An amber with sweet tea blended with a Berliner weiss. A light American lager named Kurr’s. A saison with lemongrass and kumquat. And a full bouquet of floral and citrusy IPAs.
Collaboration Fest 2016 made heads spin with an array of craft beers unlike any other festival. More than 2,000 beer fans and brewers attended the sold-out 3rd annual event Saturday at Mile High Stadium.
The event showcased the innovative and downright weird brews that ferment when two or more breweries put their heads together for a collaboration, furthering the camaraderie in the industry and the unquenchable thirst these days for rare and special beer.
With more than 85 beers from 151 participating breweries, it’s impossible to offer a “best beer” list from Collab Fest. But here’s a montage with our standouts from the festival.
OUR FAVORITE: Hop masters Cannonball Creek Brewing in Golden paired with Pizza Port Brewing in Carlsbad, Calif., for a wheat IPA that wowed us — and a few of our beer writer friends. Maybe it was the idea that spring is here and wheat beer season is near? Or maybe it was the massive hop flavor that left an impression. Citra, Mosaic and Pacific Jade hops gave this beer a big tangerine flavor with a soft bitterness that complemented the 50 percent wheat malt base. Best news: Cannonball Creek will have it available at their tap room soon, so don’t miss it.
EXPERIMENTAL: At Collab Fest, you can expect to find a few beers that you never expected to find. Denver’s Former Future Brewing and South Carolina’s Brewery 85 managed to showcase both breweries home states with their sweet tea amber ale blended with a Berliner weiss. The sweet tea flavor comes through prominently on the front and then a surprising tartness from the berliner hits on the back end. Never thought to combine the two — until now.
Denver Beer Co. joined with D.C. Brau for what they called “an exploratory ale” named Peanut Butter Lunchbox. Technically a brown ale, the brewery spackled peanut butter from Justin’s in Boulder inside the fermenter Jackson Pollock-style and put in a hefeweizen yeast that lent a slight banana flavor. Oh, and it included local honey. So it’s a peanut butter honey brown hefeweizen?
BEST NAMES: The best part of collaborating for brewers is apparently picking an off-the-wall name for the beer. Denver area hop heads — Station 26, Cannonball Creek and Comrade — brewed a double IPA they named “IPA is Dead.”
“It’s obviously a tongue-in-cheek reference,” said Jonathan Lee, the brewer at Cannonball Creek. “That’s a running joke in the industry — that IPA has been around so long it’s dead. IPA is very much not dead.”
Despite the three breweries reputation for making great hopped beers, originally they didn’t want to make an IPA. “We knew everybody expected an IPA out of us,” Lee said, but they pushed back. The more the brewers talked, however, the more they realized they couldn’t resist.
Another fun name game: Kurr’s Light. Durango’s Ska Brewing combined with Gordon Biersch and Virginia’s Devils Backbone to pay homage, of sorts, to Colorado’s best known light American lager. “We knew everything was going to be big, imperial or barrel aged so we thought, “Let’s go another direction,” said Ska’s head brewer Thomas Larsen. The twist: the beer used an heirloom barley and Nelson Sauvin hops, which gave it a white wine touch that only hit at 3 percent ABV.
HOP IT UP: For the hop fans, it was a never ending list of goodness at the festival. Fat Head’s Brewery, the Ohio (and Oregon) brewers who took home a suitcase full of GABF medals in 2015, contributed their hop goodness to a number of collaborations with great Colorado breweries.
Comrade Brewing and Fat Head’s made a tasty Lupulin Manifesto IPA, and Boulder Beer and Fat Head’s collaborated on a hoppy hefeweizen appropriately dubbed Co-Hopitation. Then you had Twisted Pine and Kansas brewer Blind Tiger combine for a clean and bitter Ties That Bine double IPA.
SOUR CITY: On par with hops at the festival: sours. Denver’s Trve and Oklahoma’s Prairie Artisan Ales made an oak-aged gose (pronounced goes-uh) on peaches from both breweries home states that sold out. Same with Fort Collins brewer Funkwerks and North Carolina’s Wicked Weed, which combined for a fruited barrel-aged sour. And Our Mutual Friend in Denver led a team with all-stars Scratch from Illinois, Hopworks Urban from Portland and Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina for a “beers made by walking” brew that highlights beers made with plants in each state. The Golden Fang, barrel-fermented sour golden ale, included persimmons from North Carolina, rose hips from Oregon, bittering roots from Illinois and all Colorado malt and hops.
DARK GOODNESS: The sunny day didn’t melt all the snow on the ground, so good dark beers still felt at home. Odell and California’s Stone Brewing made a big and boozy Reunification Imperial Stout. Oskar Blues and Horse and Dragon offered a flavorful coffee mocha porter called Smoka.
The barrel-aged favorites came from Telluride Brewing and Elevation Beer Co. with their American Imperial Brown Ale aged in bourbon barrels. The bourbon provided a pop and the beer finished with a smooth roasted malt. WeldWerks Brewing and Snowbank paired to make barrel-aged mocha imperial stout with big flavor all around.
THE UNUSUAL: How does a chocolate orange cream ale sound? Big Choice in Broomfield and Black Bottle in Fort Collins decided to give it a try. It was interesting, to say the least, and recalled an orange chocolate after-dinner mint. Epic Brewing in Denver and California’s Green Flash made a saison with lemongrass and kumquat, a brain teaser for the palate. And Platt Park Brewing in Denver worked with California’s Old Redwood and Chicago’s Moody Tongue for a brett IPA with nectarines. Light on the funky brett sourness, it went from sweet into citrus and left an almost cotton candy flavor on the back end for us.