Apple Blossom collaborates with local beer personality

James Spencer (right) records a scene for Basic Brewing Video while Marcus Ward, brewmaster at Apple Blossom Brewing Company, prepares to brew a batch of Spencer’s cream ale for a collaboration beer to be made available at the brewery in the coming weeks.

Brian Sorensen

Craft beer is one of the friendliest industries in modern business. Instead of the constant bickering and legal do-si-dos you see from traditional companies, breweries tend to play nice. And on occasion they even work together.

Collaboration brewing is the ultimate manifestation of this mindset. It’s when two breweries – or perhaps a brewery and an industry personality – team up to brew a batch of beer. It usually results in a small batch that’s not widely distributed, and tends to be more experimental in nature (vs. either brewery’s standard fare).

Though likely not a new practice, collaboration brewing really picked up steam back in 2006 when Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, Colorado teamed up with Santa Rosa, California’s Russian River to brew Collaboration not Litigation Ale. The breweries were both producing a beer called Salvation at the time, but instead of going to court over the matter they decided to blend their beers to create something special.

Since then collaboration brews have become fairly common.

Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company brewed a spiced saison with sister brewery Ommegang from upstate New York last year. Boulevard has a tropical pale ale coming out next month that was brewed with up-and-coming Tampa Bay brewery Cigar City.

Sierra Nevada released a coveted collection of beers known as Beer Camp, which featured collaborations between the Chico, California brewery and other popular breweries like Ballast Point, New Glarus, and Three Floyds. The limited release 12-pack was extremely popular and flew off the shelves when it finally arrived here in Northwest Arkansas.

Local collaborations

James Spencer pours malted barley into the mash tun at Apple Blossom Brewing Compnay.

Brian Sorensen

Brewers in our area are also getting into the act. Fayetteville’s Apple Blossom Brewing Company has been brewing a collaboration beer almost every month. Joint batches have been produced with Little Rock’s Moody Brews, Bentonville Brewing Company, Bike Rack Brewing Company, and Foster’s Pint and Plate – to name a few.

“I love collaborations,” said Apple Blossom brewmaster Marcus Ward. “They’re a lot of fun. It’s usually stuff I wouldn’t try on my own.”

But collaborations don’t have to be extreme. Sometimes a simple recipe for a simple style works out great.

Last Friday Apple Blossom partnered with James Spencer of Basic Brewing Radio fame to brew a batch of Spencer’s cream ale. An experiment involving different yeast strains for the beer was covered on both the audio and video versions of the Basic Brewing podcast.

As for the cream ale style, Spencer said we can thank our German friends for the inspiration.

“As the German brewers were invading America and brewing pilsners and light lagers, the cream ale was the American ale brewer’s answer to that style,” he said. “It’s lighter in color and uses corn to lighten up the body of the finished beer.”

Spencer went as far as to call cream ale the “poor man’s pilsner” since expensive cooling equipment for lager fermentation isn’t necessary.

Basic cream ale recipe

(inspired by James Spencer)

9 lbs American 2-row
1 lb Flaked Maize
2 oz Czech Saaz hops – Boil for 60 minutes
1 oz Czech Saaz hops – Add at flameout
Nottingham dry yeast

– Mash for 60 min @ 152° F
– Ferment at 70°F
– Batch size: 5 gallons

His version of cream ale uses a grain bill consisting of American two-row malt and flaked maize, enough Czech Saaz hops to provide a balanced bitterness, and Nottingham yeast – which beat out another strain in a taste test of the yeast experiment. It adds more of the fruity character typical of English strains, and showcases the bitterness of the hops slightly better than its American counterparts.

The only difference in the collaboration beer brewed at Apple Blossom last Friday is the hop selection. Herkules and Hallertau hops were substituted for Czech Saaz based on availability. But there shouldn’t be a significant difference in hop character between recipes since they are all a part of the noble hop family, and thus have similar characteristics.

Spencer said he could have chosen a more experimental beer to brew with Apple Blossom, but the thirsty-quenching qualities of the cream ale lend themselves to late Arkansas summers.

“This is not a fruitcake barleywine,” he quipped. “And this beer is not about hop character. There’s a bit, but it’s more about the bitterness than the aroma. Everybody I’ve given it to has liked it a lot.”

Spencer shared samples of homebrewed cream ale with the people in attendance last Friday. The beer proved to be nice and clean with a sharp hop bitterness that was by no means overdone. It was indeed similar to a German pilsner, but with more overall character from the ale yeast.

The Apple Blossom – James Spencer collaboration cream ale will be available in a little more than a month. The plan is to put it on one of the brewery’s two nitrogen taps, which should add a velvety texture to an already-smooth body. It will be a terrific beer for the waning days of summer.

James Spencer (right) speaks with Vinnie Cilurzo, brewmaster at Russian River Brewing, during the National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego.


Basic Brewing at 2015 NHC

James Spencer recently attended the National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego – his 10th conference since he started covering the hobby for Basic Brewing Radio. Along with show personalities Steve Wilkes and Andy Sparks, he recorded eight episodes for the audio podcast. This year’s conference was one of the best yet, said Spencer.

“It’s always amazing to meet other homebrewers from across the country and around the world,” he said. “And it’s even more amazing when they bring experiments for us to evaluate and have on the show.”

Basic Brewing received a special shout out from American Homebrewers Association Director Gary Glass. He congratulated Spencer and crew for 10 years of homebrewing coverage during the conference’s opening toast.

“For him to say that in front of 3,000 homebrewers was amazing,” said Spencer. “He feels like we are a part of the whole homebrewing equation, so it was nice to have that validation.”

Brian Sorensen (@EBSorensen) is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds.