Let’s say the guys at the Ford truck plant suddenly realize they've got a problem – they've run out of bumpers. It's a crisis, until they remember the Chevy plant down the road uses bumpers too – maybe they can borrow some there.
Obviously, for any number of reasons, that doesn’t happen in the car business. Or virtually any business for that matter. But it's the kind of thing that happens in craft brewing all the time. Not with bumpers, but with hops, yeast, grain, virtually any ingredient a brewer needs. If a brewer runs out of something, he or she can – and will – call another brewery nearby and ask, “Hey, can I borrow or buy some of what you've got.” It happens all the time.
And brewers are proud of it. Proud that they think of other brewers not as competitors – they tend to hate that word - but as colleagues in a unique club. I’ve been struck by that fact as we tour the country visiting breweries. The folks who make the beer tend to like each other (well, most of them anyway – these are human beings we’re talking about), exchange ideas, drink together, and yes, even collaborate on certain beers.
A collaboration beer is usually one created by two (or more) breweries working on development together, then brewing the final product at one or both of the breweries involved, and both releasing it simultaneously. Many brewers see collaboration as a chance to brew something outside their usual wheelhouse, even on occasion combining differing styles. And the number of collaboration beers continues to increase every year.
Our latest Beer Geeks episode involves a twist on collaboration – a beer brewed at one brewery, using smoked grain and smoked peppers made in the kitchen of another brewery’s smokehouse-restaurant. The folks at both places, Indeed Brewing Company and Northbound Smokehouse-and-Brewpub in Minneapolis, go back a ways, having brewed together at yet another brewery in town. It’s a wonderfully interconnected business that way.
Even the big boys retain those values. Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams is the largest craft brewer in America. A few months back, published reports declared company co-founder Jim Koch a billionaire, based on his holdings of company stock. And Jim recently spent two million dollars to develop a beer can designed specifically for beer – he says standard beverage cans reduce aroma and change taste, but his new can design does not. Jim has now offered the design to all craft breweries with no licensing fee. Sort of like sharing some hops or yeast, just on a much larger scale.
The fascinating thing about craft brewers is that most really seem to believe that a rising tide raises all boats. It is rare to hear one brewer bad-mouthing another brewer’s product. You don’t get the feeling that Brewer A wants to steal customers from Brewer B. What they both want is for more and more people to find and fall in love with all kinds of craft beer. Which, statistically, is happening every day.
Check out the Indeed Brewing Co. and Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub episode for more!
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.