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Photo by Ed Miller

Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.

Recently, a friend name-dropped a brewery during a conversation, explaining that the stuff he enjoyed from Collective Arts Brewing was worth checking out.  Since I had yet to have anything from this particular beer producer, I stored the name in the back of my mind. While lingering around the beer store earlier this week, I saw a lot of local stuff but wanted something a little different – and that’s when I grabbed Collective Arts’ Life In The Clouds.  Unfamiliar with the brewery’s story, I delved into its background and I was pretty impressed with what I found.

Founded in 2013 by Bob Russell and Matt Johnston in Hamilton, a former manufacturing town in Ontario, Canada, Collective Arts is a grassroots brewery that combines the creativity of craft beer with the inspired talents of some of the world’s emerging artists and musicians.  At its core, Collective Arts has two beliefs: creativity fosters creativity and creativity yields delicious pints. But what really sets it apart isn’t just what’s inside the cans – it’s what is on the outside. Over 700 artists have helped create the labels for the company’s year-round brews, all of which are actually on display in a gallery at the brewery.  Anyone can submit their art with a quick visit to Collective Arts’ website, though it’s a process only open every three months. Attracting upwards of 2,200 submissions recently, 55 artists were selected, paid a $250 fee from Collective Arts and featured on the website, all while still retaining full copyright for the artwork they created.

Collective Arts also supports independent music.  Musicians can submit artwork connected to an upcoming release, such as an album cover or packaging art.  In fact, the other beer I saw at the store featured a small spot with a song on the side of the can.  The company is even working on a way to text a number printed on the can to listen to get that artist’s latest jams.

Coming from someone who is married to an art teacher, I really dig the concept and I think it’s an outstanding way to showcase talent that can sometimes get overlooked.  Having said all of that, the most important thing is what’s inside the can because, when all is said and done, if the beer inside isn’t good, well then chances are I won’t be purchasing any more.  Collective Arts did win a bronze medal for its Stranger Than Fiction porter at the 2016 World Beer Cup but I wanted to find out if its beer was worth my time and Life In The Clouds seemed like a good starting point.

Life In The Clouds, new to the company’s core lineup, is a New England style IPA that is 6.1 percent ABV and 50 IBUs.  It’s described as juicy with melon and citrus flavor that’s “pleasantly fruit forward” and features Mosaic and Simcoe hops, making it neither too sweet or too bitter.  The can offers little information for the drinker, other than what specific hops were used. The artwork on this particular can – I chose the coolest of the four-pack – features an Asian theme, with a monkey surrounded by blue and white clouds, along with a lantern and calligraphy.  It was created by Wallace Smith of London, who creates comic book inspired art, often with an Asian feel.

This one was destined for my tulip glass and when I cracked the can open, I immediately got a nice strong whiff of citrus – especially grapefruit and orange – and also had a distinguishable pine aroma.  I’ve had enough of these beers to know that it’s exactly what it should smell like and, to be perfectly honest, it was what I expected it to smell like. The pour was very nice, with a cloudy orange-yellow color which featured a very prominent off-white head.  The head was very foamy, more so than some of Life In The Clouds’ counterparts, which I liked. It was kind of pretty.

As for the taste, it kind of mimicked the smell, with a rich array of tropical fruit-like flavor in the beginning which made way to a bitter, piney taste on the back-end.  I also noticed hints of the malt during the sip as well. Honestly, this isn’t quite what I expect from a typical New England style IPA as there’s more bitterness than what I believe is normal, so I’m not sure that’s quite the right label.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a good beer, however, whatever category it might be. The juiciness and the bitterness balance each other rather nicely and create a very drinkable beer.

This four-pack of 16-ounce pounders was $12.50, which is a very solid deal for this beer.  When I checked out the ratings on BeerAdvocate, I saw it had a 4.12 average rating based on 285 ratings and I think that’s perhaps just a little high.  I would give it a 7.8 out of 10, because I think it’s done pretty well and I liked the artwork, I just don’t feel like it was quite New England enough for me, maybe missing a little of that complexity, perhaps?  Either way, it’s a good IPA and it’s easy to consume – and it left me wanting to try more of Collective Arts’ stuff.

Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.