Collaboration beers are everywhere. But how collaborative are they?

They’re so common they’re almost ubiquitous. But there’s still something intriguing about a collaboration beer. Often, they are the result of some of our favorite West Coast brewers, putting their heads together to make something truly special. But just how collaborative are they?

The granddaddy of them all, at least in the Pacific Northwest, is arguably the 3-Way IPA. Fort George’s annual release debuted more than a decade ago, part of a brilliant campaign that would see the Astoria, Ore., brewery team up with two other new breweries each year and make a collaboration beer. The beer is now eagerly scooped up every spring when it drops, touting a new recipe, list of collaborators and can design every time.

2022 3-Way IPA Collaboration made two ways, a west coast style IPA and a hazy version with Ravenna Brewing & Alvarado Street Brewery.

Adam Robbings is the co-founder and brewmaster at Reuben’s Brews in Seattle. The brewery has done any number of collaborative beers, from international and restaurant partnerships to those around specific sports or causes. He believes group beer making is about as fun as it gets. “Collaboration beers are great excuses to hang out with your friends and talk beer,” he says. “Collaborations involve all details of a beer — from malts, hops, to process, package design and naming your creation, which is often the hardest part.”

The pandemic put a dent in collaborations a bit, with producers looking to keep people safe and motivation levels a bit lower than normal. But they’re coming back once more. Strangely, the most challenging part of making this kind of beer really has nothing to do with brewing. “Often the more difficult parts of the process are everything but the beer itself,” Robbings says. “Logistics of labels, arranging shipping to your distributor partners and struggling to find a time in the brew schedule that works for all sides.”

What wisdom would he offer about collaborating in the name of beer? Work with a friend, really hang out and be flexible. “Every collaboration day I go to I always get one nugget of information that I bring back to our brewery to make things better, and hopefully that’s the case for the collaboration partner too,” he says. “It could be a new process, a new hop or anything.”

In Hood River, Ore., Ferment Brewing has nine collaboration beers and counting to its name. “Experimenting with friends and fellow flavor lovers is a playground of beer making,” says Ferment’s Jenn Peterson. “Finding unexpected combinations all while sharing valuable insights on the brewing process and ingredients themselves.”

Peterson says it’s all about the challenge that comes with a shared mission. “Sometimes the beer style is chosen in honor of the mission, as in the beers we have made with the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Oregon Coalition of Land Trusts — beer inspired by the land,” Peterson says. “Other times, the excitement of creating something new for us all while shining a light on our similarities or differences in brewing styles is the goal.”

Take Ferment’s Offset Lager, a vision built around specific ingredients and the summer ritual of outdoor dining. “Our ultimate mission was to create a drinkable lager made from Skagit Valley Malts that both enhanced and complimented a memorable BBQ experience,” Peterson says.