Lately, it seems like every brewer you know is collaborating. Joint brewing projects aren’t new, but their proliferation is one of the better trends to emerge in beer in the last few years. The resulting brews, typically crafted at the home of one brewer while the other visits, break the boundaries of a brewery’s traditional lineup. They give drinkers the chance to try something unique, from a brewer whose beers may not be available locally. Brewing is as personal an art as any other, but sometimes the product of a collaborative brewing session is better than the sum of its parts.
Such was the case when Ben Howe, founder of Enlightenment Ales and head brewer at Everett’s Idle Hands Craft Ales, met with highly respected Danish brewer Anders Kissmeyer. Kissmeyer’s reputation is partly defined by the company he keeps. He’s tutored Hill Farmstead’s Shaun Hill and collaborated with Cambridge Brewing Company’s Will Meyers. Ideally, a collaboration pushes both brewers to step outside their comfort zones in addition to generating a buzz. This one does both.
After meeting him previously in Boston, Howe had been in touch with Kissmeyer recently because, before Howe merged his Enlightenment Ales with Idle Hands and became Idle Hands’ head brewer in January, he was actively pursuing brewing jobs in Europe. Kissmeyer had sent him a couple of opportunities, but Howe was happy with his new arrangement, and the next best thing to moving to Europe was brewing a beer with one of the continent’s biggest protagonists.
First, a little about each brewer. Howe is known for producing laborious beers in extremely small batches, painstakingly crafting saisons, stouts, and the only bière de champagne brewed in the United States. He’s taken that level of detail to Idle Hands, brewing some of founder Chris Tkach’s beers while continuing to churning out his own.
Kissmeyer had a long stint at Denmark’s Carlsberg, then helped found Norrebro Bryghus, a microbrewery in Copenhagen. After leaving Norrebro Bryghus in 2010, Kissmeyer has been on his own, collaborating with brewers around the world and spreading the idea of the Nordic beer movement, inspired by ingredients from the region.
In this vein, Kissmeyer has been brewing what he calls a Nordic-style saison. He brewed one batch at Hill Farmstead with Hill and Meyers, then took the recipe to Howe and asked how the Everett brewer might tweak it.
“This was intensively creative,” said Howe. “More or less we agreed on what we wanted. When he sent me the formulation for the beer it was incredibly detailed. It was both of us wanting to get something great out of it but coming at it from different angles.”
The duo agreed to use Howe’s house yeast and also ingredients the Englightment Ales brewer had never used in a beer: heather flowers, chamomile, and rose hips.
“Anders is really big on terroir,” said Howe. “In this case, the style of Nordic saison is consistent with his use of spices and botanicals, but we’re also using ingredients from Massachusetts like wildflower honey.”
The resulting beer is a saison of 5.6 percent alcohol by volume.
I crack open my bottle of Titania and pour the orange liquid into a glass. The beer appears both cloudy and bright, as if the sun were attempting to shine through after a passing shower. You can smell the beer before you truly see it.
“It’s got tons of spiciness in the nose,” said Howe. “It’s very floral.”
To produce a beer one could characterize as “funky”, Howe usually ages an entire batch with Brettanomyces, a type of yeast. For Titania, 80 percent of the beer was fermented with a saison yeast, while the other 20 percent got the Brett (that’s what the cool kids call Brettanomyces). It wasn’t until the beer was bottled, he says, that it took on its full character.
“There’s a little tiny bit of barnyard, a little tropical, and a good amount of floral character,” said Howe. “I call it a rustic complexity.”
He also calls it “the driest beer I’ve ever made,” and he isn’t wrong. Between the spice and the Brett’s moldy hay character, this is one of the more forceful beers I’ve encountered. It’s certainly the loudest beer that doesn’t use tons of hops to make its point. It’s also delicious, a deep dive into the landscapes and brewing traditions of two countries an ocean apart.Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen.