Negative connotations contain to cling to the word collaboration. In my mind it’s Marshal Pétain, geriatric, stiff, a mask of authority beneath his French army kepi, a symbol of collaborationism with the Nazis. Or it’s the bluff, vulgar features of Vidkun Quisling, the quisling of quislings. And yet the idea of collaboration is so damned magnificent, likeminded people working together, to create music, art, buildings and of course beer. If there’s any one movement of collaboration that’s rescued the word in the last decade in my mind it’s the collaboration that’s existed between brewers. Some might see collaboration as a commercial gimmick (brewers sell beer and the business of beer is selling beer), something irritating between flashy hop-driven big cheeses, the craft beer world looking in the mirror, preening itself like Bowie in his Thin White Duke period and liking what they see. On the other hand, it’s the sign of an alliance (ooh a positive word, an ally) between likeminded (ok occasional big cheeses) souls who are interested in seeing what happens when they brew with someone else. Preamble over, I move onto the collaboration in hand, a bottle of Epic Thornbridge Stout, brewed between the guys at Thornbridge and the Kiwis at Epic (where Thornbridge’s Kelly Ryan went — wouldn’t it be funny if brewing had a final day transfer deadline…). I picked this up at GBBF as I rushed off to get a train, cursing as ever my inclination to never have enough time. And even though I wanted to keep the beer for much longer I gave into temptation and boy was I glad that I bit that apple. In the glass it is as dark as the shade on one of these dismal days we have had this summer. Saturnine even though the espresso tan-coloured head adds a sense of jauntiness to the beer in the glass. The nose was creamy, condensed milkiness, mocha-like and even oily. A swig and the texture was velvety, juxtaposed with a brisk and bitter feel; on the palate, mocha, roast coffee beans, an earthiness and woodiness that reminded me of the effect I used to get from burgundies, slightly farmyard-like even (the way you can smell a farmyard sometimes, not the sharp note of cow crap, but a more pleasing and pungent note, damp leaves maybe, woodsmoke, newly ploughed soil); some butter toffee notes took me back to childhood briefly; stew fruits added a sweetness, while the dry bitter finish was appetising, chewy, grainy and crunchy, bitter notes clanging along (and then there was also a restrained fruitiness, ripe plums perhaps, restrained like a shy child peeping from behind the corner when a ferocious aunt is in the room). Oh and further sips brought forth treacle, leather and a tobacco box ripeness that I remembered from my father’s when I was 11. This was a wonderful beer and a complex matrix of flavours and aromas that were more metaphysical than something you can write down. It was a beer that had a dark taste — and at that moment in my notes I write ‘can dark be tasted?’ Can it?