Set for March 25 at the National Western Complex in Denver, the fourth annual Collaboration Fest is truly one of a kind.
"There's no other event like this in the state, country, or even the world," says Steve Kurowski, operations director of the Colorado Brewers Guild (CBG).
The ground rules: A CBG member can ask another brewery to partner with them on a beer made specifically for the event. For 2017, The Post is brewing with Dogfish Head, Epic is partnering with Telluride Brewing, Wynkoop is teaming with Pikes Peak, and on and on. There will be 112 collaborative beers in all.
Since the inaugural 2014 fest, CBG has partnered with the Denver-based beer-fest maestros at Two Parts on the event. With dozens of breweries involved, "It's a complicated event to run," says Kurowski, dubbing the coordination of brew days "a logistical juggernaut."
The number of participating breweries has jumped every year, from about 50 in 2014 to 186 in 2017. Attendance has tracked a similar curve, escalating from about 700 in year one to an expected 2,500 this year, as the venue changed from year to year.
"We quickly outgrew The Curtis Hotel the first year, and we outgrew [Sports Authority Field] last year," says Tobias Krause, Two Parts' event manager. "Then we found the National Western Complex, with more than enough room to grow, this year."
That's a good thing, as Collaboration Fest is one of the rare beer festivals that breweries seek out, rather than the other way around. "The more brewers we get from across the United States and outside of the country, that shows there is a proactive movement to be a part of it," says Kurowski. "There's not a formula. It just happened."
He adds, "There's no other industry that has the ability to pull this off. Collaboration is part of a craft brewer's DNA."
CO-Brew invited another Denver brewery, Grandma's House, to collaborate on a Belgian IPA for the 2017 event. "It was fun brainstorming," says Grandma's House owner Matthew Fuerst, noting that they brewed several test batches before settling on the final recipe. "They have a really cool setup there."
Why are craft brewers so keen to cooperate and collaborate? "The levity of our industry has something to do with it -- we're not trying to backstab each other," says Fuerst. "We're not stock traders."
With more than 60 breweries in Denver alone, you'd think the competition might be too fierce for comfort, but Fuerst disagrees: "Even as people are wondering how many breweries this city can support, you're still seeing the camaraderie. I'm hopeful that spirit continues."
As participating breweries each get several complimentary tickets, Krause expects more than 600 brewers will be in attendance for the 2017 edition, a meeting of the minds that catalyzes more creative beers every year. "That's an extremely important part of the festival: We want to have as many brewers as possible in the room so they can network and come up with beers for the future.
Despite the popularity, don't expect a copycat event anytime soon. "I don't think these guys have time to make more of these beers a year," says Kurowski. But he and Krause have a vision of partnering with brewers guilds in other states in the future.
"To me, it's not about growing this in size," Kurowski adds. "It's more about growing this into a truly world-class event. World-class doesn't mean 10,000 people -- world-class can be 3,000 people.
Eric Peterson is editor of BreweryWeek. Contact him at email@example.com.