A Brew For Me and a Brew For You: The Story Behind Contract Brewing

 

 

Delicious Beer is Delicious Beer!

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Shebeen is full of beer enthusiasts, bottom line. These guys care about the brewing process, the science, the exploration, and experimentation and the fun of developing delicious craft beers, and they also understand the nail-biting frustration of getting started and learning to craft a perfect beer. Since the team at Shebeen has such a love for craft brewing, they have a love for talking with other brewers, helping them perfect their recipe, learning from them, lending their expertise and at the end of the day, doing the noblest work any man on this planet can do: Create delicious beer. The craft brewing community cares about sharing information. They understand the importance of an inclusive vibe and not a secrets-behind-closed-doors kind of community. We all get better as we learn, and the bottom line is that more delicious beers that exist in the world, the better, so why not help each other out?

Whether a beer is produced in its own brewery like Stony Creek and their delicious Big Cranky or a contract brewer works with a host brewery as is the case of Little Sip of Sunshine and Two Roads Brewery, the beer that is produced is a treasure for us to enjoy.  I spoke to the brewers at Shebeen in detail about contract brewing, and they kindly provided me with different articles all about this interesting, and sometimes mysterious brewing process. This sent me on my own rabbit hole adventure into the history of contract brewing. After hours of research and maybe a few too many beers (in the name of research!) these are the conclusions I came to about contract brewing:

It promotes a sharing of information.

In 1978, Jimmy Carter officially lifted the ban on home brewing. Up until that point, if they were brewing at all, homebrewers were doing it privately, behind closed doors. With the lifting of the ban, brewers were finally allowed to talk openly about their craft and the exciting moves they were making with their brews. It’s not a surprise that the 1980’s brought America its first real craft beer boom. Imagine if Dogfish Head, or Sierra Nevada, or Goose Island, or the Boston Beer Company weren’t talking and sharing and pushing each other to be better. I tear up thinking about the beers that might not have been invented.

Some of the biggest and best names in the game started out and continue to use this method.

Boston Beer Company (you know, Sam Adams) brewed their first batches at the Pittsburg Brewing Company in 1984. Does that make them any less marvelous? Does it diminish the work of the Pittsburg Brewing Company (who is still cranking out awesome beers 150 years after their inception?) Absolutely not. Just the opposite. Through contract brewing, these two brands were able to flourish and expand. Mutualism! Even right here in Connecticut, Two Roads brews amazing beers of their own, but they also use their state of the art facilities and experience from their master brewers to brew beers for Lawson’s and Maine’s Peak Organic Brewing Company among many others.

It is an excellent way for small batch brewers to get in the game without the need for big dollars and cents.

Let’s face it. Dreams are expensive. We all know a lot of people, stuck in their nine to five because they can’t imagine getting the money together to get out and pursue their passion. For some, that passion is home brewing delicious beer. Contract brewing is a way for small batch brewers to take their ideas, their recipes, and their passion and add to the craft beer scene without going broke. At the end of the day, brewers are trying to get their beers into cans and get those cans to the public. Contract brewing is a perfect way to make this happen.

How Contract Brewing benefits the Contracting Brewer

It can cost upwards of a million dollars to start a brewery. Contract brewing is a smart way for a homebrewer who is looking to start marketing and distributing their product but isn’t ready or able to toss around that amount of cash. It opens the doors for the births and introductions of beers into this world that maybe wouldn’t have had a chance to become known otherwise.

How Contract Brewing benefits the Host Brewery and Master Brewer

Host breweries can use contract brewing as a way to help them with the overhead of owning a craft brewery. It is a smart way to keep their business running at 100% capacity, and in the case of Shebeen Brewing and many other host breweries, it is a chance for one brew master to meet up with and exchange ideas and recipes with other brewmasters. Contract brewing is a chance to widen the circle of information, and for breweries like Shebeen Brewing Company who is always experimenting with new recipes and ideas, it allows them the room to focus on their tap room, their personal recipes, and development of their brand without too much financial pressure.

How Contract Brewing benefits YOU (the beer drinker)

Think about it. Imagine if you could get Hostess and  Hershey to sit down together and bounce ideas off of one another, learn from one another, and work together to craft a new junk food. That would be one dope candy bar, right? The same theory applies to the craft brewing scene. The more these master brewers get together and share ideas, work together, and push each other to be at the top of their games, the better it is for us, the beer drinker! I mean, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were innovators on their own, but without their partnership, we wouldn’t have Chunky Monkey today. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were individually talented powerhouses, but we wouldn’t be high off of those Strawberry Fields without their work together. Contract brewing is one of the leading forces that helped establish American craft brewing, so why wouldn’t we support its continuation?

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We’re at a glorious place in history where 75% of the entire American population lives within ten miles of a brewery.  Shebeen Brewing Company is adding to this impressive statistic with their brewery. It took the team over 20 years of passionate home brewing and an unwavering love for beer before they felt ready to open. Today, Shebeen Brewing Company’s taproom is pouring 12 of their handcrafted beers as well as a rotation of beers they brew for other companies. The Brewery openly admits that they couldn’t have been able to do it without the help of friends and family and the master brewers that came before, so needless to say, the team is thrilled that they can now give back to the craft brewing community that inspired and supported them while they got their start.

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For the brewers at Shebeen, and many other brewers across the country, giving back takes the form of contract brewing. Currently, Shebeen Brewing Company produces beers for Fat Orange Cat, Shakesbeer, and Boondoggle. As defined by The Brewers Association, contract brewing is essentially one business (contracting brewer) who hires another brewery (host brewery) to produce its beer. The contracting brewer owns the beer and the recipe, but the host brewery and its brewmaster will lend their expertise throughout the brewing process. For Shebeen that means they provide their assistance in a variety of ways to the contract brewer:  Shebeen brews all the beer from brewing to fermentation to cellaring to filtration/carbonation and canning/kegging, keeps the equipment up and functional and advises the contract brewer through the process of up-sizing their recipe to a big batch.  Often this involves bouncing ideas on dry hop techniques, knock out temperatures, whirlpool hop additions, yeast selection, etc. Sometimes the contract brewer will drop off a recipe and let the host brewer run the show. Sometimes, they are very involved in the process. I’ve heard contract brewing be described as a symbiotic relationship between the contracting brewer and the host brewery, but really, a more accurate definition is mutualism. Mutualism is when two species benefit from a symbiotic interaction. (Thanks science!).

 

 

 

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