Article by Diane Heletjaris
Photos by Michael Butcher
Chris Burns had an idea. As the president of Old Ox Brewery, not surprisingly, the idea revolved around beer. Wouldn’t it be fun to get together with fellow Virginia craft brewers to dream up a new brew?
“What sparked this collaboration was that we are all distributed by the same distributing company, Premium Distributors of Virginia. It would be great to get everybody together to brew a beer, [which would] give us the opportunity to talk shop and have a good time. Customers would have the opportunity to try beer from breweries they haven’t had the opportunity to try,” Burns says. “Collaborations are pretty normal. The [brewing] community likes to get together, see how different people approach the same problems…We always learn something during these collaboration beer days.”
Julie Broaddus, co-owner of Old Bust Head Brewing Company, confirms the camaraderie of the experience. “I really like connecting with other local breweries. [We] all share a lot of the same challenges. It’s good to help each other out. [We] definitely want to do it again.”
Typically, craft breweries, like Loudoun’s Old Ox, produce small quantities of beer for a mostly local market. Their craft brews reach the chilled glasses of beer lovers several different ways. Locally, customers can drink at the taproom or pick up their beer while passing by. To reach a broader audience, craft breweries, like Old Ox, use the same distribution supply lines as the huge nationwide breweries. Any retailer served by the distributor can order craft brews right alongside the nationwide brands and sell it at their bar, tavern, restaurant, or store.
In August of 2022, six craft breweries from Ashburn to Charlottesville, that all use Premium Distributors of Virginia as their distributor, met at Old Ox Brewery and spent the day formulating a new brew. Others joined in, including representatives from the distributor, sharing tips, finding solutions to common challenges, and having fun preparing the ingredients for the new beer. The collaboration was a rousing success even before the first barrel of beer had been tapped.
They chose to brew was a lager, specifically a bock beer, and even more specifically, a doppelbock. Lagers originated in Germany and are brewed using a cool fermentation method in contrast to the warm fermentation used to make ales. Bock beers originated in southern Germany as seasonal lagers. Doppelbocks are historically (or maybe only mythically) tied to beers made for monks fasting during Lent and reportedly nicknamed “liquid bread.”
Doppelbocks are rich amber lagers in the Bavarian tradition. “This is a style we would love everybody to [have] an open mind [about] — a classic style with a rich history and a lot of integrity,” says Dave Warwick, founding brewmaster and CEO of Three Notch’d Brewing Company in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The new beer has been dubbed “Collaborator.” This is a nod to doppelbock naming conventions which typically end with the suffix “-ator.” Aldie artist Ryan Danger created the label which features the logos of the six breweries.
Warwick believes “Beer tells a story. Beer is world history.” Three Notch’d Brewery frequently creates special beers with input from customers for charity dinners, weddings, birthdays, and other events. They even did a beer to celebrate a divorce. “Needless to say, it was bitter,” Warwick says. “When Old Ox approached with the idea of doing a beer together, it was a no-brainer.”
As Broaddus says, “[This is] really a celebration of local craft. It’s a statement about how craft breweries are a different type of business. Breweries, in general, often have a more community-focused mission… [They] are gathering places for the community, something we’ve been missing, a place you can bring your family, go, and lighten up a little bit. What else do we have like this? Coffee shop? Not the same. Bar, winery? Not the same.”
The beer aptly named Collaborator is slated to be released in mid-October and will be available from all six breweries in a territory reaching from Roanoke to Richmond to Williamsburg and up into Northern Virginia. It will also be offered by Premium Distributors. Burns describes the flavorful amber drink as a pleasant beverage to “wind down and relax” with after the hurry-scurry of Oktoberfest.
Charlie Buettner, brewmaster and CEO of Fair Winds Brewing Company in Lorton, Virginia, hopes Collaborator will demonstrate that, “There is unity in craft beer…[It will] show everyone we’re in this together.” ML
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue.