The open-source movement is nothing new to the brewing industry. Collaboration in brewing has a long history that goes back centuries. The Carsberg brewery in Denmark discovered how to isolate a single strain of yeast in 1870. They freely gave it to every brewery in the world who asked for it. In recent American history, early microbreweries helped each other in a fight against large American adjunct lager producers. New Albion pioneered the use of Cascade hops. Sierra Nevada used that knowledge to produce their classic Pale Ale and in turn has pioneered some groundbreaking science that they have shared with the rest of the brewing community. Samuel Adams has lent money and expertise to start-up breweries through their “Brewing up a Dream” program. One of their first beneficiaries was Rochester’s own Roc Brewing Company.
That “us versus them” still motivates us in Rochester’s brewing community to spread the gospel of good beer, but it is a bit less black and white these days. One reason for this is that the big brewery in town has been instrumental in forming this group. We’ve become great friends with some of the brewers and lab staff at Genesee. I’m actually writing this while on a trip out to Buffalo with Genesee’s head of quality control. They have taken us on tours of their facility, run analytical testing for free that we couldn’t otherwise afford and included us in their sensory analysis training. Most importantly, they have joined us in forming a community of brewers based on mutual respect and the lofty goal of making Rochester a destination for great beer.
Over the last year and a half, Rochester’s brewers have come together under the #585brewers banner. It all started because we liked hanging out together and learning from one another. We started a monthly get together that rotates amongst our breweries with the express purpose of having fun and talking brewing, not business. Since we’ve become friends, it’s a lot easier for Roc to call us at Swiftwater to borrow a pitch of yeast or for us to call them to borrow a couple pounds of calcium carbonate. This helps us produce a better product and saves all of us time and money so we can spend more on hops and barrels.
There is still certainly a spirit of competition amongst us. Our goal at Swiftwater is to make beer that compels people to travel to Rochester in search of great beer. I want us to make the best beer in Rochester, but I want to make everyone else to make beer that’s almost as good. I’m sure everyone else in town would say the same thing.
We at Swiftwater brewed a collaboration with Oz (a.k.a. Jeffrey Osbourne) from Stoneyard and Ben Maeso from Prison City. We’ve been talking about collaborating for over a year and have been talking about this recipe for several months. We wanted to do something that had a piece of each brewery, but we also wanted to do something unique. In the end, we contributed the base malt, rye and lager yeast. Maeso contributed Brettanomyces and Oz contributed a ridiculously large hopping rate and Red-X, which we have never used before. I think we all learned something from seeing how another brewery approaches a recipe and how they use some of their signature ingredients. In the end, we came up with a Red Rye IPL with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. We hope it will be great and we know it will be different.
Brewing a collaboration with another brewery is definitely a lot of work. We all approach writing a recipe differently and it can be hard to come to agreement while maintaining each brewers’ essence in the recipe. With Stoneyard and Prison City, we all get along so well and respect each other’s skills so much that none of us want to step on any toes. In this case it was hard to come to consensus because we were all too congenial.
The ideal of collaboration is that everyone wins. We buy fruit and barrels from Apple Country Spirits and make beer and then sell it back to them. They get a unique product that they have had a part in producing. We have also produced a sour that we gave to Kevin Collins from Cider Creek and he blended it with his cider and added kiwi. We are producing a single keg of something (to be determined) with the Beer Market for beer week. The rewards of working together are tremendous and far outweigh the cost, so I hope that we can work with many other businesses in the future.
I consider myself very lucky to work in an industry where the good of the whole industry is as important as anyone’s self-interest. All of this helps us to get better at what we do and bring the Rochester real beer consumer a better product. I couldn’t be more excited for the future of our industry and the spirit of collaboration of the #585brewers.