There was a time when the news of a new collaboration brew would stoke my beer geekery. I’d make a beeline for it, sometimes dashing across London before the keg ran dry. There would be differing levels of success, sometimes extraordinarily good, sometimes not so, but I’d think kindly of any effort; as the thought of brewers innovating, playing less than safe and pushing the brewing boundaries (or at least their own) is something that, however outlandish the results should be admired. This is why we all love great craft beer, right? The thought that it won’t be five fonts of the same stuff at the bar, everyday for the rest of your beer drinking life. That you can drink your usual drop or a completely off the wall flight of fantasy that’s brewed by folks who likely came up with the concept over a few too many.
Whether here, there or for that matter anywhere in the beer drinking world, it seems to me that the collab wagon is straining under the pressure. I can’t name many of those collaborations I made a dash for and lately I’m just getting a little weary. I have collab-fatigue. There seems to be so many out there that I have a selective blindness, whether it’s here in Australia, in the UK or the States. Brewer collabs, blogger collabs, chef collabs, artist collabs. The day we get a pollie collab (please tell me it’s not happened) I may just throw it in and start drinking cider.
It’s by no means bad beer. Most recently I tried the My Antonia, the Dogfish Head and Birra del Borgo, Imperial Pils, which has been around since about 2008. It’s very good. It made me think twice about writing about the growing fatigue. Can you really criticise good beer? I think of it not as criticism of good beer, just that we’ve gone passed doing it for innovations sake, for breaking out of the mould that commercial necessity may have forced upon a brewer. In short that there’s an overflowing mash tun of marketing schtick.
I am not as naive to think that is wasn’t about marketing previously but whereas it wasn’t the overriding factor then, in a lot of cases, it is now. For many brewers, despite the much lauded craft beer boom, I realise it’s a hard business, with high overheads and competition from the larger players, craft or otherwise. The collab brew offers an opportunity to create a buzz around a beer; to leverage the loyalty of drinkers aligned firmly with one brand or another. Cross pollination I believe is the term if you are a fan of business bullshit bingo. There’s a win-win for two or more brewers in banding together. I get it. A good story behind a beer, individual brewer or brewery is part of what I love about craft brewing. It’s about people, passion for good beer and not a shareholders report.
When collabs start to creep towards the cynical ploy and not the craft I start to switch off. This is when the fatigue takes hold, when I roll my eyes at over excited tweets and press releases about the next big landmark brew. It’s not likely to change and if anything will continue to grow so is perhaps something I need to tune in or out to. For my money, the approach of brewers like Feral looking to a Brewpub Series, seasonals and single batches is infinitely more interesting. Is it just me? Or is there a growing number of us who feel that the wheels are about to fall off?