There’s no lack of contests and competitions for brewers these days, but Mark Hastings thinks there’s none better than the one he’ll be taking part in this March in Denver.
The concept of Collaboration Fest—set for March 19—is pretty simple: at least two brewers, one of whom must be based in Colorado, join forces, come up with a new brew, work on it together and take it to the festival for judging.
Hastings, a co-owner and head brewer at Uberbrew, a craft brewery at 2305 Montana Ave., said brewers normally just take their flagship product to a competition and hope for the best. For the Collaboration Fest, brewers work with their counterparts in other cities and states to come up with something completely new.
“To me, craft brewing was born and grew up with this kind of collaboration,” Hastings said.
“It celebrates what makes our industry unique,” said Adam Glaser, head brewer at the Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery in Denver.
Glaser was in town last week to work with Hastings and other brewers at Uberbrew on a barley wine they are preparing for the Collaboration Fest. Hastings has already been down to Denver to help brew some of the barley wine on that end.
Hastings and Uberbrew co-owner Jason Shroyer got to know Glaser well during another collaboration. That began in 2014, when Uberbrew contracted with the Fort Collins Brewery in Colorado—where Glaser was then brewing—to brew and bottle Uberbrew’s most popular product, White Noise Hefeweizen.
That was done to get an Uberbrew product on retail shelves without giving up too much room in the already busy Billings brewery.
Talk of this latest collaboration began last April, when Hastings and Glaser ran into each other at the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, and later during a hop farm tour in Oregon.
They decided to work together on an entry for this year’s Collaboration Fest, and Hastings was thrilled when Glaser suggested doing a barley wine.
“For me, this is the first time I’ve done a barley wine, so it’s really exciting,” he said.
Glaser, who has made barley wine before, figured it was a good product to work on with another brewer.
“It allows for a lot of creativity and interpretation by the brewer,” he said.
Barley wine is a fermented grain product, a beer, but it is so named because its alcohol content is much closer to a typical wine than to a typical beer. Hastings and Glaser are shooting for an alcohol content of 12.8 percent, while a typical craft brew has an alcohol content of 4.5 to 6.5 percent.
Much of the collaboration had to do with recipe development. Hastings and Glaser settled on a barley wine that uses only one malt and one hop variety. The result will be a very malty concoction, a historically English style barley wine that is served at 50 degrees—cool, but not cold.
They partners will also collaborate—and emphasize the two-state partnership—by aging the brew in whiskey barrels from Montana (Roughstock Distillery in Bozeman) and Colorado (Breckenridge Distillery).
The barley wine from Jagged Mountain will age in the Colorado barrels for just a month or so before being tapped at the Collaboration Fest. The barley wine brewed in Billings will sit in the Roughstock barrels for more than a year. Hastings and Glaser hope to enter that barley wine at next year’s Collaboration Fest—and to offer it to Uberbrew customers by St. Patrick’s Day 2017.
Hastings said aging the barley wine for different lengths of time is sort of like making a marinara sauce. You can make marinara quickly or you can let it simmer overnight. The longer the barley wine ages in the barrel, the more micro-oxidation that takes place, subtly affecting the flavor.
“The beauty of it is, it could be totally different,” Hastings said.
Glaser arrived in Billings Wednesday and was planning to head back to Denver on Saturday, after attending the first night of the Taste of Billings at the Billings Depot on Friday night, where Uberbrew was to be serving some of its beers.
He has enjoyed his time in Billings and at Uberbrew.
“You get to watch someone else do all the hard labor,” he said, half-jokingly. “But we spend a lot of time talking about beer and exchanging ideas.”
Purely by accident, Glaser added another layer to the collaboration process. When he left Denver, he had a couple of containers of yeast from Colorado in coolers, which he forgot to pack with ice. So he stopped and filled the coolers with snow.
They decided to add that snow to the water they’re using to make the Billings batch of barley wine.
“So it’s got some Colorado precipitation in it,” Hastings said.