Cape brewer taps into collaboration

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PROVINCETOWN — In the basement of Cabot’s Candy last week, the blade of a commercial mixer stirred about 30 pounds of caramel-colored molten candy into a frothy swirl. Candy store owner John Cicero was making peanut brittle.

A blue flame roared beneath the copper mixing bowl and the air slowly filled with the aromas of the candy’s ingredients: butter, caramelized sugar and beer. Yes, beer. Cape Cod Red, to be specific.

When Cabot’s started producing the ale-infused candy — known as “Beer Brittle” — earlier this month, it became the latest in a sprawling group of local companies to partner with Hyannis-based Cape Cod Beer to create new products with the brewery.

“If we can combine and work together ” we can make a lot of good things,” Cicero said, explaining his confectionery collaboration with Cape Cod Beer.

As the local food movement gains in strength and popularity around the country, the local brewery is putting those principles into action with business collaborations that participants say strengthen local companies while creating more distinctive, interesting products.

“We believe wholeheartedly in being part of the community and we believe if small businesses do business with each other, it’s better for everybody,” said Beth Marcus, who owns Cape Cod Beer with her husband, Todd.

In 2009, the brewery started giving its spent malt — the grain left over after the brewing process — to Ian Sullivan at the Underground Bakery in Dennis, as an ingredient for bread. The two businesses got together when Sullivan suggested that Cape Cod Beer sell fresh, local bread in its retail shop. Todd Marcus proposed the idea of using the brewery’s grain in the bread, and a new product was born, Sullivan said.

“I tried a bunch of different recipes at home and ended up with the one I use here — it’s a good, solid, sturdy bread, without being too heavy,” Sullivan said. “It seemed like a natural fit to produce a local product from a local company that could be used to generate business in both locations.”

About a year ago, Centerville Pie Co. started using Cape Cod Beer’s porter in its braised beef pie. (“It’s like a beef stew in a crust,” bakery owner Kristen Broadley said.)

And Cape Cod Beer’s collaborations aren’t just about using beer as an ingredient in other products. The brewery has worked with local ventures to produce limited-edition offerings of its own, too.

In December, the brewery released Port-O-Vino, a porter aged in an oak barrel previously used to store merlot at Truro Vineyards. And in March, Beanstock Coffee of Wellfleet and Cape Cod Beer collaborated on a coffee stout.

For most of the businesses involved in these collaborations, working with other local businesses has provided a promotional boost.

“I think a lot of people who are (Cape Cod Beer) regulars and have their growlers refilled probably don’t know a lot about us. You get them asking questions,” said David Roberts Jr., owner of Truro Vineyards. “I definitely have heard some feedback from a people who were exposed to us through that particular brew.”

Sullivan regularly has customers who come to his bakery after learning about his business (and his bread) at the brewery.

“I am 100 percent sure that plenty of people end up here as a result of our exposure at the brewery,” he said. “Some times they come directly down after the tours.”

He uses the Cape Cod Beer logo on signs and packaging for the bread at his shop, and the Underground Bakery’s name appears on the bread sold at the brewery.

“We cross-promote pretty effectively that way,” he said.

Beanstock took advantage of its collaboration with Cape Cod Beer to expose more potential customers to its product by giving away free coffee samples with the first 100 bottles of ‘Stock Stout sold.

“There was definitely good response to it,” coffee company owner John Simonian said. “It’s always good for us to get more awareness out.”

At Cabot’s Candy, customers came in looking for Beer Brittle the same day Cape Cod Beer announced the new product on its Facebook page, Cicero said.

These partnerships, however, are just as much about community as they are about commerce, said participants.

“We really wanted to try using local ingredients,” Broadley said. “Locals need to take care of locals.”

At Cape Cod Beer, this commitment carries through to the inventory of the brewery’s retail shop, which stocks felted soap made by Woodside Woolies in West Barnstable, ice cream from Cape Cod Creamery in South Yarmouth and candlesticks made by Green Lantern, a Cummaquid-based program for learning-disabled adults. Marcus recently calculated that 75 cents of every dollar the brewery spends on products for the retail store (not counting glassware) goes to local businesses.

These product choices, along with the local collaborations, are all guided by the same principle, she said.

“It’s about helping to showcase other companies that are doing some cool things,” she said. “I can feel pretty good about that.”