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The Blind Collaboration Brew

Collaboration homebrews are always good fun. They can materialize in lots of different ways from the carefully executed, “Lets try to clone xyz beer.” To the more casual, “What are you up to Sunday? We’ll have a crack at a pale ale . . .” More often than not these collaborative brews are based on existing recipes or driven predominantly by one of the brewers. But what if you did a blind collaboration brew where each person brings half the ingredients for a given style?

In this proposed collaboration brew, two brewers come together without knowledge of what the other brewer will be using in the beer. Not knowing exactly what is in the fermenter allows a much more objective examination during the entire process, from wort tasting to beer tasting. We are all victims to our own prejudices when we know what went into the wort. After all, expectations and outcomes are part of becoming a great brewer, but it’s nice to step outside the comforts of your regular brewing box now and again.

Scenario 1 – Small Blind

In this scenario, each brewer gets an allotment of gravity points and IBUs for a style chosen at random or decided upon by both parties. Brewers meet and add their mystery grain to the mash and their mystery hops to the kettle, chill and split the batch (or in my case split, then no-chill the batch). After brewday, they part ways to pitch and ferment the wort with their favorite Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces or yeast/bacterial blend. Once packaged the brewers are again destined to meet and share their half-cuckoo’d brew and come clean on their ingredients.

Scenario 2 – Big Blind

Then there is the “all-in” scenario where it’s completely blind including style to really make things interesting. In essence you are bringing half of the recipe for a beer you feel like brewing that day. What could go wrong with this scenario? Of course there is lots that could go awry — someone could turn up with 11 lbs. (5 kg) of smoked malt for your cream ale, or your mate hopbursts your Kölsch into oblivion with some experimental hops that still has a number for a name. But at the end of the day it’s just beer.

There is a valid concern that too many different malts/hops can make a beer “muddy” so a limit on the number of each is a way to keep that in check if necessary, depending of course on the style. A maximum of 2 fermentables might be a good start for lighter styles but for darker styles a limit of 3 or 4 might be more appropriate. For hops a maximum of 1 or 2 per brewer would be a good threshold.

Going All-In

So far I have done two blind collaboration beers with brewing buddies, an XPA (extra pale ale) and a saison. Remember it’s important not to get too tied up in the numbers of a blind collaboration brew — gravity, IBUs and especially color; it is what it is. Often touted with pride amongst the brewing community is the fact that brewing is both an art and a science – well this veers well into the art territory.

A blind collaboration brew is a great reason (or excuse) to get together with a fellow brewer and get a beer into the fermenter. It’s experimental and fun and probably going to be the most honest collaboration brew of your life.