By Mark Cook
Competition is great for innovation, but at least in the local beer scene, collaboration among competitors seems to lead to great things in the pint glass.
Brewing is a growth industry in Middle Tennessee. So many new outlets are opening that it is hard to pin down a number of breweries for very long. But most recent figures say that there are 24 breweries in the area, including Mayday in Murfreesboro. (Some folks from Mantra in Franklin are hoping to plant another brewery there in support of a new fermentation science program at Middle Tennessee State University.)
As the folks in the brewing industry move around, they get to know one another and collaboration on beer creations is common, as is supporting a competitor when their equipment is down, such as during a move.
That’s what recently happened as Fat Bottom Brewing was moving from a former mattress factory in East Nashville to a gleaming new brewery/restaurant in West Nashville. In order to have product right away when their new home was ready, they worked with Smith & Lentz, their neighbor from down the street in East Nashville, to create Mutual Enjoymint American Brown Ale, a concoction that evokes the taste of a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie.
Black Abbey Brewing in Nashville announced this week that they were collaborating with Mill Creek Brewing of Nolensville to create Creekside Dubbel, blending Black Abbey’s Belgian sensibilities with Mill Creek’s more down home identity (Lil’ Darlin,’ Silo, for example).
Garr Schwartz, who created some of the signature beers at Tennessee Brew Works (Country Roots, the stout with local sweet potatoes) struck out on his own and as demand for his hot product grows, he rents time at other breweries, including Straight to Ale in Huntsville, Ala., to brew his own varieties.
One of the biggest and most long-standing collaborations is by the Pink Boots Society, an organization of women brewers who get together regularly and collaborate on a beer, which then funds their organization’s efforts. That can include scholarships for women in the industry or charitable efforts, including one year when some of the proceeds went to help a brewer with breast cancer.
And in 2014, Blackstone, Jackalope, Yazoo, Black Abbey, Tennessee Brew Works, Little Harpeth and Fat Bottom got together to brew Stephanie’s Dubbel as a fundraiser for cancer research in honor of Stephanie Weins, co-founder of Blackstone, who had died of lung cancer.
Collaborating in the brewing industry — or at least the craft brewing industry — is not uncommon across the United States. After all, most craft brewers are (or started out as) small businesses taking on Goliath companies with huge market share.
It is refreshing that even the most successful craft brewers in the area remember their roots, their struggles, their mentors and their patrons.