Anniversary Post: Remember the Days of Litigation, Not Collabeeration?

This is the second in our series of time machine posts celebrating the Washington Beer Blog’s 5th anniversary. Our intention is to pull some interesting and historically significant stuff out of the archives. By the way, the Washington Beer Blog’s five year archive includes about 2,300 individual stories. Impressive.

Back in (I’m guessing) the summer of 2008, Kim and I met with Dick Cantwell and Dave Buhler of Elysian Brewing Company. It was an interview for what was intended to become a book but instead became this blog. At that meeting, Dick told us about a new concept in the world of brewing: collaboration.

We learned that Elysian was talking to New Belgium Brewing about some sort of a collaborative partnership. Can you imagine? What we heard at that meeting was so interesting, so timely, and so newsworthy that it helped us make the decision to create the Washington Beer Blog instead of the book. After that meeting, I remember thinking: “This is interesting. Beer-loving people will want to know about this. Somebody should tell them about this.” Voilá, the blog was born.

A few months later (just a few days after we launched the Washington Beer Blog) Elysian and New Belgium made the official announcement. Of course, today collaboration is the norm rather than the exception. That’s why this story has historical significance.

Below we share two stories. The original story from October 11, 2008 and the second story from January, 30 2009.

Elysian Teams Up with New Belgium Brewing

October 11, 2008

New Belgium Brewing and Elysian Brewing Company, two of America’s most award-winning breweries, are creating a new model in the craft brewing industry. The two independently owned breweries announced today that they are working together to brew their distinctive beers at each other’s breweries in Seattle, WA and Ft. Collins, CO. By coming together, New Belgium and Elysian have the ability to increase efficiency, encourage creative experimentation, and take a bold collaborative step into the future of American craft brewing.

Described as an artisanal collaboration, New Belgium and Elysian have agreed to let their brewing teams use each other’s brewhouses while remaining independent enterprises.

Elysian and New Belgium Collabeeration

January 30, 2009

elysian_trip1Elysian Brewing and New Belgium Brewing cut palms and shook hands. In other words, the two have entered into an agreement to work collaboratively. The first collabeerative effort (see note below) is a Belgian-style triple/IPA hybrid called The Trip. It was recently brewed at Elysian’s Capitol Hill brewhouse and is scheduled for a late February release. It will only be available as a draught beer and you can expect to see it pouring at the area’s finer beer retailers. It will of course be available at all three Elysian locations.

New Belgium Brewing is now a legal brewer in the State of Washington, operating within the Elysian Capitol Hill brewery. This doesn’t mean that Elysian has merged with, been absorbed by, or acquired New Belgium. It just means that they are working together to make great beer. Weird, I know, but in a good way.

We first learned about this collaborative brewing idea from Dick Cantwell and Dave Buhler while sampling Elysian’s product at Tangletown last summer. The idea was just coming to life back then. Cantwell (Elysian’s brewmaster and more) explained that by working together, breweries like New Belgium and Elysian both stand to benefit. New Belgium gets to make beer here, and Elysian gets to make beer there. There’s a lot more to it than that, and there are a lot of possibilities for brewers of all sizes to work collaboratively, but that’s the simplest example of how it works.

The business of beer often interferes with the craft of beer. For example, the desire to grow and expand into new markets often spawns messy mergers, acquisitions and other ugly business stuff that has nothing to do with making beer. In the world of beer, it is often the business stuff that predicates the ruin of an otherwise smart and sassy brewery. Typically, brewers are not bean counters or tycoons.

Collabeeration is all about breweries, large and small, working with each other instead of against each other. It’s about working as a community with one common goal: make more and better beer. Everyone in the industry -including us consumers- benefits when there is a vibrant, healthy brewing industry like the one we enjoy here in Washington.

As Washington beer lovers, should we be excited about New Belgium becoming a Washington brewery? Well, they treat their employees very well and the brewery in Fort Collins, CO is a monument to environmentally responsible engineering, so what’s not to like about New Belgium? They should fit right in. Oh, and the beer is good too.

NOTE – In response to a reader comment on this post, we asked the fellas at Elysian for clarification. Here’s what Dave Buhler told us: “The Trip is the first official collabeeration brewed under New Belgium’s license.  The Wout and Idefix were brewed as Elysian beers but The Wout is Peter Bouckaert’s recipe and Idefix was brewed jointly by Peter, Grady (New Belgium Brewer) and Dick with A Brett slurry Peter brought from NB.”