Seems like not so long ago that craft beer was overwhelmingly driven by a unique and singular concept we refer to internally as ‘coopetition’. As craft beer grew, the convivial repast of sharing a good beer together (an idea that, incidentally, got a lot of craft brewers started in the first place) remained central to, if not stated in, brewery business plans. The rising tide of craft beer’s popularity would float all our boats, was the unwritten understanding. So while we are all trying to make the best beer (and yes, sell the most of it), we’d not let those goals deter us from the higher collective calling we all feel, both to each other and the craft beer loving community as a whole.
If you are at all a follower of the craft beer industry, you’re no doubt aware that the landscape of our burgeoning world has been changing dramatically. Competition, from both outside forces and sheer internal brewery numbers has torn at the fabric of camaraderie that’s been so purposely woven by our little band of craft beer misfits.
So a few of North Carolina craft beer’s ‘old guard’ have decided to resurrect a piece of #NCbeer history – and brew a reminder of why ‘coopetition’ remains essential to the continued growth of craft beer.
Quick history lesson: back in 2009 a lot of the concepts we now accept as mainstream in craft beer were still in their infancy. Like collaborations, for instance. One day that year, after a festival, three North Carolina brewery owners were discussing (over a beer, naturally) some of the brewing collaborations they’d seen popping up around the country.
(by the way, those three owners represented, at the time, 10% of all North Carolina breweries. Today that meeting would represent less then 1 1/2% of all NC breweries.)
At the time, all three breweries — Olde Hickory, Duck Rabbit and Foothills – were barrel aging beers (another concept in its infancy in craft beer at the time), and decided to blend their three respective barrel aged stouts into one amazing collaborative brew.
Thus was born Olde Rabbit’s Foot -the first-ever collaboration beer brewed in North Carolina.
Understand, the challenges of pulling this off were myriad – but crazy as it seemed, take on those challenges they did. The beers – Olde Hickory Event Horizon and Duck Rabbit’s imperial stout called Rabid Duck – were sent here to Foothills, where they were blended with our Sexual Chocolate, then aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle’s bourbon barrels.
The resulting product had craft beer fans lined up outside our doors for the years (2009 through 2012) that the beer was made. It also paved the way for many, many collabs to come statewide and nationwide.
The Olde Rabbit’s Foot project eventually got sidelined as the industry grew, and each brewery got busier and more successful. But every time Steve Lyerly (Olde Hickory), Paul Philippon (Duck Rabbit) and Jamie Bartholomaus (Foothills) would see each other, the same conversation would surface: “That was fun! It’d be cool to do it again.”
So this week, Steven and Paul will travel to Winston-Salem to brew their respective imperial stouts at our downtown brewpub, alongside Foothills brewmaster TL Adkisson. We’ll blend them right here, in house, and barrel-age the beer in Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve barrels for the next few months.
Given the current climate in craft beer, a healthy dose of the selfless fellowship that helped get us to this point seems in order. Why? Says Paul: “Even in the midst of competition, celebrating the success of your competitors and the industry as a whole can be very uplifting.” Steven adds, “In an ever changing marketplace, this shows the spirit of collaboration is still alive. It’s more important than ever that people see the cooperative heart of NC beer.” And Jamie says simply, “These guys are our friends. We’ve been peers a long time. This provides a little continuity to the past of North Carolina beer.”
Expect to see release info for Olde Rabbit’s Foot 2017 sometime this fall.
And prepare to welcome back an old friend.