Though it’s easier and easier to find craft beer in 2016, as options increase, so too has the demand for the unique. That’s why a number of restaurants are partnering with local breweries for exclusive beers available only at their locations.
Most common is a one-off beer, a special brew for an anniversary party or celebration, but a growing trend is that one-time idea pushed into the main restaurant and bar, offering a special beer to customers on a regular, or at least rotational, basis.
Spoon and Stable had the idea prior to its winter 2014 opening in Minneapolis’ North Loop, basing the idea off Evil Twin Brewing’s partnership with The NoMad in Manhattan. In an arrangement with St. Paul’s Flat Earth Brewing, the restaurant features an exclusive beer at all times, rotated seasonally. First came Mercantile Belgian dubbel and, most recently, Spoon Thief oatmeal stout.
“Mercantile was in the works before I was even hired, three months before the restaurant was open,” said head bartender Robb Jones. It was developed with food pairings in mind, as was the follow-up stout with its dry finish that compliments food without being too rich and filling for guests to enjoy their meals.
Red Cow, which offers its own house beer, has taken a similar approach. The “Cowlaboration” series that began with Odell Brewing and now features Lift Bridge Brewing Co. has proven successful. Red Rye IPA brewed by Stillwater-based Life Bridge was “the quintessential burger beer,” said Grant Fabel.
“It went awesome with pretty much every burger on the menu,” continued Red Cow’s beer buyer. Other collaborations have been with menu pairings in mind, but also to fill holes perceived in the local beer market and to avoid overlap with existing beers from their partners. The idea is to offer a unique, new beer, but one that complements and intertwines both brands.
“We showcase what we do well as a restaurant as well as what they do as a brewery,” Heirloom’s Stephanie Georgesen summarized. At Heirloom, that beer is Daisy Chain, a saison with ginger that complements the St. Paul restaurant’s menu while finding a common ground between its farmhouse focus and Tin Whisker Brewing’s electrical engineering brand. “It’s a fun way to pair both of those worlds,” she said.
The idea has proven a win-win marketing effort. When local craft beer leader Summit Brewing teamed up with pizza chain Old Chicago for Cracked Wit, it helped both partners.
“Certainly Summit fans were excited about the collaboration and supported Old Chicago accordingly,” said head brewer Damian McConn. That was noted on Old Chicago’s end as well, as Brand Manager Jason Murphy added that the pairing, a part of the restaurant’s Explorer Series that focuses on such co-branded beers, has helped draw attention to Old Chicago’s craft beer efforts. Cracked Wit was a one-time beer, but its results were measurable.
“The promotion drove positive transactions” during its limited availability, said Murphy.
Beer partnerships draw enthusiasts to try new restaurants, but also increase overall awareness.
“It lifted our other brands in the same locations,” said Sales Specialist Joe Falkowski of Lift Bridge, in reference to the Cowlaboration. “Farm Girl numbers were up overall,” he noted of the brewery’s flagship beer, also on tap at Red Cow establishments. Their other draft lines in the same restaurant increased next to the in-house brand. “It’s beneficial on both parts,” he concluded.
At Spoon and Stable, restaurant’s newness factor is still driving business and it operates at peak capacity regularly. As such, it’s infrequent (though not uncommon) for Jones to hear a customer say he or she came just to try the beer. Regardless, it adds a unique, special element to the transaction. “It’s limited, drink it while we have it,” he said.
Fabel observed the same, noting a regular at Red Cow’s 50th Street location came in almost nightly for a pint of Red Rye while it was served. Now, added Red Cow founder Luke Shrimp, “No. 3 has been selling at a faster rate than No. 2,” meaning fans are on board with the rotational concept. Red Cow and Spoon and Stable embrace that limited appeal while Heirloom prefers to keep Daisy Chain on tap as long as it’s popular.
“Being a small brewery, we look at these beers not just in terms of revenue but the brand awareness we can create by being available in a different way in a unique location,” said Jason Lardy, marketing director of Tin Whiskers. “For us it’s a very good way to get the brand out there and communicate who we are to people who might not know about us otherwise,” whether for their full-time partnership with Heirloom or the many one-offs they’ve done with neighboring St. Paul businesses.
The increasing overlap between food and beer is accelerating interest in such collaborations. “I think restaurants and chefs are taking beer more seriously when it comes to food,” Spoon and Stable’s Jones said. Many brewers have also developed their palates and follow the food world.
These collaborations push each partner further, adding a flash of variety to a sometimes-repetitive day’s work.
By Loren Green