If you are a fan of the craft beer industry, chances are good that you are familiar with the term Collaborations or “Collabs” as the cool kids call it. A collab is when one (or more) of your favourite breweries pairs up with another brewery or group and they work together to make a new, usually very limited, special beer. Some are created to celebrate an anniversary or an event
or to support a charity while others are done just because, well, just because they can. Whatever the reason, collabs are a heck of a lot of fun.
As luck would have it, I recently had the pleasure of tagging along with Connor Patrick, Big Rock Brewery’s Ontario Brewmaster on a collaboration brew up to the Lake of the Woods Brewery in Kenora, Ontario. Before I go on, I must say that if you’ve never been to Northern Ontario it really is worth the trip. Some of the most beautiful lakes and forests that I’ve ever seen along with some of the finest people you can hope to meet. When we arrived we were greeted by LOW’s (Lake of the Woods) Founder Taras Manzie and their Brewmaster Josh Manzie. The LOW brewery and tap room is located in Kenora’s historic fire hall and there are nods to its heritage all around you (complete with fire pole). We slaked our thirst with some pints of their finest and given full
run of their menu for lunch (I had The Jimmy burger — do it). Tomorrow was our brew day so after lunch it was time to talk shop and build our game plan. Before we flew up it had been decided that we were going to brew an Imperial Sarsaparilla — a nod to the cowboy hat wearing Stranger from the Big Lebowski (the Alberta influence) — using some Northern Ontario wintergreen. This beer was going to be big and a little bit crazy. We got the business out of the way fairly quickly and settled in to some truly legit brewery brethren bonding — pints, pool, darts, Big Buck Hunter, did I say pints?
The brew day came all too early but we got things kicked off with an amazing breakfast spread back at the Tap Room and got the kettle fired up and the malt ground. The brew was a big one for the system and it had no shortage of additional ingredients that had to be metered in at certain temperatures and times (including around 50 lbs of Belgian candy sugar that Connor had stowed in his luggage). The crazy thing about brewing is there are generous periods of “hurry up and wait” mixed in with frenetic periods of “all hands on deck.” Their brewhouse is almost identical to Big Rock’s smaller system back in Alberta and where it amazes you with beauty it also punishes you with plenty of manual labour. This is traditional brewing at its finest.
Nearly 9 hours after we had started, we finally sat down for a rewarding pint. These two “competitors” had come together to brew a beer from an idea and I was lucky enough to have been invited
along for the journey. What would the beer taste like when it finally emerges from its beery slumber? Check out Lake of the Woods or Big Rock’s Facebook pages and you will see it popping up
on a few taps around Toronto this month. But don’t hesitate — each bar will probably only get one small keg of it so this beer won’t last long!