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Beer Mailbag: New Belgium, Woodchuck Send Off Summer

A season of collaboration

It's going to be a great month for brewers working well with others.

The folks at Sierra Nevada dropped us a line to remind us about their Beer Camp Across America mixed pack, which required Sierra brewers to go across the country to make a 12-pack of beers to celebrate the opening of their new brewery in Mills River, N.C., in August. They'll be doing a seven-city tour starting in mid-July, but they've already created their 12-pack with a little help from brewers including Colorado/N.C,-based Oskar Blues, Pennsylvania's Victory, Wisconsin's New Glarus, Oregon's Ninkasi, Maine's Allagash, Michigan's Bell's, Indiana's 3 Floyds, Florida's Cigar City and California's Russian River, Ballast Point and Firestone Walker. That 12-pack comes out the middle of this month.

Also see: Beer Mailbag: Kona Brewing Goes IPA, Woodchuck Cans Cider

Meanwhile, Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium Brewing is also about to open a second brewery in North Carolina and just wants to remind folks that it collaborates with other brewers every year. They didn't have to go all this summer, as their Fort Collins neighbors at Odell Brewing were up for making a hoppy seasonal treat. Their FOCOllaboration American Pale Ale uses a whole lot of Odell's Fawcett Crystal Malt to balance out a healthy helping of New Belgium's Centennial, Cascade and Citra hops.

While that Citra makes it slightly juicy up front, this is one dry, old-school pale ale that functions as it should. Not as bitter as an IPA, but just enough bitterness to distinguish it from milder ale offerings. It has IPA strength at 6.75% ABV, which explains why it's available only in 22-ounce bomber bottles, but its 55 international bitterness units put it more in line with a standard English IPA -- balanced, malty and more like a beer than a bale of hops shoved into your face.

New Belgium had to go a bit farther for its other summer collaboration, hooking up with Muenster, Ind.-based 3 Floyds on a Polish beer style known as Gratzer. Though fairly obscure here, Gratzer got some play about five years ago in the craft beer community as the search for esoteric styles plowed through kolsch and gose and went straight to this Polish smoked-wheat favorite. Breakside Brewing in Portland, Ore., made one, a Gratzer recently won Samuel Adams' LongShot brewing competition and Philadelphia's Yards Brewing collaborated with Mid-Atlantic brewpub chain Iron Hill on one.

Don't let the smoke scare you. New Belgium and 3 Floyds' version is reddish black, malty and a bit more spicy than smoky. New Belgium credits that to the Polish Lublin hops for that. Its 4.5% ABV makes it a drinkable summer beer, but its flavor profile suggests that it could just as easily hold until that first crisp day of fall. New Belgium and 3 Floyds went through the trouble of oak-smoking their own malt -- the least a drinker can do is appreciate it on a night that calls for some fire.

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