Let’s be friends

Why compete when you can collaborate?

By Jim Witmer

Maybe if we all took a page from the collaborative spirit of the craft beer movement, the world just might be a better place.

Go into any local bottle shop or taproom, and you will undoubtedly see a collaboration beer brewed by Brewery X, Brewery Y and maybe even Brewery Z.

It’s unlikely there is another fiercely competitive business that delights so much in working together. If the market share is so small for each brewery, why cooperate with your competition?

Maybe it stems from the David vs. Goliath syndrome, where craft brewers find delight in sticking together against the behemoths of industrial brewing and are willing to support each other for greater visibility and eventual higher sales. Or maybe it’s a marketing thing. Beer Geeks are always looking for something new and exciting to hit their taste buds. These offerings are certainly one way to satisfy that segment of the market. Or maybe it is because brewers are a creative, sociable bunch who are always looking at new ways to learn, step out of their comfort zone and create a tax write-off while hanging out with other industry-types to talk shop in a different location.

Probably a combination of all of the above. Collaborations often make for some interesting brews, and it can allow brewers to buck the typical cutthroat business world by having some fun. After all, that’s why many of them got into this brewing business anyway.

One of the earliest and best examples emerged in 2004. A potential legal mess could have hit the proverbial fan when brewer Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and Adam Avery of Avery Brewing both realized that they had a beer named “Salvation” in their lineup, and something had to give. The two brewers met and agreed to collaborate rather than litigate. Over a decade later, it has worked out quite well to become an annual release. Collaboration Not Litigation Ale is a Belgian strong ale Avery produces with the addition of a Russian River golden ale that continues to score well in the online ratings world.

By setting this legendary example, the joint effort between these two breweries may be partly responsible for the trend that is going strong with breweries locally, nationally and internationally, as Denver now hosts an annual collaboration fest featuring over 85 collaborative projects from around the world with unique and limited offerings in every glass. Food & Wine Magazine named it “America’s Most Creative Beer Fest.”

It’s now commonplace to see breweries collaborating for a myriad of reasons. Denver and Indianapolis breweries collaborated on a Peyton Manning beer. The 2015 Stanley Cup finals instigated a brew-ha-ha between Cigar City of Tampa and Three Floyds near Chicago to settle a bet called Florida Man Loses Bet American Rye Ale. The losing team of brewers at Cigar City had to wear Chicago Blackhawk jerseys during the brew day.

A list of past and present brewery collaborations would fill up this page’s word count quickly.

But the relationships go much farther than just brewery-to-brewery. A national brewery and music collaboration with a local connection was Beer Thousand (2014) Dogfish Head and Dayton’s Guided By Voices, a 10-grain, 10-hop, 10 percent lager packaged with a 10-inch vinyl of a 1994 GBV live show in a limited 10,000 edition.

Locally, breweries have quickly gotten on the bandwagon and a healthy spirit of collaboration has been evident with examples such as Yellow Springs Brewery and Warped Wing (Hippie Trail India Pale Lager) and Dayton Beer Company and Hairless Hare (Gingerbread Brown Ale). Warped Wing’s brewmaster John Haggerty stepped out of the box by collaborating in 2015 with two Mexican brewers (Tres Carnales).

Toxic, Fifth Street and Garden Station all collaborated on Neighbor’s Gift Brown Ale.

“It was a fun thing to do,” says Darren Link, Fifth Street’s brewer. “I got the opportunity to see what the other brewers [Toxic] do with their system and processes and so on.”

Toxic and Fifth Street together produced Garden Station (Neighbor’s Gift Brown Ale).

“It’s was a fun thing to do,” Link says. “I got the opportunity to see what the other brewers do with their system and processes and so on.” Another collaboration involving Fifth Street is in the works as brewers Link and Yellow Springs’ Jeffrey McElfresh plan to release it on National Record Store Day (April 16, 2016) as a toast to their similar interests in music.

Local companies pairing with local breweries seem natural when it comes to ingredients like coffee (Boston Stoker and Toxic, Press and Warped Wing, Ghostlight and Fifth Street) and chocolate (Esther Price with Warped Wing). And public radio station WYSO collaborating with Yellow Springs Brewery (YSB) was a way to offer publicity to both entities at an event downtown, the Dayton community concert at Riverscape MetroPark.

As the practice of collaborating has become mainstream in the craft beer world, there is evidence that other businesses may soon catch on. Dogfish Head founder and President Sam Calagione has published a book about the power of collaboration in the business world and what happens when companies and coworkers stop competing and start collaborating.

“In business, I believe there is good karma that comes with focusing on collaboration instead of competition,” Calagione says. “Both within the organization and externally in the marketplace.”

Reach DCP beer writer Jim Witmer at JimWitmer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Jim Witmer
Reach DCP beer writer Jim Witmer at JimWitmer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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