GLENVILLE — In the fraternal world of craft brewing, some see trade secrets as tips to be shared and collaboration as a form of competition.
So it was this week, as a major Cooperstown brewer whose beer is distributed in 47 states joined with a Glenville microbrewery that distributes in 11 upstate counties to start a one-time batch of beer that will be available only in three local restaurants.
Wolf Hollow Brewing Company, co-owned by a church pastor and a school principal who live up the hill in West Glenville, is hoping to benefit from the name recognition of Brewery Ommegang.
Ommegang, a Belgian-owned brewer many times larger, is trying to go a little further with the hyper-local marketing that Wolf Hollow has done so well with.
“Knights on Broadway,” a Belgian pale ale that went into the tank at Wolf Hollow on Wednesday, is their shared path to their separate destinations.
“We’ve done a handful of collaborations,” said Wolf Hollow co-owner Jordan White, who’s also pastor of the West Glenville Reformed Church. “Most often we’ve done some more local collaborations. Our favorite collaboration partner locally is Mad Jack Brewing, we’ve worked with those guys a lot, they’re right in Schenectady. This is our first time branching out to somebody as far away as Ommegang out in Cooperstown.”
Justin “Lottie” Lottridge, head brewer at Ommegang, said the science of brewing is such that most good brewers can figure out how a particular beer was made. So there aren’t a lot of trade secrets.
“We’ve always wanted to help other people and let other people help us. We know we don’t know everything,” he said. “You like to share knowledge. There’s no secrets in brewing. You don’t try to keep it to yourself like a lot of other industries. So we like to do collaborations for that reason.”
Wolf Hollow co-owner Pete Bednarek, who is principal of Scotia-Glenville High School, said there’s a lot of cooperation in the craft-brewing community.
“It’s a strange thing we’ve always heard about and talked about in the industry, it’s collaboratively competitive,” he said. “We want more people drinking craft beer, all of us do. Kind of a ‘high tide rises all boats’ situation. We’re not in competition with each other as much as we are in competition to get people to try more craft beer.”
He added: “This is a cool opportunity. It’s funny how a world-class company and a really small microbrewery have a symbiotic relationship. It’s kind of a pinch-me moment, when you think about it.”
Ommegang is sharing its proprietary yeast for the Knights on Broadway collaboration. It doesn’t give the yeast out, but once again, it’s not hard for other brewers to culture it themselves.
“There’s a lot of home brewers that’ll ask for our yeast,” Lottridge said. “I’m like, ‘Bottom of the bottle, man, don’t drink it all!’”
Brewing beer isn’t like assembling cars on a production line. There’s plenty of time to be social.
At Route 5 brewery Wednesday, the brewers interspersed war stories about overcharged kegs and power outages at critical moments with the workaday details of fermentation temperatures and dry hopping.
There’s another connection for White beyond the shared love of brewing.
“I went to brewing school 13 years ago, and they set me up with an internship at Ommegang,” he said. “I spent five weeks as an intern there, and Lottie was a brewer there. So he and I worked together a lot then. He taught me a lot of the things I learned in that internship. Now he’s the head brewer there, I’m part owner here, it’s one of those full-circle stories, which is really cool.”
There’s more: The Belgian pale ale that was started at Wolf Hollow on Wednesday is the same brew White worked on as a novice at Ommegang.
“They had just brought that beer through all of their R&D and brewed a full-size batch of it for the first time while I was an intern,” he said.
“It didn’t last long because we weren’t equipped to do hoppy beers back then,” Lottridge said. “We are now, but it was a live-and-learn scenario.”
The transition reflects the American marketplace. Ommegang is heavily steeped in the Belgian brewing tradition, in which spices, full body and higher alcohol content are emphasized. Modern American craft brewing, by contrast, has increasingly highlighted hops.
“Most traditional Belgian beers aren’t hoppy at all,” Lottridge said. “They have enough hops in them for the shelf life and the bitterness that you want. They were never trying to make anything like an IPA. They’re using hops more for shelf life and stability.”
But IPA has a lot of fans among American craft beer drinkers.
So the traditional Belgian kriek, saison, witte and quadrupel in Ommegang’s permanent lineup have been joined by an India pale ale, a beer that originated in England and has a substantially higher bitterness rating than any of the Belgian-inspired brews.
The Belgian pale ale dubbed Knights on Broadway, as the name suggests, will bridge the two traditions.
“It’ll be hop-forward but not too bitter,” Lottridge said.
The seven-barrel batch of Knights on Broadway, about 200 gallons, will be ready May 11 and be distributed the following week to Jack’s Oyster House, Loch & Quay, and Parish Public House.
The three restaurants, all on or near Broadway in Albany, will be the only places the new beer is available, White said.
That is, he added, unless Wolf Hollow hold back a sixtel mini-keg for its own taproom.