First collaborations

A comment on using ingredients for no real reason
from the excellent (sadly defunct) Trouble Brewing

A mark of a maturing beer scene is brewers reaching out to each other to collaborate on a brew together. Some commentators dismiss this as a cynical attempt to generate beer sales (often at a premium) without necessarily bringing anything new to the table; often characterised by bunging ingredients in with no real thought about the process. Whilst this is sometimes the case I don't see an issue with trying to make more money from selling a beer; its up to the consumer to decide whether or not to part with their cash. In my opinion, when done well a collaboration can create a beer better than the sum of its parts, or with a difference to a breweries usual output.

Collaborations have only just begun to emerge on the island of Ireland, with Carlow collaborating with Pinta on a stout (Lublin to Dublin) and Eight Degrees with By The Horns on a Belgian white (Horn8's nest) last year. They were both amongst my top-rated beers last year and show that Ireland's beer scene is beginning to coming of age. There was also a limited collaboration special (North & South of the River) between Donegal and Inishmacsaint for the Wild Atlantic Way festival last year (missed it, unfortunately). However there were no intra-country collaborations to be found - until now that is.

Yes, Gordy from the aforementioned Inishmacsaint teamed up with the redoubtable Darren from Pokertree after meeting at the very beer festival Gordy's other collaboration was released. They decided to produce a Christmas beer together, christened Crann, a "Saints & Sinners" collaboration. Being rural breweries in Fermanagh and Tyrone respectively they wanted to reflect their environment and the historic practices of foraging for ingredients (of which Gordy already has some form, having previously produced a bog myrtle beer).
Crann is Irish for tree, which fit in well with the planned use of spruce tips, a trip to the local An Creagan bog also yielded wild cranberries, which added a double-meaning to the name. Rounded out with raisins (not local obviously!) and a Belgian yeast resulted in a 6.6% biere de garde. Brewed on Darren's kit in Carrickmore (its a bigger set-up) and released in 750ml bottles to add an element of theatre to a beer designed for the Christmas dinner table.

I thought I'd missed the boat on this however as it was released before Christmas. Luckily when I was in Belfast earlier this month The Vineyard had just received a second shipment; so was able to snag a bottle for sampling. 

As you can see it pours an attractive pale amber with a fluffy beige head. On the nose are the typical spicey yeast esters you'd expect from a Belgian yeast, alongside a herbal, slightly tart nose. Medium body with creamy wheat spices, its very soft and easy drinking. Flavour wise its fruity, peppery, touch of banana ester, tart citric light finish with long esters. It's very much redolent of a German weissebier, with additional herb/spice complexities and very much enjoyed. I wasn't overly able to taste the influence of the fruit though it probably added to the overal complexity. It did remind me somewhat of William's Brothers excellent Nollaig, though of course with more emphasis on spice than hops. There may still be bottles available from the usual suspects if you're quick (there's only 1500 bottles!)

Darren seems particularly pleased with how well the beers sold, given the typically conservative palate of the province and fully intends to rebrew the beer for next Christmas. Darren and Gordy fully intend to team up for further collaborative efforts later this year (Crann did have a #1 on the label after all!), and, though he refused to be pinned down on specifics, gorse, elderflower and cherries have all been mooted. These are likely to be in 500ml bottles as people may be less willing to stump up the cash for a big bottle when not for a specific occasion. As Darren and Gordy both enjoy Belgian ales and with such a wide range of examples to draw from they're all likely to be Belgian inspired. In fact there should be something new mashed in on Monday...
Darren has also recently collaborated with Marble in Little Barney to celebrate the newest addition to his family; there may be a few bottles left in circulation. They have since been joined in the list of collaboration-friendly brewers by Boundary who recently collaborated on a sour ale with Galway Bay. There are also a number of collaborations happening south of the border, but that's a story for another day, I look forward to tracking down and trying them all!

What are your thoughts on collaborations within the beer community and are there any you have particularly enjoyed?

*For those who didn't work it out the Saint refers to Inishmacsaint and Sinners to the story behind Pokertree

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