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Wine + Spirits + Beer

Open-Source Brewing

What Happens When You Apply Wikipedia Principles to Beer?

Denver’s Flying Dog Brewery knows few boundaries, crafting atypical suds such as the rocket-strength Gonzo Imperial Porter and three-months-aged Horn Dog Barley Wine. But when searching for inspiration for their next libation, Flying Dog’s brewmasters didn’t reference ancient European recipes or quaff beers at a pub. Instead, they looked to their laptops.

“There’s open-source collaboration everywhere on the Internet and with software, so we thought, Why not apply the same methods to beer,” says Flying Dog’s director of marketing Neal Stewart in describing Collaborator, a brew created with open-source principles: customers’ input on the recipe.

Providing a formula contradicts centuries of tightly guarded brewing secrets, in which breweries stake livelihoods on proprietary creations. Yet open-source beer is gaining traction. A couple years ago, Copenhagen-based art collective Superflex devised Vores Øl (now called Free Beer), providing an ale recipe published under a Creative Commons license that allows anyone with the inclination to make and sell the ale. Australia’s Brewtopia lets customers vote on recipes and label design.

To fashion America’s first mass-produced open-source beer, Flying Dog created a Web site (opensourcebeerproject.com) last spring, posted a recipe for a doppelbock (a strong German lager), and asked folks for improvements. “All the feedback came from the home-brewing community,” says Stewart. He estimates that 20 to 25 brewers took part anonymously, suggesting such tweaks as bitter American hops (instead of traditional German strains), and a very light filtration and bottle conditioning, which retains yeast and sugars so that the beer continues to ferment in the bottle.

The months-long project resulted in October’s release of 5,000 toasty, candied Collaborators (all doppelbock names end with -ator, an homage to the first doppelbock, called Salvator), hand-filled in corked champagne bottles. Flying Dog entered Collaborator into Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, and “though we didn’t win any medals, I’m interested in doing another round. Who knows how good a Collaborator 2.0 could be?”

Want to try your shot at tweaking the recipe or brewing it yourself? Download instructions at opensourcebeerproject.com.