Ben Blair / Rogue Ales
Like a slightly paunchier version of The Avengers, brewers love to team up with one another to make collaboration beers. But more and more often, brewers are now joining forces with companies that previously had nothing to do with beer, to craft unexpected (and often adventurous) beers that explore new flavors, while turning non-beer lovers on to the good stuff. From partnerships with cultishly beloved spice companies to video games and TV shows, these are the best collaborations between brewers and non-beer entities.
Wild Turkey is one of the most aggressively robust bourbons on the shelf, a whiskey-drinker’s brown liquor that isn’t afraid to hit the back of your throat with a gnarly burn (no wonder Hunter S. Thompson loved it so much). Meanwhile, Anderson Valley has emerged as one of California’s best breweries thanks in part to its mastery of barrel-aging. So when the two teamed up for the Barl Series, magic was bound to happen. The main attraction of lineup is the woody, slightly sweet Bourbon Barrel Stout, which hibernates in a Wild Turkey barrel for three months, emerging black as night and smooth as booze-soaked silk. There’s also a Salted Caramel Porter for those who like a little extra saccharine. But the seasonals are what truly shine: The winter offering is a palate-stomping, 13.5% ABV imperial stout. Meanwhile, autumn’s Pinchy Jeek takes ho-hum pumpkin beers to task, offering a unique barrel-aged bite that completely flips the overblown pumpkin beer concept on its head. And don’t worry if you see the brews on shelves out of season -- they age nicely in the bottle too.
Just a few years ago, hipsters and mixologists began embracing Fernet-Branca -- the bitter, herbal liqueur -- like never before, as if it contained the secret to eternal youth (it doesn’t, but it does sooth your stomach!). They even refer to a shot of it as a bartender’s handshake, though the crazy strong flavor and hardcore bitterness might make the uninitiated want to slap the bartender rather than shake his hand. Which is to say, if you don’t like Fernet, this beer out of Chicago isn't going to convert you. But if you do love Fernet, this robust, spicy imperial black ale is basically the liqueur translated into beer form. It’s loaded with more spices than granny’s pantry, including peppermint, rhubarb, wormwood, star anise, and more than a dozen others. It’s a complex, wholly satisfying beer that will have you reconsidering that Fernet shot/beer combo at the bar. Now if only somebody could make a Malört beer...
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Rogue’s no stranger to unexpected collabs, having hit stunt-beer gold with its Voodoo Donut Maple Bacon beer in a pink bottle. But with the Sriracha Stout, the Oregon coast brewery proves that when it’s not doing stuff just for s's and giggles (this is, after all, a brewery that made beer from the yeast found in a brewer’s beard), it can knock one out of the park. With a bottle modeled after the packaging of the signature Huy Fong Sriracha contained within, it’s not overly incendiary, but definitely has a kick to it. The spice hits you in the back of the throat, and warms your entire body as you sip. But just when you think it’s all heat, chocolate and coffee notes show up to save the day. It’s a rich, complex beer that, naturally, goes great with noodles.
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With all due respect to Ecto Cooler, pop culture-inspired beverages generally tend to suck. But when HBO decided to team up with New York’s excellent Belgian-inspired Ommegang to commemorate each season of its celebration of pay-cable nudity and evisceration, the brewery delivered. While we still haven’t had a taste of the season seven offering -- a honey-kissed golden ale dropping around Memorial Day -- the previous iterations have all managed greatness despite the utter lack of dragon’s blood. The 2015 Three-Eyed Raven saison was a dark mutation of the farmhouse style kicked with hops, while the Iron Throne Blonde managed a complex flavor profile while remaining infinitely crushable. That’s an important attribute considering people tend to drink more as the characters they care about are systematically slaughtered. And guess what? Even if you’ve never seen an episode (I haven’t), these are still uniformly excellent beers. Or, in the parlance of the show, they're absolutely Hodor.
That no American beer has yet been brewed with actual pants in the mash is a travesty, and it’s something the good folks at New Holland have sadly not corrected in their collaboration with Carhartt. But hey, rugged people like good beer too. A classic, malty pale ale, Woodsman is the kind of brew that goes down easy, making it perfect for camping or working in the woodshop. Actually, maybe not the latter. You shouldn’t be drinking while operating a table saw, even if it is a reliably tasty offering from the pros at one of Michigan’s most underrated breweries.
Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. And no, this beer isn’t made with overpriced jackets. Patagonia Provisions is an offshoot of that fabled outdoor outfitter focused on sustainable food, regenerative agriculture, and other extremely complicated stuff that isn’t beer. But in teaming with the bike-centric, organically focused Portland brewery Hopworks, PP has introduced brewing with Kernza, a highly regenerative perennial grain that uses no pesticides, less water, and minimizes erosion and carbon emissions. But all that granola business means nothing if the beer itself isn’t great. As luck would have it, it is! This classic American pale has a nice hop bite, a tiny bit of spice, and a grain profile that’s at once familiar, yet slightly exotic. And you can feel good about crushing six of them, knowing that you’re doing your part. The power is yours, friends.
Flying Dog gets a spot on the collaboration hall of fame roster simply by virtue of featuring labels by Ralph Steadman, the gonzo artist who rose to fame as the illustrator for Hunter S. Thompson. But with Dead Rise, we’re a long way from Bat Country. Maryland is intrinsically linked to crab cakes, and crab cakes are beholden to the deliciousness that is Old Bay seasoning. So when Maryland’s most iconic brewery teamed up with the spice company for the Dead Rise summer ale, magic was bound to happen. Dead Rise is a mellow, 5.6% ABV beauty designed to pair up with blue crab. But let’s be honest: the tart, spice-flecked and golden beer is essentially summer in a bottle -- provided that your summers were spent decimating crabs in Maryland. If they weren’t, well, it’s still a fantastic beer, and one that doesn’t require any crustaceans to enjoy. But it does help.
Last year ushered in the 10th Mortal Kombat game, raising the bar for video game violence that the first installment ejected through the roof way back in the ‘90s. It’s so violent, in fact, that you kind of need a drink to handle it. A strong one. Which is where Sound’s three MK-themed beers come in. Each is an imperial inspired by a classic character from the fighting game, including the smoky Scorpion imperial stout, a dank Sub Zero Imperial IPA, and a super-herbal Raiden saison (though it’d probably make more sense to give Johnny Cage the Belgian-style beer, considering he’s a Jean-Claude Van Damme clone). The beers -- which can still be found on shelves, unlike copies of the Mortal Kombat: Annihilation movie -- are uniformly tasty, even if they do make it a little tougher to punch ABACABB into your Genesis controller.