One Beer, Two Heads

In most industries, new ideas are closely guarded secrets, locked behind a labyrinth of closed doors and security codes that resembles something you’d see in an old episode of The West Wing. Things are a little different in the craft beer industry.

Over the past few years, craft breweries across the nation have been reaching out to fellow brewmasters to churn out one-of-a-kind beers that are as unique as they are tasty. Offered on a limited time basis (and usually at both breweries), these special collaboration beers have become a true testament to the camaraderie within the craft beer world – a sense of trust and friendship that clearly carries over to the scene here in St. Louis.

With the number of local microbreweries approaching 20, there’s no question that craft beer is more competitive than ever. Yet instead of building walls and plotting tricks, local breweries are coming together to offer a product that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The reason is simple: “Everybody could brew the same style of beer and they wouldn’t taste the same,” explained Stephen Hale, head brewer at Schlafly. “Essentially, there’s an endless variety of beers that can come out, which makes it much more interesting. … It reinforces the love and camaraderie we all share.”

Leading the trend here in town is Schlafly, who teamed up with O’Fallon Brewery and New Albanian Brewing Co. for its Collaboration Series. Together, they’ve brewed three beers – C1: an oak-aged, dry hopped, smoked rye pale ale; C2: a Belgian, dark, strong ale brewed with smoked figs; and C3: a dry-hopped American mild. Schlafly co-founder Dan Kopman also launched a chef’s collaboration series, working with local bars and restaurants immersed in the craft beer scene including Pi Pizzeria, Bigelo’s Bistro in Edwardsville, The Royale and International Tap House to brew one-of-a-kind brews to be offered at the venues. Amalgamated Brewing Co. and Buffalo Brewing broadened the inner circle even wider, working with homebrewers Sean Heidimann and Dave Johnson, for their respective collaborations. And two of St. Louis’ newest breweries – 2nd Shift Brewery and 4 Hands Brewing Co. – wasted no time teaming up to brew a Unicorn Saison Beer before they even opened their doors.

It’s a merging of skill, experience and ideas that’s unthinkable in most industries – but one that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in the world of craft beer. “Are we competitors with one another? Absolutely, there’s no denying that,” said Hale. “But it’s a huge capital investment to put in a brewery. For those who can do it, the last thing we want to do is abandon them. They want a cup of sugar – we’ll give them two.”