An Argument For Taking Collaboration Opportunities

West Sixth Brewing is well known in Kentucky for its IPA and could likely do fine to hang its hat on that style, but that doesn’t stop it from jumping on chances to produce collaboration beers with a range of breweries, organizations and companies.

Co-founder Brady Barlow, whose brewery recently announced its new 1906 Lager that it made with Western Kentucky University, said there were a number of good reasons to say “yes” when presented with the chance to make a collaboration beer.

“You’re reinforced by the consumers you already have, but you can get an audience you haven’t gotten before and you can reinforce retail relationships you have with people,” said Barlow, who noted that West Sixth likes to pay back Kentuckians for supporting his brand. “We’re not giant now by any stretch of the imagination, but when we started out people were taking a risk on us by putting our brand out there.”

West Sixth’s process for making a collaborative beer varies per client and opportunity.

WKU approached West Sixth about making a beer that eventually became 1906 Lager. 

“We had a couple of meetings about it and we all agreed on what style to make,” Barlow said. “We’re known for our IPA, but it’s going to be served in a football stadium and sports arena, and we agreed that if you’re going to be sitting in a three- or four-hour long football game and tailgating before that it makes sense to have something a little bit more sessionable for the long haul.

“It was a two-way conversation. They didn’t have anything to do with the recipe development side of it, but they had people from Western come over and taste the beer. They were very happy with it and from there it just went into kegs and cans.”

Their collaborative process is different when working with another brewery, Barlow said.

“It’s a little bit different conversation because those people have some input on the recipe,” he noted. “Maybe I should use this malt, or use this hop. We’ve done Country Western with Country Boy Brewing for double digit years now — we brew it for craft beer week in Lexington. 

“Our brewers get together with their team and nail down what the style is going to be, and then we alternate whose turn it is to brew it.”

Barlow said they don’t jump on every collaboration opportunity, but that collaborations are definitely part of their identity.

“We want to do things that are Kentucky focused and support the community we live in by doing interesting things and really showing that we may be big enough to produce an IPA in every corner of the state, but we’re still small enough to do interesting projects that highlight retailers, athletic departments and music festivals.”

Taking changes on collaborations has an additional positive side effect, he added.

“It keeps our brewers interested,” Barlow said. “They love projects like these because they get to flex their creative muscles. They all enjoy the creation process and I think that’s something that may get overlooked.”

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