It started like every other beer fest: throngs of thirsty patrons marching toward the threshold, their arms raised high to show the gatekeepers their wristbands while a loud, booming voice resonated through the hall, “Please proceed through the doors for your tasting glasses and welcome beers!”
And that welcome beer — a Baltic porter named 10K Alumni, made in collaboration with eight breweries — was where the similarities to every other beer fest ended. This was the fifth annual Collaboration Beer Fest — CollabFest, as the kids call it — and this wasn’t hoards of drinkers in silly costumes, slapping plastic tumblers out of their friend’s hands; this was a celebration of the craft beer community coming together to create one-of-a-kind brews. Most brewers used the event to play outside their wheelhouse, and almost all of the beers came with imaginative, if not suggestive, names: On All Fours Cherry Tart, Eurotrashed, Gin-U-Wine and Hibiscus Curious, to name but a few.
But a good beer a clever name does not make, and there were many dogs at CollabFest. Some were simply a swing and a miss; others were akin to having a bar of Dial soap pushed down your throat with a peach puree chaser. Regardless of how the final product turned out, experimentation was the name of the game and experiment the brewers did; from pastry stouts and hoppy kölsches, from kettle sours to Belgians galore.
The highlight: Schokolade Banana, a chocolate weizenbock from Periodic Brewing and Mother Tucker Brewery. Originally from Leadville, Periodic recently opened a tasting room in Northglenn, minutes from Mother Tucker’s Thornton location, and their proximity provided the impetus for the collaboration. Using a solid weizenbock base, which brings a medium amount of banana flavor to the brew, and adding milk chocolate extract, Schokolade Banana achieved the goal many try to hit with just as many falling short: dessert in a glass. And both Periodic and Mother Tucker know it, as they plan to start selling it on the regular.
For many at CollabFest, sweet was the way to go. From New Image Brewing and Molly’s Wine and Spirits: I Can’t Believe It’s Butter, which tasted like a liquid Samoa Girl Scout cookie; to a Nitro Raspberry Porter made by Strange Craft Beer and the Metro State University Brewing Program, which was surprisingly like eating a peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich on whole wheat bread.
Not every beer was dessert in a glass — though the breadth of dessert beers poured may point to a developing trend. And certainly not every beer was destined for the production line, but no one seemed to care if this was the beginning of something new or merely a one-off. What mattered were the friendships foraged and the experimentation allotted these brewers.
As more beer fests turn into drunken soirees, CollabFest remains a low-key, simple and somewhat quiet reminder that all this work is supposed to be fun.