The Beer Drop: Collective Arts Liquid Art Fest

O Canada! We’re heading north for this week’s Beer Drop to Hamilton, Ontario, home to Collective Arts Brewing.

While they’ve only been available in Chicago since late 2017, five-year-old Collective Arts has already developed a fantastic reputation amongst the city’s craft beer drinkers thanks to their focus on the fusion of creative brewing + the talents of emerging artists and musicians…and the beer is pretty tasty, too.

I was able to catch up with CAB’s Illinois Sales & Marketing Manager, Tom White, to learn more about this week’s featured beer (a unique Milkshake IPA brewed with lactose and fruit puree), the brewery, their artists and more. And if Tom’s name sounds familiar, you may know him from his other gig at beer site The Hop Review.

Alright let’s get to it! Cheers 🍻

Tell us about Liquid Art Fest! Hit us with the tasting notes:

Huge mango and passionfruit are what you’ll notice right off the bat. The aroma hits you right when you pop that can and follows through to the taste. The vanilla and lactose are more evident at the back end and give it that signature milkshake creaminess. The unique thing here is that slight acidity from the passionfruit. It makes for a slightly sweet, slightly acidic, think milkshake beer that’s unlike anything else I’ve had yet.

Best enjoyed?

This beer is one of a kind, even among Milkshake IPA’s. Store it cold at all times and drink it fresh — there’s a ton of real fruit in here. Drink straight from the fridge in any glass that’s not a shaker pint (I usually go for a tulip). With the amount of fruit in this beer, you might consider it a meal in itself. But if looking for a food pairing, I’d drink it on a hot day on my deck with some bbq or, better yet, over some ice cream from those with a sweet tooth.

We’re told there’s a special trick to popping this can…

Roll, flip, and pour. Oh, and definitely keep it cold at all times. Remember, we’re using a ton of real fruit here so drink it fresh and floaties are totally normal.

And how about Life in the Clouds?

Life in the Clouds is a New England style IPA that’s available year-round. This is an incredibly balanced version of the style that avoids the backend sweetness common in higher ABV versions of the style. Expect big citrus and melon aromas from the Simcoe and Mosaic hops and a soft, subdued bitterness. This is an all day drinking NEIPA through and through.

On Collective Arts

Before we get to the brewery – how did you first get into craft beer, and then end up on the team at CAB?

I run a beer site called The Hop Review which was my introduction to the local craft scene. After working in the corporate world in the advertising/marketing industry for several years, I decided it was high-time to make the leap into beer. I worked at a couple local bottle shops and eventually found my way to Collective Arts after a long search for the right opportunity.

Can you share more about The Hop Review?

I already had a passing interest in craft beer from living in Michigan but really fell in love with the scene when I started visiting breweries like Half Acre, Goose Island, and Revolution around 2009. A friend and I started The Hop Review originally as a way to document our homebrew efforts, which proved to be less than successful. We quickly discovered we’d much rather get the story of craft beer from the folks behind the scenes – namely the brewers and owners of some of the city’s best breweries. This has evolved over the last 6 years into a full-fledged online beer journal with our main focus on feature length interviews and photography from breweries around the world. We also feature brewery design and beer travel when we get outside Illinois.

What’s the story behind Collective Arts?

The brewery was founded by Matt Johnston and Bob Russell on two beliefs: The first that creativity fosters creativity. And the second, that creativity yields delicious pints. We feature limited-edition works of art on our beer cans and labels, and we work to make sure the liquid on the inside is as diverse and creative as the artists we profile.

And the inspiration behind the name? What are the different roles artists play in the brewery?

Matt and Bob felt this was the name that best encompassed everything they wanted to do when fusing art and brewing. Artists and musicians anywhere in the world can submit artwork through our website. A group of volunteer curators from the art, beer, and music worlds sift through the thousands of submissions to help us choose which art goes on our labels. On the local level, we’re also hosting art and music themed events in every market where we sell beer. It’s a huge part of what we do!

Where are all these artists based? 

Our artists come from all over, but the furthest examples have to be from Australia, Iran, and Japan. Check out our galleries on the site for all their work.

How do you come up with your beer names?

For most of them, it’s the folks at the brewery sitting down and brainstorming the name they feel fits our latest creation the best. There are some more specific examples however, like Ransack the Universe, our IPA, which is named after a vintage store in Toronto. Matt and Bob loved the name so asked the owner for permission to use the name. Thankfully she agreed!

How do you guys engage with local communities? What similarities or differences do you see between the Canadian and U.S. beer scenes?

We always aim to be local in every community we sell beer in. That means we’re working with local artists and musicians, as well as our favourite breweries, to host galleries, concerts, and create awesome new beers to local folks fired up. The Canadian scene has a whole lot in common with what we’re all used to nowadays in the US. While we don’t see much Canadian beer crossing the border just yet, there are some incredible breweries in Ontario that I always visit during my trips back to the mothership. I know that holds true for the rest of the country as well.

What’s your favorite thing about the brewery? 

My favourite thing has to be just how unique we are. There’s a lot of good beer out there nowadays, making it all the more difficult to stick out and stay relevant. With the work we do with like minded creators around the world, it’s never difficult to recognize CAB on that crowded bottle shop shelf. I also love how we have all our beer bases covered. Want a balanced and citrusy IPA? We’ve got you with Ransack. Looking for a glimpse at the haze craze with our New England IPA? Grab a Life in the Clouds. And if you want to get really weird, try out Liquid Art Fest, one of our sours, or frankly any of our constantly rotating Project beers. We’re always looking to stay ahead of the curve and get people beer they can be excited about, or just grab a staple that’s tried and true.

How do you measure success at Collective Arts?

It all comes down to being accepted by the local community. If someone picks up a 4-pack of Life in the Clouds, notices there’s brand new artwork on the cans, and picks up their phone to look up that artist’s work, that’s a success story.

Hot Hop Takes

Common misconception about Canada:

People forget just how close Hamilton is. Despite being in another country, it’s about the same distance from Chicago as Kansas City, Minneapolis, or Nashville. This means we can have fresh beer on your shelves in a matter of a couple days. There are some local breweries that can’t boast that!

Favorite craft beer festival:

Liquid Art Fest which just happened last month at the brewery. Seriously, the brewery lineup was incredible and we’re already making plans for next year. Locally, I’m partial to Beer Under Glass and FOBAB. Look out for us at FOBAB this year with something very special!

Tom – thanks so much for taking the time to chat! And you heard the man – Hamilton is pretty pretty close, so it’s probably time to add it to your list of long weekend trips…

1,201 check-ins and counting – toast (or roast) what Sean’s been drinking here. Have a beer or brewery you think should be our next drop? Hit us up! ✉