Five years ago, the term "brewery collaboration" was likely used only in reference to a black-and-tan mixed at your local watering hole. In 2007, Colorado's Avery Brewing and our very own Russian River Brewing (725 4th St. (in Santa Rosa), 707-545-2337, russianriverbrewing.com) realized that each had a Belgian Strong Ale named Salvation in its roster. Instead of speed-dialing their attorneys, the brewers mixed the beers together, and the Collaboration Not Litigation blend was born. Brewers have been holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" over the brew kettle ever since.
Over the last year, this collaborative spirit has run rampant in the Northern California brewing community. In 2010, Sierra Nevada celebrated its 30th anniversary with the release of three collaborative brews that championed craft brewing pioneers. Collaborators included Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing (1705 Mariposa St. (at De Haro), 863-8350, www.anchorbrewing.com) and Jack McAuliffe, who started the nation's first "micro" brewery in Sonoma in 1976. Sierra has also been running a "beer camp": After arguing over who gets top bunk, local brewers and beer lovers concoct experimental batches using the brewery's equipment. One of these collaborative efforts was recently released as Sierra Nevada Hoptimum Double IPA.
Breweries in San Francisco proper have also embraced the "sharing is caring" mentality. 21st Amendment Brewing became the first NorCal brewer to be featured in Stone Brewing's collaboration series. The San Diego brewing powerhouse invited 21A's Shaun O'Sullivan to aid in the creation of El Camino (Un)Real Ale. The brew highlighted indigenous California ingredients, including Mission figs, pink peppercorns, and chia seeds (yes, the "Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!" kind). 21st Amendment also played host in 2010, inviting Noe Valley nanobrewery Elizabeth Street Brewing (244-5496) to stir the pot. The resulting Imperial Jack was awarded a gold medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup.
Thirsty Bear (661 Howard St. (at 3rd), 974-0905, www.thirstybear.com) brewpub also opened its doors to a local nano operation, brewery-in-training Local Brewing Co. Working on a larger scale at Thirsty Bear allowed Local to share its 1776 India Black Ale with the masses at this year's S.F. Beer Week. Revelers throughout the 10-day "week" were also treated to a collaboration among members of the SF Brewers Guild. The bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Common was a nod to San Francisco's steam beer tradition, a style of truly American origin Anchor Brewing is most known for.
What's the best part of local brewers sharing their recipes, time, and equipment with each other? They're sharing the result with you. Group hug! Jason Henry