From heady inception to pint-draining finish, the making of a collaborative beer takes creativity to new heights.
Much like art, brewing is an inherently collaborative process that brings people together. For those of us who love great beer, and even for those who just can’t resist something unique, there’s nothing quite as exciting as two beloved breweries joining their creative forces. But collabs come in all shapes and sizes. Brewers have teamed up with rock bands, legendary film directors, sports teams and hit television shows. Each coupling is an opportunity for those involved to spread their creative wings, often in some daring way, for an invariably tasty result. But that’s not the only thing a collaboration accomplishes. The buzz around the release of these products brings attention to worthy causes and often the profits support organizations working for the common good.
“We create a world-class product that not only excites fans or resonates with our collective audiences but is also something our teams themselves look forward to drinking.”ALICIA GRASSO, Cape May Brewing Co.
So how do these collaborations actually get going? Follow the bouncing ball…
“It always starts with a relationship,” says Kyle Park, Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company’s Director of Sales and Marketing. “It’s either a cause we want to support, a brewery we love or just people we like to hang out with.” One such collab for Neshaminy Creek was last year’s partnership with Philly’s Dock Street Brewery. The beer created was Bone Roaster smoked porter. “Over some beers we figured we might as well combine forces,” says Dock Street’s Head Brewer Mark Russell.
Once the partnership is established, the brainstorming begins. “It’s like pingponging ideas back and forth,” says Park. The first discussion is usually an open conversation, where anything and everything is in play. “We start with establishing a shared ethos,” says Cape May Brewing Company’s Marketing Director Alicia Grasso. “And then create a world-class product that not only excites fans or resonates with our collective audiences but is also something our teams look forward to drinking.” Cape May knew they had accomplished all that (and more) last year when Shore Tea, the result of their partnership with Wawa, sold out in a matter of days.
Brewing for a Good Cause
When the beer style and recipe are in place, it’s time to brew. For breweries partnering with charities and foundations, this time together is also an opportunity to learn more about the initiatives their beer will champion. “The best is when we can make a collab that’s for a good cause,” says Russell.
Beers like Sly Fox’s Alex’s Raspberry Lemon Ale, which raises funds for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, Evil Genius’ #LoveIsLove, which donates proceeds to The Trevor Project, and Dock Street’s Citrahood, brewed annually for International Women’s Day – all raise awareness for initiatives bigger than beer.
“We always make some friends along the way, working with them on brew day or canning day,” says Russell. “And since they’re not usually brewers themselves, it’s fun to see how excited people get about the job we do every day.”
Crafting an Identity
“It’s always better to get together in person to brainstorm, especially with a few beers!” says Park. “We go back and forth on ideas, label art and names.” These sessions usually result in a rough idea that the brewery’s artists run with. “With our White Castle collaboration, It Hits Different, we couldn’t use their burgers in the beer, so the idea was to brand it as a beer that pairs with their sliders,” says Luke Bowen, co-owner of Evil Genius Beer Co. “And since their colors are white, blue and tangerine orange, a tangerine IPA was the perfect fit!”
While some collaboration beers hit the marketplace in a matter of months, others develop over time. The relationship between Rodenbach, the venerable Belgian brewery, and Dogfish Head developed “symbiotically” over a number of years. Their first joint venture in 2020 produced Vibrant P’Ocean, a blended sour ale. The experience was so meaningful to Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, he was keen to begin another collab. After two years of brainstorming, Calagione and Rodenbach Brewmaster Rudi Ghequire released a very special blended red ale named Crimson Cru, their “cross-Atlantic collaboration.”
“Every facet of Crimson Cru was truly a collaborative effort,” says Calagione. “We worked side-by-side with Rudi on every component – from ingredient sourcing to blending, and even composing the artwork for the packaging.”
It’s Not Just About the Money
We all know that a great experience is priceless, which explains why brewers love a good collaboration. “Sometimes we get all stoked about a collab, but we’re not sure if anyone outside our little bubble will care or understand why we’re doing it,” says Neshaminy Creek’s Park. “That makes the successful partnerships all the more exciting. It’s validating to see people appreciate the passion you and the team have put into the beer.”
At the end of the day, beer collaborations are much more than marketing gimmicks. The opportunity to reach new audiences, share ideas and drink great beer is its own reward. “It’s so hard to pick a favorite, as each collaboration is so unique and impactful in their own way,” Cape May’s Grasso explains. “From a potluck style of hops, to raising awareness for important causes, to brew days with new friends – they all have a special place in our lineup.”
Beer Collabs That Give Back
Breweries have a long history of teaming up with charities and foundations to create new beers that champion important initiatives. “The best is when we can make a collab that’s for a good cause,” says Dock Street’s Head Brewer Mark Russell.
SLY FOX ALEX’S RASPBERRY LEMON ALE
Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer perpetuates Alex’s mission to find cures for all types of childhood cancer. With every case of Alex’s Raspberry Lemon Ale purchased, Sly Fox proudly donates a portion of the proceeds to support their mission. Sly Fox Alex’s Raspberry Lemon Ale is available in March.
EVIL GENIUS #LOVEISLOVE
Evil Genius’ crisp blonde ale, available during Pride Month in June, boasts a hint of natural strawberry flavor, and supports a worthy cause! Proceeds from every six-pack of #LoveIsLove are donated to The Trevor Project, which benefits LGBTQIA+ youth.
DOCK STREET CITRAHOOD
To raise awareness for International Women’s Day and support women brewers, Dock Street makes Citrahood every year with the help of Beer Necessities, a local chapter of women who make, serve or just love beer. Citrahood is available in March.
CAPE MAY CITY TO SHORE
Every year, Bike MS, the largest fundraising cycling series in the world, energizes nearly 50,000 cyclists and more than 5,000 teams to ride on behalf of people with MS. Cape May Brewing Co. has supported the annual Bike MS: City to Shore ride by sponsoring team members, area residents and employees to complete the 100-mile ride from Cherry Hill, NJ to Ocean City, NJ. They brew fan-favorite City to Shore double IPA to celebrate the ride.