Collaboration is Key in Canadian Craft Beer

By: Alyssa Andres

With the number of breweries in Canada growing to over 900 this year, craft brewers need to find new ways to set themselves apart from the competition. A series of rotating taps isn’t enough to draw the crowds to the tasting rooms anymore. There are over 300 craft breweries doing that in the province of Ontario alone. Many Canadian breweries are choosing to team up with other brewers, local businesses and people in the community as a way of creating something newsworthy, both in their beers and in their tasting rooms. It’s no longer an “every man for themselves” mentality in the brewing industry. Collaboration is a key component for some of Canada’s most exciting and successful breweries. It allows them to experiment with new techniques and approaches. It also sparks interest in new products while building a sense of community and assisting other local businesses.

  In downtown Toronto, Canada, craft brewers have to battle to be the latest and greatest in the food and beverage scene. The foodie culture is strong in the city, but Torontonians tend to lose interest quickly, so the battle to stay hip is hard.

  Blood Brothers Brewing has managed to stay at the top of the wave since opening its doors in 2015. Owners and actual brothers, Dustin and Brayden Jones, combine innovative brewing ideas and methodical techniques with beautiful design and packaging, making Blood Brothers Brewing stand out amongst the hordes of other Toronto craft breweries. However, that’s not all they’re doing to keep people’s attention. For the brewery’s newest releases, they’ve teamed up with four other Ontario craft breweries to create “The Blood Brotherhood.” The brewery released four beers on February 22nd, each a different collaboration with a smaller microbrewery in the area; Barncat Artisan Ales, Badlands Brewing Company, Short Finger Brewing Company and Rouge River Brewing Company. The limited-edition series sparked massive interest from the brewery’s online following after only a week of promotion. The Blood Brotherhood Imperial Stout with chocolate, coconut and banana, a collaboration with Barncat Artisan Ales in Cambridge, Ontario, sold out all 200 bottles within an hour of release.

  For microbreweries like Barncat, pairing with a reputable brewery like Blood Brothers gives them exposure and instant credibility in an otherwise volatile market. It’s easy for many new craft beer releases to fall under the radar, but a limited release collaboration creates something one of a kind, and people tend to take notice. At the same time, collaborating allows brewmasters to work with other brewers, sharing new ideas, learning new techniques and utilizing different facilities to make unique products they might not otherwise create.

  Powell Brewery in Vancouver, British Columbia, used this mentality when brewing its Ode to Wallflower Pale Ale. Powell has teamed with East Vancouver distillery, Odd Society Spirits, to create a Citra pale ale aged in Odd Society gin barrels. This limited edition 6.2% ABV beer has incredible personality. It is crisp and botanical, with a slight oak quality and smooth finish. A collaboration like this helps both businesses gather attention and create a hyper-local product that speaks to its location.

  Many craft brewers in the Niagara Peninsula are collaborating with local winemakers to create innovative beers that reflect the region. Exchange Brewery in the heart of Historic Downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake, uses grapes from popular local winery, Pearl Morisette, to create their Grand Cru Ale. The ale is brewed with a hint of spice and aged for one year on pressed grape skins. The result is a dry, fruity ale with a deep colour and smooth body. Nearby, in the Twenty Mile Bench VQA appellation, Bench Brewing Company is also using local wine barrels and grapes to brew their beers. Not only that, but they’re also using a plethora of fruits grown in the surrounding farming region. The result is a roster of beers that showcases the land from where it comes. These collaborations help to support the community and local farmers.

  Collaboration is not only happening in the breweries but the tasting rooms as well. Many Canadian craft breweries are choosing to partner with local businesses to enhance the front of house experience and create something authentically local. At A-Frame Brewing Company in Squamish, British Columbia, owner Jeff Oldenborger works alongside local businesses to create a one of a kind haven for people in the community. Local food trucks serve guests regularly outside the brewery, and snacks are for sale from local vendors such as Spray Creek Ranch Pepperoni and Kaylin & Hobbs Pickles. Oldenborger has even partnered with Trae Designs, a local toymaker that creates sustainable and innovative wooden toys, to create “Okanagan Lake,” a play area for children to enjoy while visiting the space. Combined with regular events and live music, the space is a hub for ongoing collaborations within the community, and a popular retreat for locals.

  On Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on the eastern coast of Canada, a similar collaboration is happening between local craft brewery, Big Spruce, and Cabot Public House, a popular local pub. The restaurant has orchestrated a regular “Tap Takeover” with Big Spruce, where the pub pours only their beers for a night, offering locals the chance to try a larger selection of their products. The event draws quite a crowd.

  That’s not the only exciting collaboration for Big Spruce. Each year since 2017, the small east coast brewery partners with the Ocean Tracking Network to create a “colla-BEER-ation” that raises awareness surrounding issues that face the ocean’s ecosystem. The beer, Big Spruce’s “Tag! You’re It!” American-style IPA, doesn’t change, but each year the brewery chooses a new oceanic creature to be featured on the label. The 2019 label featured an Atlantic salmon and raised $5000 for marine conservation. This brought the total amount to $56,000 in donations since the project launched. This year’s featured species will be announced in May, and the donations will continue to help support ongoing initiatives to support the ocean ecosystems.

  On the opposite coast, another brewery choosing to collaborate to do good is Surrey, British Columbia’s Central City Brewing Company. Every April, their Red Racer line releases a special edition beer to raise money for autism research. This year the brewery released a Superfruit IPA. Two dollars from every six-pack and $0.25 from every pint sold at participating restaurants go to the cause. Since 2013, the company has raised $600,000 to help battle autism. Red Racer also collaborates with a slew of craft breweries all over Canada to create their “Across the Nation” collaboration pack, originally released to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. Now in its fourth year, the 12-pack features beers from 12 different Canadian craft breweries, one from each province and territory in the country. Beers range from traditional to entirely experimental, but they each pay tribute to a local monument from their hometown. This collaboration helps put smaller Canadian breweries on the map and builds camaraderie within the industry from coast-to-coast. 

  The ultimate example of craft beer collaboration in Canada is Collective Arts Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario. This grassroots brewery has made collaboration the core spirit of their company. They collaborate every step of the way, not only with other brewers, local businesses and charities, but also with artists and musicians from all over the world. The result is truly remarkable. Each of Collective Arts’ beers displays artwork from a different artist chosen from thousands of applications on a bi-annual basis. To date, over 600 artists have been featured on Collective Arts’ cans. Visitors of the brewery can see the entire collection in the tasting room. A recent three-way collaboration with Chicago brewery Marz Community Brewing Co. and Hamilton Donut shop Donut Monster resulted in the hugely successful “Beady Eyes Pale Ale.” The beer, brewed with blood orange, hibiscus and lactose sugar, to emanate one of Donut Monster’s signature treats, featured art from Hamilton artist Joel MacKenzie.

  Collective Arts’ cans showcase not only artists but also feature different bands and musicians. To take it one step further, the brewery has expanded this alliance and is hosting an event in Hamilton, Ontario, in June 2020. Liquid Art Fest will see over 50 brewers from all over the world pouring their most unique and rare beers. The event will feature live music as well as live mural artists, screen printing and food trucks. Collective Arts has transformed what it means to be a craft brewery and created a company that embodies creativity, community and collaboration.

Canadian craft brewers all over the country are coming up with new ways to join forces and make headlines. Collaboration in the craft beer industry creates the same buzz as a celebrity romance. It’s like a superstar duet featuring two of your favourite bands. Not only does it create a buzz on social media and allow a brewery to network outside of its direct audience, but it inspires innovative ideas and results. It brings communities together and helps local businesses. It encourages camaraderie within the industry and can even support charitable causes. There is no downside to collaboration, especially when the other result is just really good beer.

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