Craft brewers tend to prefer camaraderie over competition. They lend each other equipment, give advice and, every so often, make beer together. Not even the coronavirus pandemic can keep some brewers from collaborating on a boozy project together — they’re just doing it virtually.
Austin Beerworks and St. Elmo Brewing hadn’t ever teamed up to release a collaborative beer before, even though both founders of St. Elmo had previously worked at Austin Beerworks and remained friendly. But then the idea clicked: What if, amid all the chaos and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, they finally joined forces, albeit from afar, to bring about something fun they’d wanted to do for years anyway?
Austinites will begin to see what both brewery teams came up with on Friday, when St. Elmo debuts its version of the hazy pale ale recipe that St. Elmo co-owner Bryan Winslow and Austin Beerworks co-owner Will Golden created while on the phone together. In four-pack cans, the beer is fittingly called Air Five and is available for curbside pick-up at the South Austin brewery.
Austin Beerworks’ version, called No Touching, won’t be ready until later, likely the week of April 27, co-owner Michael Graham said.
The collaboration beers are more than a light-hearted project between friends. Breweries can only sell beer to go during Austin’s shelter-in-place order, and they want to give customers a reason to keep coming. These one-off brews — like Zilker Brewing’s Stir-Crazy Hazy IPA last weekend, which sold out in pre-order — bring the bucks.
When Winslow and Golden began to brainstorm about the type of beer to make, it was immediately obvious to both that a hazy IPA was the way to go.
"Both of us are really diggin' new-school, hazy IPAs right now," Winslow said. "They're really fun to brew and resonate very well with all our fans. We didn't want to make the beer too big, but still strong enough for a solid living room disco party. The result was a strong hazy pale ale at about 6.0% (ABV), loaded with Galaxy, Sabro and Idaho 7 hops. The recipes are really similar, but different enough that they'll have their own personality."
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After Winslow and the Austin Beerworks guys emailed the grain and hop recipes back and forth, he said, each of the teams separately got to work, using FaceTime to be part of each other’s process. St. Elmo went first, the day after the recipe had been dialed in. A few days later, the Austin Beerworks crew made theirs. And as it turned out, there was one benefit of the virtual collaboration that made it way more fun than expected, Graham said.
"It was actually one of the most enjoyable collaborations we've ever done — we both got to pick our own music," he said.
Already, Austin Beerworks has another virtual beer collaboration lined up with an out-of-state brewery. Graham noted the North Austin brewery hopes to do as many of these as possible during this tricky time of social distancing and economic upheaval. Austin’s shelter-in-place order extends until May 8.
"It's fun to work with friends, even remotely," he said. "And beer-to-go is our lifeline right now. We want to give our customers as many reasons as possible to keep coming back."