Collaboration #1, The Unauthorized Biography
The time was 1980, the United States was about to shock the world in Lake Placid, George Brett was smoking heaters and buying beer for underage girls in preparation for a wonderful season of baseball and Jean-Marie Rock was perfecting an imperial pilsner recipe in the Orval abbey. Little did he know that he was caught, the monks found the Saaz hops he had hidden in the warehouse for the pilsner side project.
"We don't use Saaz hops in Orval" the head monk told Rock.
"I was just trying something different" Rock said defending himself.
"We're Belgian monks, we do things one way and one way only, we brew the finest beers in the world, Belgian ales, we don't have to brew inferior pilsners" the head monk explained as he slapped Rock in the face and rapped his knuckles with a ruler.
"It's not inferior, it's just different. If it's done right an imperial pilsner can be just as satisfying as a Belgian ale. This brew is done right, it's a great imperial pilsner. If only everyone could drink it, they would find out how great a pilsner could be" Rock said defiantly.
"If you feel so strongly about it, maybe you should go somewhere else to brew. At Orval we only brew Orval belgian pale ale. You will not brew this pilsner here" with that the head monk walked off.
Rock thought about his options and decided to stay with Orval brewing one of the best beers in the world and he shelved his imperial pilsner recipe.
He spent the next 29 years happy with his decision, but had an inner yearning to share his imperial pilsner with the world. Then last summer his old friend, Steven Pauwels came to Orval abbey to see Rock. They had quite a lot to talk about. Pauwels had brought the American Boulevard Brewery to a respected place amongst American brewers with the Smokestack series and their quality session beer lineup. Pauwels was looking for ideas and Rock had just what he was looking for, the old imperial pilsner. Rock decided to come to the US to work with Pauwels at the Boulevard Brewery rather than risk the wrath of the new head monk (the old monk went Hollywood as a technical advisor on the movies "The Name of the Rose" and "Heaven Help Us").
Pauwels helped making the recipe work for the complex Boulevard brewing equipment and Rock helped Pauwels realize the beauty in simplicity. They decided to call the brew Collaboration #1 under the Boulevard Smokestack label.
As for me, Rock was right 30 years ago. This is a great beer, not great for a pilsner, great for a beer. It has a wonderful malty taste with a crisp hop bite and finishes with a clean pilsner like finish. At 8% ABV, it's a bit dangerous. The alcohol is hidden quite nicely and it would be very easy to pop open a second bottle. This would probably be a mistake if, like me, you were drinking this on a school night. The 3/4 of a bottle I drank made me think the first part of this review was a good idea. $12 a bottle might seem a little steep to pay for this beer but you won't be disappointed by it. It certainly opens my mind to how good a pilsner can be.
It should be noted that Boulevard did give me this bottle of Collaboration #1. I can tell you that that had no influence on my thoughts on the beer, but you can judge for yourself if you decide to give it a try. I did have this with a Gorgonzola walnut pasta that you can see in the picture at the top of this post. I didn't think much of the beer while I was eating the very powerful Gorgonzola cheese. The pilsner didn't quite stand up to the flavor, but once I got away from the pasta, Collaboration really started tasting great.
Collaboration #1 should hit store shelves early next week. If you wish to try to talk to Steven Pauwels or Jean-Marie Rock about the collaboration you should make the trek out to Lawrence Monday night for the kickoff party. It will be the perfect opportunity to give the beer a shot without having to pay for it, just make sure you have a driver to get you back to KC.