By Doug McPherson
Beer brings people together. And now it’s bringing competing craft brewers together for the upcoming Collaboration Fest 2019.
Entering its sixth year, the 2019 beer festival will be held March 16 at the Hyatt Regency Denver and feature 100-plus new brews dreamed up by teams of breweries from the Colorado Brewers Guild and around the country. This year, the Beer Industry Program at Metropolitan State University of Denver and the Tivoli Brewing Co. are joining forces to create one of the most unique pairings at the festival.
Students, beer-program instructors and Tivoli brewers gathered Feb. 21 at Tom’s Urban Denver Airport, a Tivoli satellite brewing location that is sized right for the reduced-production run Collaboration Fest requires. The plan – hatched at an early-February brainstorm session – was to mix up a Belgian tripel spiced up with orange zest, hibiscus flowers and Indian coriander.
As the collaborators went to work, the excitement for the brew was palpable, and not just because of the floral fragrances floating around the brewery. A previous test batch mixed up on the University’s equipment “tickled just about everyone’s taste buds,” said Nate Nicklas, Tivoli’s director of brewing operations.
This brew masquerades as a bright Belgian ale, said Ethan Tsai, MSU Denver Beer Industry Program lecturer and Tivoli Brewing Co. brewer. “It finishes extremely dry and crisp,” he said.
It’s strong, too – 10 percent alcohol by volume, Tsai said. “It packs a real punch – like a depth-charge – and it’s got a ton of flavor and perfume.”
The University-brewery partnership is garnering plenty of attention from the beer industry, said Steve Kurowski, marketing director of the Colorado Brewers Guild. MSU Denver and Tivoli Brewing will be the only such duo at this year’s Collaboration Fest.
“It’s a very unique collaboration that showcases a very special program that MSU Denver has built,” he said.
Last year, MSU Denver paired with Strange Craft Brewingto pump out a new nitro offering for Collaboration Fest 2018. This year’s alliance was forged in January when Scott Kerkmans, director of the MSU Denver Beer Industry Program, reached out to Ken Hehir, CEO of Tivoli Brewing.
From there, “It was a no-brainer to work together, to have students work with Tivoli to brew a beer for the festival,” Tsai said.
Tivoli’s Nicklas and Tsai emphasized the value MSU Denver students add to the brainstorming and brewing process. Students said they learned about much more than brewing a high-octane Belgian.
One lesson senior Skylar Portenier took from the Collaboration Fest brew session was the recipe adjustments required for brewing on a smaller system.
“(Nicklas and Tsai) are really good at explaining all the technical parts,” she said. “A lot of people in the industry aren’t that good at teaching, so I feel pretty lucky.”
The brewing process not only gave senior Pat Brown more hands-on experience but also improved his judgment of beers during the testing phase, he said.
“It’s improved my sensory analysis to identify off flavors – the flavors you don’t want in beer,” he said.
The space to create and innovate in recipe development was new and exciting for senior Chris Thibodeau.
“You can do whatever you want, add flavors and experiment, and you never know, it could take off and become the next new big thing,” he said.
The project gave students a broad view of the industry, Nicklas said, “from inception to commercially viable product -- both the business side and production side.
“We talked about costs of all the ingredients, cost per barrel, pricing in the marketplace – the economics behind it all and then all the brewing mechanics.”
Another bonus for students: Collaboration Fest will be “an amazing chance to network and hobnob with some of the best brewers around,” Tsai said.
And beer lovers, here’s an important equation to remember: 1 barrel = 30 gallons. And the MSU Denver-Tivoli crew brewed seven barrels. Following Collaboration Fest on March 16, Tivoli Brewing will be pouring the beer until that last barrel runs dry.
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MSU Denver Office of Marketing and Communications