"Dogfish is a brewery first and a business second--all of our decisions
are made around the ideal of making the beer better and more
distinct," says Calagione. "Plus we thought it would be cool to get
our brewery culture peanut butter into their brewery culture chocolate
The Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada beer was one of the most widely
anticipated releases of 2009, but it was hardly the first
collaboration. Colorado's Avery has teamed up with California's
Russian River, Brooklyn Brewery has worked with Germany's Schneider,
and Indiana's Three Floyds has collaborated with Denmark's Mikkeller.
Even Sam Adams, the Goliath of the craft world, has a collaborative
release in the works with Weihenstephan, one of Germany's oldest
Why is collaboration suddenly so hot? "Today's craft beer consumer is
demanding more variety," says Grossman. "They're all about trying new
beer styles." And it helps that craft beer drinkers know enough of the
ins and outs of different breweries to get excited about the
possibilities in combining the legendary Sierra Nevada hops with the
zany adventurism of Dogfish Head.
Allagash, a brewery in Portland, Maine that specializes in
Belgian-style beers, has done two collaborations, both with Belgian
breweries--the first was a strong ale called Les Deux Brasseurs, with
De Proef, the second was a pale ale called Fedeltá, with De Struise.
Both were extremely limited releases, and both sold out in a few days.
In both cases, says Jason Perkins, the head brewer at Allagash, "The
fun of it was a huge part of doing it," but it was also "a great
opportunity to work with someone from across the pond," particularly
two of the most respected breweries in Belgium. The Belgians brought
their mastery of Old World techniques, while Perkins and Allagash
brought their skills at finding new and unique ingredients to tried
and true styles.
What makes collaboration between putative competitors work? Booming business helps: The
remarkable 10 percent annual growth of the craft beer sector makes
competition for consumers an afterthought. "We're hardly struggling to
fill capacity," says Perkins. Plus, even larger craft breweries have
regionally limited distribution networks--California beers may have
great reputations on the East Coast, but it's not their market, so
it's safe to collaborate with brewers from there.
But above all, say brewers, it's the grassroots origins of the
industry. Virtually every craft brewer started out as a geek brewing
beer at home, reliant on a community carried through newsletters,
clubs, and (these days) websites for help along the way.
"The craft brewing industry in the U.S. is like no other industry in
terms of communication," says Perkins. "If I have a problem with a
piece of equipment I can call up ten brewers and they will take the
time to send me spare parts or manuals. We're in competition, but
craft brewers don't see it that way."
In fact, says Sierra Nevada's Grossman, collaboration beers can be a
good business move, allowing brewers to cross-pollinate not only
ideas, but customers, too. "If you like Dogfish Head or you like
Sierra Nevada and you're not familiar with the other brand, this gives
consumers a chance to try out that other brewery."