Despite the competitive nature of the craft beer scene, most of these breweries form a collaborative community that developed from their roots in home brewing. It isn’t necessarily a new idea, but each time these masterminds team up to bring you a brew they don’t let down on creativity, exclusivity and of course taste. The Ohio City Festival Stout, a creamy stout with honey and vanilla brewed by Platform, Great Lakes, and Market Garden, or Full Kettle Dead Canary, a grisette ale brewed by The Brew Kettle and Full Pint Brewing Company are just a couple of examples of collaborations.
These collabs are happening all the time, usually between your local favorites, or breweries you’ve never heard of, but sometimes two head honchos team up and pour you 24k gold straight from the tap. That’s exactly what Fat Head’s and New Belgium are gearing up to do. Fat Heads robbed the Great American Beer Festival 2015 like a Fort Knox heist, taking home four gold medals, and one silver medal. New Belgium is nationally known for their beers including their famous Fat Tire Amber Ale and their wildly successful sour program. These two power houses teamed up to give you a Cleveland exclusive brew. We had the chance to interview brew masters Matt Cole (Fat Head’s) and Matty Gilliand (New Belgium) to see what was on their minds when creating their collaboration brew.
Where did this collaboration start? Do you and Matty Gilland have a standing relationship? Cole: Yeah, and we’ve kind of been dabbling in some sour beer and we’re really kind of new at it, but along the way we’ve gotten a lot of assistance from their specialty brand manager Lauren Salazar who also does all of their sour beer blending. So I think between my relationship with Matty and with Lauren and her kindness of sharing tips and techniques about her souring program and how to handle some of these wild yeast and microbes, she’s been instrumental in enlightening us and helping us get to the next level of having a nice sour program. That was really kind of how it happened. Also, I know Kim Jordan relatively well, although she’s no longer the CEO as of a couple of days ago, but I have a friendship with her as well so I’ve been pretty familiar with their company and I’ve watched them grow and they’ve grown significantly over the last ten years. They came to me actually, which was kind of flattering. It happened at the Winking Lizard. They had what was called the Sour Symposium and they kind of brought in beers from five or six different foeders that Lauran liked the characteristics of and one of them was called the “sure thing” and she names all of the foeders. We were kind of able to blend them on our own and the different styles we liked. That was at the Lizard and that’s when she approached me and said we’d love to make some beer with you guys.
Where did the idea of a smoldering sour stem from? Gilland: When Matt and I first met and sat down to talk about this, there were so many options we had on the table and we were both trying to think a little bit outside of the box and think about something that hasn’t really been done before this. The place where I always like to start is “here is something that is unique to our brewery that we can offer” and one of the things that we can offer is sour beer. We have a sour program that runs back almost eighteen years now. We’ve done a lot with sour beer and developed a few different methods for making sour beer. We talked about something that is sessionable. Then we talked about playing with habanéros and lime and lemon grass together. I said, “what if we make a session sour here and a session IPA there?” and that was kind of the whole conversation, it didn’t really take more than about fifteen minutes.
Is it just going to be that style alone? The Smoldering sour with habanéros, lime zest, and lemon grass. Cole: The one out there (Fort Collins) is going to be soured to about .6 acidity, it’s not going to be wrenchingly sour, it’s going to have a tart little twang to it and we’re trying to make sure the body has enough fullness to it and the peppers give a little kind of burn, but not wrenchingly hot, hot and then the lime zest and the lemon grass will help cut that heat a little bit. I love the fact that we’re doing a truer kind of session. I’ve done some collaborations in the past where it’s like “Yeah, let’s brew together” then the other brewery will write the recipe and I’ll just kind of show up and they’ll sell it in their market and all it is kind of a field trip. But this one is really hands on for me. For one, we’re going to be doing it at both breweries, so we’ll have an opportunity to kind of market on our side as well and this is more about bouncing ideas off of each other and that’s the way it should be. We’re not souring the one here (Middleburg Heights). Also, the idea is that we can put them side by side and understand it as a base beer and kind of get a better idea of how that souring component contributes to the finished beer. On our side, we’re going to push the hops a little harder because that’s what we’re known for here. Ours is going to be called a smoldering session and theirs is going to be called smoldering sour. Ultimately, ours is more of like a 4.8% ABV session IPA that has the habanéro and lemon grass and lime zest, but a little bit more hop forward and we’ll use some pretty tropical citrus hops to compliment some of the other citrus components in the beer.
How are you going to be souring this beer? Gilland: We have a few processes that we use to make a number of different sour beers. This one will have a very clean lactic sourness. We have a vessel that we built as a lactic souring vessel. We call is the LRV, or Lactic Reaction Vessel. We make a very special base wort for it. Then we’re able to shoot the wort in pretty hot, about 50 or so, then we add our own lactobacillus culture and relatively quickly we can sour that up from being this sweet wort to a mind numbing, face melting, curl your hair kind of sour. We’ll blend using this beer to get the right amount of acidity.
How daunting of a task is it to balance the heat and the sour? It’s not a combination you usually come across. Cole: That’s the hard part. Neither one of us have really used habanéros. I’ve used some chipotle ancho, but I’ve never used any kind of habanéro or jalapeno so it’s going to be kind of a balancing act. I have a general idea of how much to add with jalapeno, but it’s a lot harder with habanéros because they’re so hot so we’re kind of guessing a little bit. We keep joking that you know there’s IBU’s in beer and now we have IPU’s, the international pepper units. But we aren’t going to leave it on peppers for very long. I anticipate we will be putting this thing on peppers for less than 24 hours, but it might be closer to 12 hours on peppers. We’ll put the peppers in the brite tank and it’s going to be all hands on deck to be able to unload that tank. I’m going to have to end up tasting it almost hourly for that period because you can’t take the heat away. however, if we overdo it then we’re kind of screwed. This isn’t your run of the mill collaboration, usually they are cut and dry where it’s hop forward or just standard ingredients, this is definitely a little different.
Both brewers are extremely excited about this collaboration and have expressed interest in working together in the future. Let’s hope for our sake they follow up on another brew. The beer will be made available to the public on November 15th at Fat Head’s Middleburg Heights tap room.