Collaboration - the life blood of the Craft Beer Industry
Over the last few weeks, we’ve welcomed a number of friends to Finchampstead for collaboration brews.
One of which was a new friend in the form of Nikola Sarcevic from Duckpond Brewery, from Sweden. Some of you may recognise that name, or even know why the brewery is named “Duckpond”. Nikola, as well as a great brewer making some amazing beers, also happens to be the bass playing frontman of none other than punk legends, Millencolin.
For 16 year old me some *mumbled number* years ago, playing not-so-ace bass and singing in a punk band, this represents my two favourite world’s colliding - punk rock and craft beer. This is also the case for our Head Brewer, Sean. Growing up in a largely punk rock starved South Africa at the time, he had an awakening listening to Millencolin’s “For Monkeys” album. It’s a project that we’re super excited to be a part of.
But with the beer we’ve brewed together out this week, along with two other incredible collabs that we’ll get to below, it represents the perfect excuse to write a long overdue blog about collaborating.
Nikola in the Tap Yard talking through his beers...
Collaboration has been a part of Siren’s ethos since day one. For our 10th anniversary party, I put together a booklet about the celebration releases, with a look back on some of the stories and events from over the years. One section of the booklet was a list of all the breweries (and non-breweries!) that we’ve worked with over the years; or at least, the ones up until that point, it’s already out of date!
At the time of writing, that list included 149 breweries and 34 non-breweries. Over 10 years, that’s an average of around 18 collaborative beers each year.
Why we collaborate
With the Craft Beer sector as competitive as it is, you may be asking - why do breweries work together? Surely breweries are competing with each other for precious lines and spaces in fridges? To a point, this is true. But, there are a lot of bars and bottleshops out there.
Growing up on the Isle of Wight, we had a thriving local music scene, with loads of bands but only 1 real venue who’d book us. I remember an industry professional telling me, “Your competitors aren’t the other local bands - it’s Coldplay, it’s Kaiser Chiefs etc.” He had a valid point - stop thinking small and aim big. You might not be able to afford a van to get off the IOW, but maybe 2 or 3 bands working together could?
Whilst musically I eventually joined the big pile of “never-quite-made-its”, the comment stuck with me and I think it applies here. I never did find out how Coldplay or Kaiser Chiefs got on, but hopefully they did ok.
As a brewery, our biggest threat is from ‘Macro’ breweries (or to a finer point - those owned by macros) who have much easier access to and control of those precious lines. One way to guarantee your beer being permanently across 1000s of lines across the country is for your parent company to own those lines.
So if anything, a collaborative beer can often have a wider appeal, as drinkers at home recognise more names of breweries you’re excited by. This might just be the key for our hard working team of regional account managers to breakthrough and make a sale.
For us smaller independent breweries, craft beer is hyper-local. Someone in Berkshire or London is more likely to be drinking a pint of Siren than they are a pint from say, Lakes Brew Co (based in Kendal near the Lake District). But then someone in Leeds is more likely to be drinking Lakes’ beer than ours.
Collaboration is a great way to break down regional barriers and find and exchange new fans from further afield. It can also open doors and access to markets ordinarily hard to reach, or sometimes otherwise completely unattainable.
Looking back again to being a musician, we all started out in cover bands. Looking up a tab on the internet (after asking your Mum & Dad to keep the phone line free… yes, it used to be like that kids) and smashing out some ugly rendition of a Rancid song was the key to being a better player, and writer.
As a brewer, working with others outside of your normal circle is a great chance to learn new techniques. A fantastic point of reference to this is our own “inspiration” project - Time Hops, from 2022. If you’ve not heard of Time Hops, we took some of the industry’s most famous hops, and the beers that epitomise them, and set about making our own setlist of tribute beers.
As part of this project, we spoke with the original breweries who made those stand out beers, learnt about their idea, listened to the way they created these beers and ultimately added a number of new techniques to our arsenal.
For many, the most stand out beer of that series was “Citra/Mosaic”, a nod to The Alchemist’s Focal Banger - the OG NEIPA. Originally, these hazy beers were brewed to still retain a level of bitterness, whilst also pushing that huge punch of fresh fruit flavours. This was something we loved and those original methodologies that we’ve learned have become the staple way that we make New England style beers.
This is an element of collaboration put forward by our founder, Darron. He has spoken about how as a business owner, with all of your employees livelihoods at stake, it can be a tough battle mentally. Being able to pick up the phone and talk to other people in the same position, or facing similar challenges can be really helpful to know that… you’re not in this alone.
When looking at increasing malt prices, increasing hop prices and increasing costs for, well, pretty much everything it helps to chat with someone else and know that the challenge isn’t unique - it’s industry wide. Together, as an industry, we can work out the best way forward and support each other to find ways to survive.
Fun and Creativity
Similar to learning, there’s also the excuse to do some things a bit outside the box. To explore the “not normal” side of brewing.
Collab beers often allow us to bring some of what the other brewery represents to Finchampstead. With the recent “Send Me More Sunshine”, a collaboration with Slim Pickens from Florida, we’re bringing the Floridian sunshine in the form of 1.2 tonnes of Alphonso Mango. And then there was when Superstition Meadery came to town with not only toasted Arizonan chillies, but buckets upon buckets of gorgeous honey.
One of my personal favourite memories in the brewhouse is when Broaden & Build came to town. A Danish brewery run at the time by Matt Orlando, the former Head Chef at the then best restaurant in the world - Noma. Again, an opportunity to chew the ear of someone you have a massive amount of respect for, but also a beautifully cathartic moment seeing Matt, Darron and the combined teams sitting around for literally hours hand picking wild foraged herbs off their stalks. There’s that opportunity to do things slightly out of the normal, and the smell was amazing.
It was before my time, but I wish I had been at Siren for the “Hoppin’ Frog” collaboration, 5-Alarm. Whilst Chilli beers aren’t everyone’s thing, the brew day came alongside a big chilli cook off, with actual wort from the brew being used in the 100l home brew vessel full of chilli…
Collaboration days often come with a shared eating experience, like a tonne of pizzas, too much curry (stop ordering 30 tubs of the green stuff, Darron) or my favourite - BBQ. Local collaborations are amazing for this. There will always be a summer slot in the schedule for a brew with Double-Barrelled. We’re near enough for both teams to all get together at once. It’s a great day providing some much needed down time amidst a busy brew day.
I mentioned Time Hops, but big collaborative projects have always been part of life here at Siren. The start of this was probably the birth of the Rainbow Project, the brainchild of our inaugural Head Brewer, Ryan. The idea brought breweries from all over the UK, and later the world, together to brew beers based on a randomly drawn colour of the rainbow. We’d take that colour as a theme and go from there. This project has seen the birth of iconic beers such as “Yellow Belly” from Omnipollo x Buxton, but closer to home - our very own Santo.
Earlier in the blog I mentioned that not all of our collabs are carried out with breweries - in fact we love working with those from outside of our industry to make beers.
Our favourite projects here have to be Project Barista, where we work with a variety of independent coffee roasters to push the limits of how we can use coffee in different styles of beer, and of course, Caribbean Chocolate Cake. A beer created in collaboration with Cigar City. A brew day that ultimately led to the creation and installation of our Spinbot, a piece of equipment that has changed and shaped the way we brew since.
We’ve also brewed with the bars, shops, podcasters, beer festivals and even an art gallery.
And seeing as I mentioned Collaborative Projects, that brings me nicely onto introducing our 3 latest collabs.
SUPER GOLD FINGER DISCOUNT
4.8% Pale Ale with Cedar Wood & Mosaic / Newbarns Brewery
A while ago, we were asked by Cloudwater to be part of their MASHUP series, and of course we accepted. The concept is to randomly draw 4 sets of 2 breweries, who then mashup a recipe consisting of elements of a beer from each brewery. We were delighted to be drawn with none other than Newbarns Brewery, co-founded by former Siren brewer, Gordon.
With literally many 100s of beers to choose from, deciding on the Mashup wasn’t easy. But, we knew we wanted to create something with a story.
Gordon was instrumental in developing our spinbot, and was involved in our early ‘Digit Series’ with To Ol. Middle Finger Discount was the single hop mosaic beer of the set, spun on cedar wood. Newbarns always put drinkability at the front and centre of what they want to achieve when making beer.
Bringing their incredible Super Gold to the table, which is one of our favourite lagers, Super Gold Finger Discount uses the beautiful crisp malt base, alongside the huge Mosaic of Middle Finger Discount, topped off with a spin of Cedar Wood that somehow makes it even more drinkable.. I can already see this beer being brewed again, or maybe we take what we’ve learned and brew something new along the style - yay for collaboration!
Get Super Gold Finger Discount on the Siren Webshop, the Tap Yard or ask at your normal Source of Siren beers!
10.5% Imperial Stout / Sofia Electric Brewing
When old friends, like Gordon, come back to town it’s always a great excuse to hang out and have some fun. This was definitely the case when Sofia Electric came to town, as brewing up a storm there is our old brewer and barrel whisperer - Aiden. A hugely popular figure at Siren before he left to spread his wings elsewhere, Aiden always brings a sense of fun to the occasion, as well as a chunk of cricket chat.
Australian Aiden and some of the team went to watch England play a test match during his visit, where the term “Long Levers” was applied to Andy McBrine.. The working title of “Chin Music” was dropped and Long Levers was official.
For the beer itself, we wanted to brew a big stout entirely without adjuncts and no lactose.. The goal was to get all the flavours of a beer spun on the likes of cacao and coffee, using only a carefully designed malt bill. We’ve spoken before about the importance of malt, and this beer shows it.
It’s big, it’s thick, it has a beautifully balanced malt sweetness with layers of rich decadent chocolate, coffee and toffee notes. It’s really really good. The perfect beer to sit and watch a test match with!?
Get Long Levers on the Siren Webshop, the Tap Yard or ask at your normal Source of Siren beers!
And onto the beer that started this blog...
8% DIPA / Duckpond Brewing
When Nik rolled into town, he brought with him a selection of his beers for a tap takeover at our Tap Yard and it was amazing tasting through his beers. Nik loves fruit, and specifically adding fruit to big sour beers. As we already had Send Me More Sunshine in the works, as tempting as it was to do another big fruited sour, we opted for Nik’s second love - Double IPA.
A big beer loaded with wheat and oats, topped off with Mosaic Cryo, Citra and Strata CGX it’s everything you want from a DIPA. There’s sweetness, bitterness, masses of fruity hop flavour and eminent drinkability. We love it.
Brewing aside, Nik, Sean and I spent a lot of time hanging out and it was really lovely to both nerd out on brewing (if you want to talk about Yeast, talk to Nik!) but also asking about our favourite songs and albums, getting an insight into the life of a bonafide punk rock legend.
In the days following the collab brew, Nik headed to Slam Dunk (getting lost on the way, which had us all panicked!) to play with Millencolin. Of course, we were there to watch. In naming the beer, the rather daft but ultimately fitting Slam Duck was where we landed.
Get Slam Duck on the Siren Webshop, the Tap Yard or ask at your normal Source of Siren beers!
So there we have it. A bit of an insight into why we love collaborating. Ultimately, it’s so much more than just brewing beer. It’s about connections, friendships and moments - and isn’t that what craft beer is all about?
Let us know who you’d like to see us brewing with over on social media!