We are being invaded from Canada … but in a good way! Who would have thought that the land of Labatt and Molson would deliver unto us a host of craft beers. I’ve reviewed Farnham Ale (from Quebec) in the past, but recently I had the opportunity to sample some beers from Collective Arts and Brewing at the Stowe Craft Brew Races. Collective Arts is based in Hamilton, Ontario, but, mysteriously, has a marketing and arts department in Stowe itself. This must be their “beachhead” into the US market. (I’ll have to investigate this more in the future).
Seriously though, I had the pleasure of talking with Mae Sullivan, Collective Arts US Engagement Ambassador, to get the low-down on this brewery.
[StoweBeer] Talk about your role as Engagement Ambassador for Collective Arts
[Mae] As an Engagement Ambassador for Collective Arts, I help to build up the brand’s presence in my territory. I plan and execute tastings, brew fests, events, tap takeovers, and sponsorships around Vermont. I do my absolute best to educate people about our beer, get them excited about our collaboration with art and music, and provide customers with a wonderful experience so that they will always think of Collective Arts when they step into their craft beer store. I honestly have the easiest job in the world. The beer sells itself. Sometimes I don’t even get a chance to describe the beer before someone points to a can and says, “That looks delicious, I’ll take it.” I wish I could take credit for making customers happy, but when you’re providing them with a beautiful can filled with delicious liquid, it is very hard for someone to walk away upset.
[SB] How/when did Collective Arts and Brewing get founded and what inspired the notion to mix beer with art and music?
Collective Arts Brewing was founded in September of 2014 by Bob Russell and Matt Johnston. Both Bob and Matt are creative geniuses and have had experience with beer and art prior to Collective Arts. In today’s craft beer market, a lot of focus is put on the can or bottle art. With shelves filled with beer from various breweries, which one does your eye go to first? It is hard to admit that many of us “judge a beer by its cover.” However, artwork does play a large part in craft beer. Before Collective Arts became a reality, Matt and Bob were discussing their idea of their dream brewery. While sifting through ideas of incorporating art and music, they realized that there were artists who worked hard and loved what they did, but maybe needed a bit more recognition for their work. By putting out a call for art every six months, artists (including musicians, visual artists, graphic designers, and photographers) can send in their work on our website and receive promotion through exposure. The artists get compensated for their work, and all of their work remains completely their own. Our website and social media pages will also feature the artists and give background information so that viewers can check out other pieces that they have produced. It is a win-win idea. These artists receive a platform that would exhibit their work to a demographic that already appreciates creativity and art, and Collective Arts has ever-evolving, eye-catching cans that have people asking questions and leaving with beer.
[SB] When Americans think of Canadian beer, big brands like Labatt and Molson come to mind. Is the beer scene changing in Canada and do you see a difference in taste preferences between VT and Ontario?
[Mae] I definitely think there are some big changes in the beer scene in Canada. I recently went on a short business trip up to the brewery a few weeks ago. We checked out the market by visiting several accounts during the day, and also enjoyed some beer from the local breweries in our free time. The craft breweries had such great liquid and style. It was a different feel from Vermont breweries, mainly because we visited breweries in larger cities, whereas almost all the breweries in Vermont have a sense of smaller community. The Canadian craft breweries had a very similar feel to some of the breweries that I have visited in Portland and Chicago: larger, more modern, stylized, and very hip. The beer stores were stocked with all different styles of beer from many different breweries. It did not look much different from any of the package stores around Vermont. As for taste preferences, Vermont beer drinkers are still very heavily interested in IPAs, although many are starting to branch off into different styles. What I experienced while in Canada was a lot of juicy sours, saisons, and double dry hopped IPAs with a lot of fruit. They were all amazing and super refreshing. I would love to see these kinds of styles pop up around Vermont, but that is a personal preference!
[SB] I like your take on sours … I find my palate shifting in that direction also. What is unique about the VT beer scene compared to other places you visit or distribute your beer?
[Mae] Vermont is an amazing place for beer. If you are a craft beer advocate, Vermont is the New England mecca. We have the very well-known breweries such as Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, and Lawson’s Finest; breweries that people travel hours upon hours to visit. But there are also smaller breweries peppered throughout Vermont that are not as widely known, but make some of the most amazing beer I have ever tasted. It makes it really hard to buy a casual four-pack. I definitely admit to feeling spoiled here when it comes to craft beer. The funny thing about working as an Engagement Ambassador for a Canadian beer company in Vermont is that many Vermonter’s first choice of beer is local. It is almost better for a brewery to have can limits and be very exclusive than to be widely distributed because it makes it that much more desirable. That is where the long lines and parking lot beer trades come in. At many of my tastings and festivals, I have had people tell me they are only interested in drinking Vermont beer. Call us Vermonters what you want, but we are loyal through and through. That devotion is something I respect and admire, and it makes it that much sweeter when a Vermont beer lover tastes our beer and immediately buys a four-pack. The Vermont craft beer scene is filled to the brim with the best brewers in the industry. There is rarely any animosity, only the desire to keep building up the craft beer community so that everyone gets a chance to be front row in someone’s fridge. For several customers, a suggestion from a friend, or an interest in our beer is all it takes to take some home. For other customers, it takes a little more convincing to try something out of state. That is why I value my job so much. The tastings and brew fests allow people to try samples risk free. At the very least, people know what they like and do not like, and at the very best, we get a new supporter!
[SB] What do you see as the future of craft beer — any new trends on the horizon?
Personally, I couldn’t get enough of sours. I know that some people are not huge fans of them, but I have seen a lot of cider and wine lovers fall for sours before my very eyes! Collective Arts has been crushing the sours lately. Our newest ones are dry hopped so that they provide a really nice balance. The use of lactose in IPAs and juice purees are starting to pop up as well. People are becoming less hesitant to succumb to these hazy juice bombs that are perfect for the summer. Lastly, I am seeing a lot of people wanting more sessionable beers with lower ABV and a simpler, cleaner taste. With the IPA and high ABV craze still staying strong here in Vermont, many people’s taste buds are realizing they can’t party as hard as they used to and need to settle down. As for trends in a more general sense, I believe that the craft beer “experience” will continue to grow. Even the smallest breweries are creating beautiful beer gardens, cozy tap rooms, featuring musical guests, and trivia. Breweries have expanded from just packaged beer to the whole feeling of the brewery, what your experience is when you walk in, not just when you crack one open.
[SB] Mae, you have a great handle on the trends … although I never would have imagined it being possible, I now love a beer that combines sour and bitter at the same time. Anything else you want to add?
[Mae] We are hosting our first brewfest, Liquid Art Festival, at our brewery in Hamilton in June! It will be held June 15th-16th. The festival will be featuring 50 breweries from around the world, live music and art, food trucks, beer yoga, a barber shop, and even a tattoo parlor. We will be a one stop shop for the beer experience of your dreams! We are very excited to not only host this event, but to showcase beer from 50 very impressive breweries. This festival is very important to us because it not only allows craft beer lovers to meet different brewers that they may have not visited before, it also is a huge meeting place for the brewers themselves. Here the brewers, spanning from the US, to Spain, Sweden, Denmark, UK, Canada, Estonia, Japan, Australia, and Iceland, can share ideas and even collaborate on projects. It is a big craft beer family reunion. The brewfest will act as a celebration of craft beer and an honoring of the hard work these brewers put into their brews. Pick up some tickets on our website and come have a blast!
The Cicerone says: Keep an eye on Collective Arts and Brewing … their eclectic mixture of alcohol, arts, and music is sure to start a trend. And when you drink one of their beers, you will be tempted to put the can on the mantle for display!