07 May 2010

The Session: Collaborations

"No one man makes a movie."
Kevin Smith, on why he doesn't take the "film by" credit.

I hate being That Guy.

The guy that's always deconstructing the question, trying to be oh-so-clever, too clever to just deal with the topic as assigned and make a good post. But lately I've been that kind of guy. For the cask beer Session, I wondered what cask beer really was. For the cult beer Session, I redefined what a cult beer could be. And for this month's Session , on the topic of collaborations, I find that I just have to question the premise yet again.

It's not that I'm trying to be this way, you understand. Partly it's that I just haven't had that many collaborative beers.  I've already reviewed the Van Twee and I could swear I tried and wrote up Avery's collaboration with Russian River, although I'll be damned if I can find my write-up at the moment of this writing (was I that drunk?), and that's really all that my store carries with regard to collaborations at the moment. So I started thinking outside the box.

What is a collaboration, anyway? What is the value? I'm trying to imagine my own beer-making process, wondering what value another brewer could add to the beers I make. And while, sure, there are plenty of brewers with more experience and knowledge than I, I'm pretty much a lone wolf with my own beermaking -- while I would appreciate an extra set of hands to make the grunt work a little easier, I can't imagine ceding a huge amount of control over to another mind. Would another brewer fiddle with my recipes? Muck about with my mashing process? Stir the brewpot a little more vigorously? Ferment at a different temperature? Dry-hop with different hops, for longer? For shorter? Maybe any of these would make different beer, even better beer, but would an outside observer really be able to differentiate his or her influence from mine? Would I really want another person peering over my shoulder in that way?

But then I started thinking in larger terms. Even in the beers I make in my garage, boiling, fermenting, and bottling all by my lonesome, I can't really say that I work entirely alone. I buy malted barley, for one thing, which means that my beers are entirely reliant on the skills of some anonymous farmer and technician properly modifying the malt I use. My yeast, as well, is a blend constructed by the scientists and brewers at White Labs, designing strains for use by brewers that will have specific properties in the bottle. Nor do I grow my own hops or purify my own water or... well, any number of things.

Even in the tiny scale of my own homebrew, I'm reliant on many people who are not known to me personally to help me make my beers the best they can be. How much more so, then, are the beers in a decent-sized production brewery, in which dozens or hundreds of people are working directly with the beer trying to make it the best product it can be. What brewery doesn't have at least one or two assistant brewers handling the fine details of the beers we drink, regardless of the name on the label or the person identified as head brewer?

And even if it was the case that so-and-so controlled the entire process of a beer from beginning to end, from growing the grains to culturing the yeast to planting the hops to malting the barley to mashing the malt to boiling the wort to fermenting the beer to bottling and even driving the delivery van that brought it to your door... even then, that hypothetical brewer is working within the context of existing beer styles, within the knowledge of decades or centuries of brewing traditions. The hard-won knowledge of brewers past informs us all, from the five gallon bucket to the massive tanks of Budweiser, and lo be it to anyone to try to minimize that history. What's more, even once the beer is in the bottle it becomes a collaboration of sorts, from the brewer to the consumer and from one drinker to another, sharing a conversation about what's in the bottle and how it fits into the spectrum of beer and into the world at large. This, too, is a collaboration of sorts, a collaboration involved in communication and in sharing.

Collaborative beer? Can you name one that isn't?

No comments: