by David Mendez
In what's one of the coolest bits of news coming out of Tucson's beer scene, the quickly-growing and widely renowned Dragoon Brewing Company is set to partner with New Belgium Brewing Company in a collaborative effort set to launch in late September.
According to Tristan White of Dragoon, the collaboration was something that was completely out of the blue — and by his telling, something that they were skeptical of actually happening.
"I was just getting off of my shift [at Dragoon's tap room], so I was tired and about to head home when this guy walks up to me and says he's from a brewery. Now, we get this all the time, someone coming and saying that they're from a place, usually something small I haven't heard of...but he starts asking all these really interesting questions and complimenting us on the beer, so I ask 'Wait, what brewery did you say you were with again?'"
Ben Rutlidge is who White spoke to that day, a brewer with New Belgium who happened to be in Tucson visiting breweries with his brother-in-law.
"When I walked in [to Dragoon] I was just blown away — not just by the number of styles they had, but also at the quality of the beer," Rutlidge said.
"So he said to us 'Maybe when I get back to Colorado [where New Belgium is based, out of Fort Collins] I'll see if we can collaborate,'" White said. "I thought 'pfft, right' — then he calls us two weeks later, and we were like 'oh my gosh!'"
This is the second time that New Belgium has gone on the road to another brewery to collaborate on a beer, and it holds a special, local significance to both Rutlidge and Rhonda Kendrick, New Belgium's brewery representative for Southern Arizona.
"For us, I think it's showing our appreciation of local beer and grassroots companies and how they start," Kendrick said. "I think the perception is that large breweries are going to come in and take over, and that local breweries are going away, and I want us to squash that perception. We're people, we have families and we live in the places that we sell beer," she said.
Rutlidge agrees. "For me, I'm proud to be doing this because Tucson's become my second home — it's an amazing region. I think not enough people know what an awesome city it is here."
White didn't hold back: "It's a freaking honor," he said, later noting how incredible it is that a brewery that's considered one of the Big Three of the craft beer world is "trusting [Dragoon] with their name."
While a press release announcing the beer has the style under wraps, Rutlidge and White informed me that the aim is to create a hoppy, German-style lager that's "darker than a pale ale, but not as dark as an amber ale," according to White. The philosophy, according to White and Rutlidge, was to create something that reflects the new-meets-old aspect of their collaboration.
As such, the plan is for the beer to take the old, trusted lager style and change it up by using ingredients that are growing in popularity, such as midnight wheat, and citra and french aramis hops, an aspect of the collaboration with New Belgium that Dragoon appreciates, as the older brewery has contacts and a reputation within the industry that allows for them to get new and interesting ingredients as soon as they're available. "They have access to all this awesome stuff, which is one of the biggest benefits to working with them. We had to buy it, of course, but still," White laughs.
"We wanted to make something that would fit in well at the end of September in Tucson," Rutlidge said. "When it's hot, or when you're out golfing, you don't want to be drinking something heavy, like an IPA."
"We asked ourselves, do we want to do something really big? Something simple? Something esoteric? ... we decided to make something sessionable [around or below 5% alcohol by volume] that's highly drinkable," White said. "I don't want to have to think constantly about how to put more and more weird stuff in our beer — I just want to think about how we can make beers people will want to drink."
The beer, which has yet to be named (something that White joked is "totally [Dragoon's] style — we never name beers until they're about to go into the keg"), will begin brewing at Dragoon on Aug. 2, when Rutlidge will come down to get working with White and Dragoon's brewer, Eric Greene. After the brewing and lagering processes finish, the plan is to launch the beer at the Great Tucson Beer Festival, on Sept. 28. From there, the beer will be sold at a number of locations in Tucson, as well as a few in Phoenix and at the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins.