Food and beer festivals – and capitalism in general – are often based around competition. The Collaboration Festival in Denver next month, however, flips that concept on its head. And Durango is sending three-ish teams to participate.
The Collaboration Festival, now in its sixth year, was “started to really highlight and showcase the collaborative nature of the craft brewing industry,” said Steve Kurowski, marketing director of the Colorado Brewers Guild, which co-produces the festival with event management firm Two Parts.
“It’s a very unique character that our industry has that most others don’t have the privilege of possessing,” he said. “For example, our brewers work together, sharing equipment, ingredients, ideas, education, knowledge – this happens all the time. I think it all stems from, you know, craft beer 25 to 30 years ago – it really took a lot of collaboration to make beers better, to make their businesses run more efficiently. And that’s really what built the foundation for craft beer.”
The festival, on March 16, works like this: Two or more breweries work together to brew a beer. At least one of them must be a member of the Colorado Brewers Guild, a nonprofit trade association that works with state legislators to promote Colorado’s craft beer scene.
The day of the festival, Kurowski said, “you’ll have the opportunity to try beers made by two or more breweries that were made just for this day. And ... most of these beers will never be brewed again. Some of these are highly experimental, others are going to be very well-refined traditional beers.”
Collaborations near and farAt the 2019 Collaboration Festival, Durango will be represented by Ska Brewing Co. and Steamworks Brewing Co. Twice, in the case of the former.
Ska participated in two collaborations this year. One is with Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri, a brewery Ska has worked with before from Sweden, which happens to be Ska’s second largest market.
They made a rauch doppelbock, a strong, dark and smoked beer.
“It’s really light on hops for what these guys (Ska) normally do,” said Andrew Colley, head brewer at Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri. “We’re going to have the malt doing the talking, and that’s kind of what we pride ourselves on. It’s a pretty malt-driven brewery that we do, and we’re pretty fascinated with the German lagers and staying true to style with one of those – just making it brilliantly.”
Ska’s other collaboration is with Call to Arms Brewing Co. of Denver.
Jon Cross, head brewer and co-owner of Call to Arms, worked with Ska’s chief operating officer, Steve Breezely, at Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder before he started his new brewery. When it came time to find partners for the festival, the team-up came naturally.
For their collaboration, they chose to make a traditional Baltic porter. “A nice, classic, Eastern European lager,” Cross said.
Baltics are a style of beer that brewers love, but which generally don’t appeal to the masses, Breezely said. So the festival provided a great opportunity to make one.
“I think both of our breweries take a lot of pride in our lagers,” he said.
The team prefers to think of its beer as the first-ever “Slovakian tunnel beer.” At some point in the correspondence between the two breweries, a link to a video of a driver launching his BMW into the top of a tunnel in Podskalka, Slovakia, was shared. (Don’t worry, the driver in the video was not seriously injured.) The team chose to name its beer in honor of the video – and before anybody writes in, team members realize that Slovakia is not a Baltic country.
In the lead up to the fest, Steamworks and Dry Dock never actually found the time to get together and make something. Instead, they plan to make two beers on their own and then split a booth in Denver, said Ken Martin, Steamworks’ head brewer.
Martin describes his beer as “a new twist on an American light lager.”
The thin-bodied, lightweight beer is based in rice “because it’s fully fermentable and lightens up the beer by not adding any color at all,” Martin said.
His counterpart at Dry Dock, Head Brewer Alan Simons, on the other hand, brewed a malt liquor based in corn syrup (which is traditional, despite what some Super Bowl commercial would have you believe).
Martin said the festival is all about camaraderie.
“It’s fun for the brewers because we get to get out of our norm and get together and check out somebody else’s operation,” he said. “There’s always a good share of knowledge when you get together with other brewers and you’re actually making beer.”