When the VinePair staff built the annual list of the best beers of 2020, they were reminded of the continued emergence of cause-based collaboration beers as an agent of change against extraordinary societal challenges. Unequivocally, these types of benevolent partnerships were breweries’ primary tool to confront crises both unprecedented and longstanding last year, from the coronavirus pandemic to systemic racism and police brutality.
In a year unlike any other, one of distancing, one of division, highly successful initiatives like Weathered Souls’ Black Is Beautiful, Other Half’s All Together, and Threes’ People Power saw beer makers of all sizes and shapes, and from all around the world, joining forces to address pressing social problems.
Ordinarily, brewery collaborations arise from way less unsettling circumstances. Brewers who admire each other get together for an afternoon to talk shop, share beers, and, of course, post photos on social media. (The project’s mechanics, like recipe design, are often hammered out over email or text prior to meeting.) Whatever the impetus, these partnerships have become a staple of the craft beer industry — and, as such, now regularly extend outside the brewing world to include musicians, sports teams, television shows, and all manner of partnerships within their respective communities.
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With that in mind, we wondered: What are the most memorable collaboration beers that have come out recently? To find the best examples of the moment, we spoke to 12 brewers across the country about their favorites (participants were asked to consider only those titles released over the previous 10 months).
From pastry stouts to pub ales, here’s what the experts picked for the best collaborations beers.
The Best Collaboration Beers Recommended by Brewers
- Bierstadt Lagerhaus and Bagby Beer Company ‘Tmavè 13’
- Dancing Gnome Beer ‘Watershed’ (with Rosalie Haizlett and Nine Mile Run Watershed Association)
- Side Project Brewing ‘Leaner Blend #2’ (with Casey Brewing & Blending)
- Karl Strauss and Modern Times Beer ‘Mosaic Oasis’
- Angry Chair Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales ‘Barrel-Aged Adjunct Trail’
- Vitamin Sea Brewing and Branch and Blade Brewing ‘Driftwood Double IPA’
- Highland Park Brewery and Craftsman Brewery ‘Continuing On’
- Cellarmaker Brewing and Sante Adairus Rustic Ales ‘Hop Survivor’
- Side Project Brewing and Anchorage Brewing Company ‘For Gabe’
- Other Half Brewing FLX and Swiftwater Brewing ‘Peabody Punch’
- Green Cheek Beer Co. and Track Brewing Co. ‘Strictly Speaking’
- Bhramari Brewing Co. and Birds Fly South Ale Project ‘Out Back Counting Stars’
Keep reading for details about all the recommended beers!
“Bierstadt Lagerhaus’s collaboration with Bagby Beer Tmavè 13 was the best collab beer I had [recently]. While both producers are synonymous with thoughtful, top-tier beer, this Czech-style dark lager is particularly spectacular because of the experience it highlights. It has aromas reminiscent of a dimly lit Prague bierhall, and a palate that is saturated with belly laughs and life-long friendships. An inspiring collaboration that is as much about honoring friendship and community as it is about making world-class beer. People are what make beer special, and Tmavè 13 is a beautiful reminder of that.” —Phil Joyce, Co-owner and Blender, Amalgam Brewing, Denver
“Dancing Gnome’s Watershed, the first in a yearlong collaboration series with West Virginia-based illustrator Rosalie Haizlett and Pittsburgh’s Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, has really stuck out for me. Dancing Gnome will release a new beer each month with label artwork by Haizlett that celebrates the ecology of the rivers and streams of Western Pennsylvania, with part of the proceeds of the can sales being donated to the Nine Mile Run’s conservation projects. Watershed, the first in this collab series, is a New England-style IPA hopped with Galaxy, Nelson, and Ella. I really enjoyed the slight bitterness up front paired with assertive aromas of tropical fruit, grapes, and citrus, and the pillowy mouthfeel to round it all out. It had a great balance and complexity of hop aromas and pale malt notes. Dancing Gnome knocked this one out of the park, I loved the can artwork, and it’s awesome that the brewery is helping to benefit outside organizations with its beer.” —Lauren Hughes, Head Brewer, Necromancer Brewing, Pittsburgh
“I’m a huge fan of Side Project, so I was thrilled when one of my friends gifted me a bottle of Leaner Blend #2, the brewery’s collaboration with Casey Brewing & Blending, to celebrate buying my first house. Seven months in wine barrels give this mixed-culture saison a tart dryness that borders on mouth-puckering but doesn’t quite cross the line. It’s naturally carbonated and beautifully effervescent, and the addition of juicy Missouri peaches creates the mouthfeel and flavor of summer sunshine in a bottle. In short, this saison is perfectly farmhouse without being overly funky, so you can enjoy more than one without being overwhelmed by horse blanket.” —Kate Russell, Founder and Brewer, Hopkinsville Brewing Company, Hopkinsville, Ky.
“The best collaboration beer I’ve had recently was a beautiful IPA called Mosaic Oasis, brewed by Karl Strauss and Modern Times at the former. Being in San Diego, we’re all hop-obsessed and this beer really hits that hop craving that I get around 5 p.m. every day. They call it a San Diego IPA, which means it’s super light in color and has a relatively low bitterness in order to allow for the aromas and flavors of the hops — in this case Mosaic — to really shine and be the star. It has an almost explosive grapefruit and tangerine aroma along with some nice tropical notes to balance it out. A nice dry finish makes this beer super drinkable while still having a lot of character.” —Doug Constantiner, Co-founder and CEO, Societe Brewing Company, San Diego
“Barrel-Aged Adjunct Trail, from Angry Chair and Prairie Artisan Ales, is the perfect marriage of what both of these breweries do so well. This bourbon-barrel-aged imperial sweet stout, featuring coconut and hazelnut coffee, offers tons of barrel character and balanced adjuncts that don’t overshine the barrel but rather complement it. Sweet but not overly so. It’s simply everything you’d want from a barrel-aged pastry stout from these two titans.” —James Herrholz, Brewer, Corporate Ladder Brewing Company, Palmetto, Fla.
“I was lucky enough to snag a can of Driftwood double IPA from Vitamin Sea and Branch and Blade while brewing my own collab with the latter. It was a real treat, starting with the eye-catching label art, and the dense yellow pour. It drinks a touch sweet and incredibly soft, but with defined edges. This is exactly what I’m looking for in a beer like this. The Riwaka really blew me away, and I’m always astonished by Vitamin Sea’s use of Motueka hops.” —Caleb Hiliadis, Head Brewer, Amherst Brewing, Amherst, Mass.
“I loved a cask-conditioned saison called Continuing On by Highland Park Brewery and Craftsman Brewery. It had subtle notes of juniper and sage on the nose — a beautiful herbal, savory quality. There was perfect acidity, with some stone fruit and lemon peel, and a great tannin structure. The bitterness is in perfect balance, which is quite rare these days. I could continue to drink this all day.” —Shawn Bainbridge, Owner and Brewer, Halfway Crooks Beer, Atlanta
“There’s been no shortage of hazy IPAs in my life since I moved to Brooklyn from the Bay Area, but out West they seem to like a little more terpene with their juice. My buddy sent me a care package with Cellarmaker and Sante Adairus’s Hop Survivor, and it took me right back. Did you ever cut into a lime or a pineapple and catch a bit of pine smell to it? Motueka and Simcoe hops flood you with that exact dankness, while Columbus rounds out the earthy side and Galaxy provides fruitiness to make this one of my favorites of 2020.” —Daniel Gadala-Maria, Brewer, Other Half Brewing, Brooklyn
“For Gabe, a collaboration between Side Project and Anchorage to celebrate the latter brewery’s founder, Gabe Fletcher, on his business’s 10 years, perfectly showcases the strengths of each brand. This blend of barleywine and stout, featuring threads from both sides, combines delicate bourbon barrel notes with a malt profile that can only be described as amazing. The stout component balances the barleywine in a way that cuts the sweetness without losing the barrels that are the star of the show.” —Wade Meyer, Brewer, WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Colo.
“I choose a local collab between Other Half FLX and Swiftwater called Peabody Punch. It’s an 8 percent ABV Berliner weisse packed with pink guava, lime, green tea, and milk sugar. Instead of a low-ABV Berliner like the norm for the style, these two great local brands and friends of ours went big and bold. And why not? I love seeing this community come together and create interesting and unique takes on classic styles. The beer hits you with pink guava right up front, leading into a hint of green tea with lime. It finishes clean with a subtle hint of tartness. Very refreshing and fruity with a big backbone. It definitely doesn’t drink like an 8 percent beer. Two of my favorite local breweries teaming up to make great beer here in the greater Rochester area!“ —Chris Spinelli, Founder and Roc Brewing Co., Rochester, N.Y.
“I really liked the Green Cheek and Track Manchester-style modern pub ale, Strictly Speaking, hopped exclusively with Strata. Strata is my new favorite hop and I’ve always liked what Green Cheek does. I’ve always liked when brewers experiment on styles, so doing a cask-style ale that’s light in ABV but huge in flavor and aroma with that creamy mouthfeel, all while using my favorite hop and brewed by somebody I look up to, made this one stand out.” —Bryan Hendrickson, Head Brewer, Evans Brewing Co., Corona, Calif.
“Without a doubt, the farmhouse IPA, Out Back Counting Stars, made by the good folks at Bhramari and Birds Fly South. I was lucky enough to share a couple of these with Bhramari founder Gary Sernack during a recent weekend collab in Asheville we did, and for some reason, hearing the story behind a beer that they are passionate about always makes the beer even more memorable. The way those two breweries found a way to interweave their wildly different styles with a beer that truly represents both is impressive. Subtle funk from the Birds Fly house culture provides the perfect setting for the soft yet assertive dry-hop profile and makes this beer infinitely crushable, and really memorable. In a time where getting out and collaborating is few and far between, this beer really reminded me of the reason why collaborations can be so great and important.” —Josh Rake, Founder, Rake Beer Project, Muskegon, Mich.