam to pop­u­lar brew pubs Bell­woods and In­die Ale House, putting Bar Hop on the map for its high-turnover list of ex­clu­sive and one-off

taps. (They took last year's best draught list hon­ours at On­tario’s Golden Tap Awards).

“It makes us more real in a way,” Pin­gi­tore says of Bar Hop’s col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­tures. “We want to be in­volved to show we’re more than tap jock­eys.”

“It’s a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as well,” Bod adds. “At the end of the day, it’s [the brew­ers’] ex­per­tise that en­ables us to turn an idea into re­al­ity.”

And, Pin­gi­tore notes, some of the wackiest con­cepts turn out sur­pris­ingly well. Great Lakes x Bar Hop’s Gil­li­gan Is Still Dead (a guava sai­son with brett) and Am­s­ter­dam x Bar Hop’s So­cial Smoker, a Bel­gian-style ses­sion ale smoked with Chardon­nay trunks har­vested from Thirty Mile, will both make en­core ap­pear­ances this summer.

Some­times an open mind and un­fet­tered en­thu­si­asm yield the best re­sults. As part of their Pro-Am se­ries, Beau’s Burnt Rock Vanilla Porter was pro­duced in con­junc­tion with award-win­ning home brewer Pa­trick Boisv­enue. Prep in­volved en­list­ing a team to hand­scrape vanilla pods for two days just to stay true to the orig­i­nal recipe.

“These are in­cred­i­bly in­spired non-pro­fes­sional brew­ers. The en­thu­si­asm and ex­cite­ment they bring to a project is phe­nom­e­nal,” says Beauchesne. “Work­ing with home brew­ers forces [pro­fes­sion­als] to re­mem­ber that the eas­i­est way isn’t al­ways the best.”

The chal­lenges of col­lab­o­rat­ing aren’t lim­ited to scal­ing is­sues and finicky in­gre­di­ents. Beau’s has also worked with fa­mous Cana­di­ans like Tom Green and Mar­garet At­wood – who have zero brew­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

What’s most im­por­tant in those cases, Beauchesne stresses, is the preser­va­tion of au­then­tic­ity. The Tom Green milk stout took a year from in­cep­tion to com­ple­tion.

Madd Ad­damites Noo Broo, the just-re­leased summer gruit (a mix­ture of bit­ter herbs) in­spired by the for­ag­ing ref­er­ences in At­wood’s Madd Ad­dam tril­ogy, was an in­volved process that be­gan with brew­ing and tast­ing herbal teas and tinc­tures from At­wood's home gar­den and ended with the Cana­dian icon her­self writ­ing the tast­ing notes on the back of the bot­tle.

The breadth of vi­sion, ded­i­ca­tion and hard fuck­ing work that goes into our lo­cal col­lab­o­ra­tions – and craft brew­ing on a macro scale – are as­tound­ing. And it’s all for the love of great beer.

“I think this is a re­ac­tion to years of bor­ing beers with bor­ing names,” Pin­gi­tore muses. “With these cre­atively named crazy beers we want to break the mould and cre­ate some­thing that’s our own.”

To­gether, of course.

Bar Hop's Matt Bod pre­pares guavas at Great Lakes Brew­ery for Gil­li­gan Is Still Dead.

Beaus co-founders Steve (left) and Tim Beauchesne and brew­mas­ter Matt O’Hara have worked with Tom Green and Mar­garet At­wood.

drinks@now­toronto.com | @s_­parns

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