Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Are Craft Beer Collabs Just a Gimmick?

By Chris Martin

Craft beer collabs are rife in the craft beer world, but they’re far more than what can be seen as a simple and clever marketing tool. Here’s why they’re a genuinely purposeful pursuit.

In most industries, the thought of teaming up with a competitor would be completely out of the question; imagine Apple teaming up with Microsoft to make a laptop. However, the beer world is a very different place and it’s all the better for it.

The problem for some is that the amount of collaborations going on is too much and can come across as simply a sneaky way of persuading fans to go out and buy special releases. Rarely do they get made a second time so the FOMO (fear of missing out) kicks in.

Recent successes include Fuller’s & Friends, the Rainbow Project and Wylam’s Northern Powerhouse series. In some cases it’s not just breweries; HonestBrew has done collabs too, including a honey and tea porter with Boundary Brewing.

Collabs are a great way of discovering new breweries, though, and what goes on behind the scenes is the tricky thing to communicate to the drinker.

A Learning Experience

One of the most valuable things in collaborations is the sharing of knowledge and techniques, plus the brewers challenging each other to get out of their comfort zone. Collaborations have been hugely important to Duration for recognition and awareness since the brewery is yet to be built.

Miranda Hudson, co-founder of Duration, said: “Collabs may seem like a way to grab headlines but growing creative industries should be experimenting and while not all of what results should be released the need to exchange techniques, innovate and build traction cannot be denied. Coming together over recipes and brew days allows new perspectives to emerge and different approaches to be acquired.”

In the long run, the process is helping young and even experienced breweries expand their repertoire and make better beer in general. All of which is a benefit to the consumer.

Dave Grant, managing director at Fierce Beer, said: “There is always something to learn from each other – be it equipment, process, ingredient use or experience gained over the years. All this really helps raise each other’s game.”

Something New

One of the other things a collaboration can mean is that a new beer, often more experimental, is produced. So while it might be a one-off, you’re getting something that might never have been made otherwise.

“At Fierce we love collab brewing for many reasons. First up, they produce some amazing beers. We always try to combine the styles of the two breweries so there is some provenance there. You also have a little extra licence at a collab to go extreme, and that is where the fun is,” says Grant.

In the case of Duration, collaborating has resulted in an established brewery like Brixton making a style they had never tackled before.

“We brewed a sour with Brixton, a saison with Gipsy Hill and an IPA with Verdant. Each enabled something different that had not been done before. One passed on skills to enable learning, one borrowed a technique from the US and one experimented to find a new way to achieve an end result,” explains Hudson.

Combining Cultures

For others, it’s also been about getting back to the heart of brewing. Fourpure is a great example of this where co-founders Dan and Tom originally created their first beer recipes based on travels throughout the US and Europe. They have revisited and gone beyond that idea.

“The idea of the Continental Collaboration was to go back to our roots, to work with world class breweries and talk about beer. Why and how our friends started, what motivates them to brew. We’ve had conversations around distribution, duty and ‘local-environment’ effects on beer, as well as how provenance and locally sourced ingredients can feed into the creative brewing process,” said Grace Whitby, brand manager at Fourpure.

This ‘global adventure in beer’ saw the brewery work with six others from each major continent, including countries such as Brazil, Belgium and Australia. The resulting beers consisted of a satsuma and seaweed gose, west coast IPA, session pale ale, farmhouse saison, coconut and chocolate imperial stout and a gooseberry and vanilla dry-hopped sour, bringing flavours and techniques from around the world.

“It’s easy to slap a couple of logos on a can and call it a collaboration, but when you truly share ideas (and ingredients), when you have to hustle to get fresh coconut extract through customs from Brazil so that you don’t miss a packaging deadline, it keeps you on your toes and really helps feed into the passion and enjoyment of what we do,” added Whitby.

So while they might seem like a gimmick at face value, collaborations are fuelling and helping to secure the future of the craft beer industry.