Breckenridge and SweetWater collaboration hits Denver

Breckenridge Brewery and SweetWater collaboration brew day (Photo © Breckenridge Brewery)

Breckenridge Brewery and SweetWater collaboration brew day (Photo © Breckenridge Brewery)

All it took was 17 years and persistent nudging from a brewery 1,400 miles away to convince SweetWater Brewing Company of Atlanta, Ga., to finally brew a big-time collaboration beer. The nudging, pestering, far-away brewery happens to be Breckenridge Brewery and the resulting collaboration beer has morphed into a two-day event during the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) featuring a slew of SweetWater’s beers that can’t normally be found west of the Mississippi River.

The activities start on Wednesday, April 9, with Ale House at Amato’s turning over its 40 taps to the two breweries. The takeover will start up at 4:20 p.m. (apt for a Mile High brewery with a 420 Extra Pale Ale) and will feature ‘O’Tay,’ the limited-release collaboration that made its first and only appearance at the Collaboration Festival, as well as a variety of other Breckenridge and SweetWater beers. The two breweries also invited Upslope Brewing Company and Crooked Stave to join the festivities and round out the tap takeover.

The party gets going again at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 10, with a bar crawl around Downtown. The crawl will stop at various Denver bars (full list below) and will feature a mix of Breckenridge staples and  twists on classics like a Barrel-Aged Vanilla Porter. This crawl is also the perfect chance for SweetWater fans to get their fill of the Georgia-based brewery’s beer, as each stop will feature a different SweetWater brew.

Bar Crawl Schedule. Photo credit: Breckenridge Brewery

Bar Crawl Schedule. Photo credit: Breckenridge Brewery

You may be thinking, “Who cares how this happened, I’m just happy it happened!” We thought the same thing, too. After pausing to drink a beer, we decided to figure out exactly how Breckenridge teamed up with SweetWater (it’s not like they’re neighbors or anything) and why we Colorado beer drinkers get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

According to Breckenridge’s Matt Eldridge, it’s a long story of a 20-year friendship between Todd Usry, brewmaster and director of operations at Breckenridge, and Freddy Bensch, co-founder of SweetWater.

“Todd and Freddy go way back to around the time when we opened our first Denver brewery on Blake Street in 1992,” said Eldridge. “At the time, Freddy was living out here in Colorado and brewing for Mile High Brewery, which opened up about a year after the Blake Street location. Back then there weren’t a lot of other breweries, so being right down the street from one another, Todd and Freddy just found themselves hanging out quite a bit.”

Bensch moved on from Denver to Atlanta to start SweetWater with Kevin McNerney, but his friendship with Ursy continued and the two have stayed in touch at conferences, GABF and have taken every other chance to catch up. This led to the ‘O’Tay’ collaboration that debuted at March’s Collaboration Festival.

“I think finally Todd twisted Freddy’s arm enough to get him to do this collaboration beer, O’Tay,” said Eldridge. “We’re getting the two old-time friends and the two brewery crews together to really capture the essence of our collaboration.”

Steve Farace, director of marketing for SweetWater, echoed Eldridge’s thoughts, “Freddy is good friends with Todd Usry at Breckenridge and with the CBC in Denver we thought we should have some fun with it.” Farace also noted that, while SweetWater has done collaboration beers in the past, it’s always been limited to small-scale endeavors. For example, SweetWater teamed up with 7venth Sun Brewery for Hand Shandy to celebrate SweetWater’s entry into the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg market.

Wednesday’s gathering will also mark a tribute to the late Curtis McArthur, a SweetWater employee and industry staple who passed away early in 2014. The two brewery teams, and surely countless others from the craft beer community, will raise a glass to McArthur with a special toast at 5:45 p.m. during the tap takeover at Ale House at Amato’s.

About Peter MacKellar

A native Coloradan who thinks our fine state offers the best beer and snow anywhere in the U.S., Peter recently moved back to Denver after spending a few years in New York City.