We’ve all heard brewers wax poetic on collaboration and community, to a point where the words risk becoming hackneyed. Ontario’s Collective Arts Brewing has plenty to say about both, from its prolific artist partnerships to earnest plans to help revitalize Hamilton, the former steel town it calls home. All of this could sound trite if Collective Arts didn’t actu- ally walk the walk—and if the beer wasn’t so damn good.
Collective Arts shares space (and the talents of brewmaster Ryan Morrow) with Nickel Brewing inside Arts and Science, a 50,000-square-foot facility that’s held several breweries throughout the years; the last one was purchased by Labatt and subsequently shut down, dealing a blow to the local economy. Co-founder Matt Johnston compares the city of Hamilton to Detroit, Mich.; both are former manufacturing towns that have struggled in recent decades to find their economic footing. But he also compares the city to Brooklyn in terms of its nascent creative potential.
Collective Arts stokes that fire: The brewery taps artists to create the beer labels, and actually pays them for their work. Johnston also organizes black box recording sessions with musicians like Death Cab for Cutie and Portugal The Man, hosted by Toronto’s Indie88 radio station. For the whole team, it’s about bringing new people into the creative fold: Art lovers
might be encouraged to pick up an IPA while at a gallery show inside the brewery, and drinkers might discover a new favorite artist when they check out the beer labels. A recent bottle of State of Mind session IPA, for example, spotlighted the surrealist illustrations of Toronto-based artist Eric Fan. Scan it with the free app Blippar, and up pops the artist’s bio and portfolio. Bands are a part of la- bels, too; the Rhyme and Reason pale ale bottle featured The Strumbellas, a Canadian sextet that performed at the brewery’s launch party.
“Just as it’s challenging as a brewer to get people to see and try your beer, it’s challenging for artists. If our labels make it easier for someone to listen to music or go to the artist’s portfolio, that’s positive for everyone. We’ve seen tweets that are like ‘We love Rhyme and Reason [pale ale]’ and the next tweet is like ‘And now my new favorite band is The Strumbellas,’” Johnston says.
Morrow rounds out his lineup with a blonde and a session IPA; he plans to expand the styles Collective Arts brews, but his deft hand with late-hop additions and bold West Coast varieties has become his calling card. Thankfully, his beers will soon be available south of the Canadian border: Collective Arts plans to export to the U.S. this year, hitting Vermont before the end of 2015 with an eye on New York and Boston.
THREE TO TRY:
Ryan Morrow’s picks for summer drinking
Saint of Circumstance blonde ale: “We aimed for a sessionable blonde ale, so I’ve been matching the Cascade and Amarillo hops with actual citrus fruit—lately I’ve been doing some Meyer lemon. To bring up those flavors, I do use a decent amount of wheat, which I find has a lemony sort of kick. I try to keep it refreshing, light, and drinkable.”
Rhyme and Reason extra pale ale: “This was the first brew we ever did. It’s a little maltier but still very much hop-forward, with primarily Citra and Centennial, so it leans more on the citrus notes. Floral flavors come from the Centennial, too.”
State of Mind session IPA: “We’re maybe 6 months to a year behind the session trend in Canada, so we just launched this in retail a few months ago. It’s very hop-forward, with not a whole lot of malt profile. You’ll get tropical fruit from the Amarillo hops and I put some Centennial in there to brighten it up. I don’t like to keep much bitterness, so I just focus on hop flavor and aroma.”