2020 was a tumultuous year for all of us, and as we have been posting on our blog, we have begun to make many changes for KBC in 2021. One of those changes was in taking a look at our current line-up of beers and deciding to create new series through which to showcase the new beers we want to make. Last week, operating on that train of thought, we introduced our 6 Tastes IPA series. This week, we’re actually going to revisit an existing series that we’ve never explained before to anyone: the Nakama ‘Friendship’ Series (synonymous for our collaboration beers).
A Look Back
Collaboration brewing has always been a high priority here at KBC ever since our inception. Our 15th batch “Kyo no Manatsu” was brewed with Jeff "Catfish" Dionne, who at the time was working at Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham, WA (USA), and we quickly followed that with Double Dragon, a Belgian foreign export stout brewed with Gareth Williams and Tiny Rebel from Newport, Wales. We were still new to the brewing industry at the time and much less experienced than we are now, so these early efforts mainly focused on brewing with our friends. We felt lucky enough to be able to brew collaborations with great people, so we were less particular about what we brewed than who we made it with.
The importance of brewing these beers with friends has never changed, but beginning with our first dual collaboration (and 48th batch) made with Tsutsui-san of Shonan Beer, a secondary focus of mutual learning started to emerge. Brewing the same recipe at both breweries but using ale yeast in Kyoto and lager yeast in Chigasaki taught us how much influence the type of yeast has on the perception of flavour. Similar collaborative efforts that simultaneously challenged each brewery to learn new things followed with friends at Ushitora (Tochigi)、Swan Lake (Niigata)、Y. MARKET (Aichi)、Heretic (Fairfield,CA (USA))、AJB Co. (Nagano)、DevilCraft (Tokyo)、Isekadoya Beer (Mie)、Upright (Portland, OR (USA))、Daisen G Beer (Tottori) to name a few. These produced countless new learning experiences like using rice as an ingredient, brewing kettle sours, our first lager, and fermenting with sake yeast, Brettanomyces, and other organisms outside of traditional beer yeast.
It’s Not Just About the Beer
And the learning doesn’t stop with the beer. During collaborations with neighbours and dai-senpai Minoh Beer (Osaka), staff not only on the brew team but also those involved with logistics and sales travelled between breweries to learn from their counterparts and share success (and horror!) stories with one another.
Our overseas collaborators have been just as gracious, with Arizona Wilderness (Gilbert, AZ (USA)) showing Paul the ins and outs of their operations when he visited, and the guys from Bottle Logic (Anaheim, CA (USA)) spending hours discussing their strategy and approach to business operations. In short, while collaboration brewing may look like a sales gimmick from the outside, it immensely more value than that for us here at KBC.
Corona and Future Collabs
Unfortunately, as with many things, Covid 19 has thrown a wrench in our 2020 and 2021 collaboration plans. We were able to squeeze in brews with Luc Lafontaine of Godspeed Brewing (Toronto, Canada) and Winnie Hsu and the Taihu Brewing (Taichung, Taiwan) crew early last year, but since then traditional in-person brews are out of the question for the foreseeable future. We will certainly have to adjust the number and format of collaborations in 2021, but we will not give up on them entirely. A recent remote collaboration was our first attempt at brewing in a new manner, and we look forward to sharing details on what we brewed in the coming weeks!