Do you like your beer to taste like beer? That's not me. I'm all for beer that's sour, sweet or tastes like coffee. I'm also wildly fascinated whenever non-beer brands partner with a brewery to create a limited edition run of quirky flavored beers.
While many breweries are no stranger to unique partnerships, brands tend to be more hesitant when contemplating a beer collaboration.
For this story, we spoke with brands, agencies and breweries to learn about the origin stories of some of these partnerships, why they're popular, and what it takes to make them successful.
French's Mustard x Oskar Blues Brewery
An idea born during the pandemic—mustard beer.
To virtually celebrate National Mustard Day on Aug. 1, French's teamed up with Oskar Blues Brewery to create a mustard beer. So you can get your mustard from a bottle and your mustard beer in a can. Makes sense.
A small amount of cans were available to ship throughout the country on Aug. 1 and were sold out by mid-morning. Remaining cans were available at the brewery's taprooms in North Carolina and Colorado.
Aaron Baker, senior marketing manager at Oskar Blues Brewery, says the company has done numerous collabs with non-beer brands—most recently with CamelBak to launch its ChillBak backpack cooler—but the partnership with French's was the most unique. "It was the type of challenge we really dig—utilizing unique and unexpected ingredients to make beer people want to drink," Baker says.
The collab came together thanks to a mutual connection the brewery has with one of French's agencies. Fifteen barrels were produced—passion fruit, key lime, lemon and tangerine flavors were added to compliment the mustard. The end product was a salty and tart beer.
French's also produced a 10-step video that takes viewers through the beer-making process:
Snyder's of Hanover x Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.
Pretzels and beer is a winning combo, but what about pretzel beer?
When the pandemic canceled Germany's Oktoberfest two years in a row, Snyder's of Hanover unofficially stepped in and released two limited-edition Snyderbiers with Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. so fans could participate in their own virtual Oktoberfest. There was a Märzen classic Oktoberfest brew and Frücht, a passionfruit and guava ale, both brewed with Snyder's of Hanover pretzels. Some 8,000 units were produced and sold online and at local retailers.
"Some people jump on the [beer] bandwagon to be trendy. There is no why," say Gabriel Jardim and Guto Monteiro, ECDs at VMLY&R, the agency behind a multimedia campaign. "Snyder's of Hanover has a strong connection with Oktoberfest. Pretzels and beer merge—both made a lot of sense. They care about heritage and wanted to keep the celebration going, sans event."
Ora Peas x RVK Brewing Company
In Iceland, Ora peas are a Christmas staple, so much so that the brand does the bulk of its yearly sales around the holidays.
The brand wanted to further increase sales and brand recognition at Christmas, so it came up with another canned product for family gatherings—Christmas beer. RVK Brewing Company used Ora peas and red cabbage in the recipe, which gave the beer a holiday-esque red hue.
Since alcohol advertising is illegal in Iceland, Ora sidestepped those rules by creatively promoting its peas in a beer glass, topped with red cabbage as foam. The first beer batch, available in bars and in state controlled liquor stores, sold out in one day.
"It started as a joke but escalated quickly as a disruptive idea," say Björn Jónsson and Kristján Gauti Karlsson, creative director and copywriter, respectively, at Pipar\TBWA, which worked on the project. "Icelanders have become quite accustomed to all sorts of different and weird Christmas beers over the last few decades, and some brewers have made a point of brewing some interesting variations of beer all year round. As a consequence, Christmas beer tasting is becoming something of a big tradition as well. Icelanders are quite crazy about their weird beers, and a lot of them are collabs."
Once the idea was greenlit, the first batch was ready to taste in two months.
"We wanted the collab to improve brand equity, increase brand awareness and elevate the image of an everyday product in a stable market," the pair tell Muse. "But we also wanted to reconnect Icelanders to their favorite Christmas side dish."
Squatty Potty x DuClaw Brewing
We've written about coffee and poop, but never beer and poop—until now. For the past few years in March, DuClaw Brewing has created a limited release beer, Sour Me Unicorn Farts, an homage to Diablo Doughnuts' unicorn farts doughnut.
Upping the promotional ante each year can be a challenge, as can convincing men to get screened for colon cancer. Now there's a segue. So DuClaw partnered with Squatty Potty to create the "Give a Crap Challenge," where folks traded their poop—to be screened for colon cancer—for beer.
"Craft beer brands tend to collaborate with other craft beer brands," says Madeline Caldwell, managing partner at 212 Communications. "A few years back, we intentionally chose to pursue non-beer brand collaborations, and it really helped sales and awareness of DuClaw take off, and supported their mission to invite everyone into the craft beer community."
An 80-second ad showcased Squatty Potty's infamous unicorn mascot on the porcelain throne as a voiceover explains the "booty bartering." Those selected to receive a test kit received one from Everlywell. Then, DuClaw sent a 6-pack of beer via CraftShack to participants, and Squatty Potty sent a free stool so participants can effortlessly release their stool.
Rachel Bradley, marketing manager at DuClaw Brewing Company, tells Muse that the companies plan to partner again in 2023, and host pop-up events in multiple states.
Hardee's x Southern Grist Brewing Co.
Hardee's, known for its biscuits made from scratch, celebrated National Biscuit Month this year with a beer made from biscuits and strawberry jam. The company teamed up with fellow Nashville brand Southern Grist Brewing Co. to create a Strawberry Biscuit Ale, its first partnership in the beer and spirits industry.
"Hardee's saw this as an opportunity to bring a heritage menu item into the culturally relevant craft beer space," a CKE spokesperson tells Muse.
Two sold-out batches of beer were available at Southern Grist and Tavour.com—but not at any Hardee's location. The beer was concocted a year ago, with Southern Grist brewing test batches in the spring.
"We started with the core ingredients for an ale and then had 200 pounds of Hardee's biscuits delivered to Southern Grist to capture the flavor profile," says the CKE spokesperson. Hardee's received the spike in social media and PR it hoped for and "emphasized Hardee's biscuit equity, made the brand more culturally relevant and reached a new demographic."
Brooks Running x Deschutes Brewery
Here's a collab that speaks to runners who love to cap off a long run with a cold beer.
Seattle-based Brooks Running teamed up with Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery for a "Run Hoppy" partnership. Limited-edition Brooks Ghost running shoes—4,000 in all—were decked out with beer mugs, glasses and growlers. Additional merch included "Run Hoppy" socks and trucker hats, plus shirts and tanks featuring a spilled can of beer. The spilled beer is in the shape of the Brooks logo. Deschutes also brewed a limited-edition "Run Hoppy Golden" IPA that was available at the brewery's Bend and Portland, Oregon, pubs.
"The design process for our collab product was really engaging, and we learned a lot about beer and the Deschutes Brewery's brand as we wove them into the design, like in representing their red color or including their hops designs in the print on the shoe," says Derek Lactaoen, manager, product marketing, at Brooks Running. "One of the fun challenges we had to work through was getting the condensation effect right on the logo to mimic what it looks like when you have a fresh, cold beer in a pint glass. We were really excited with how that turned out, but it took a few tries between design and material selection."
This was the first time Brooks participated in a collaboration that was outside of sponsorship opportunities. To create the beer, Deschutes surveyed runners for their ideal post-run beer and created a brew with a low alcohol content (5.5 percent) with hints of biscuit, cracker and honey.
NBC Universal x Elysian Brewing
Some heroes and villains are known for having signature drinks, but we're diving deep into villain territory.
Chucky is the star of the Child's Play horror movie franchise—a lovable child's doll until he was inhabited by the soul of a serial killer. He's now the star of the Chucky TV series, running on SyFy and USA Network.
Ahead of the Season 2 premiere, NBC Universal reached out to Elysian Brewing to brainstorm ideas, and the final product was a pumpkin witbier infused with cranberry juice, pumpkin puree, chamomile and cinnamon. "The recipe we used was actually an iteration of a recipe that stemmed from an internal employee contest, from our supply chain manager, Robbie Hall," says Nick Mallory, senior director of marketing for Elysian Brewing.
The label was designed in-house by the brewery's three graphic artists, using photography provided by NBCU.
The process of naming the beer went through many different departments. Of 30 ideas, they chose one that came from senior marketing communications manager Lindsay Wiley. Some 2,000 cases were produced and sold out in five weeks.
"We want this collab to further cement our place as an innovator in the industry, and one who is always bringing bold experiences to our consumers and fans, as well as bringing new fans to our brand," Mallory tells Muse. "We've previously partnered with Def Leppard, Rolling Stone, the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders. Elysian is an edgy Seattle brand born from the grunge-fueled, flannel-laden cultural scene of mid-'90s Seattle, and the Chucky brand fits in perfectly with that aesthetic."
Below, watch a 60-second ad starring Chucky and an unlucky Elysian brewmaster that takes place after-hours inside the brewery.
Madame ZuZu's x Hop Butcher for the World
Chicago-based Hop Butcher for the World teamed up with a Chicago-area tea shop to create a beer that celebrated the 30th anniversary of Gish, the debut album from The Smashing Pumpkins.
Jeremiah Zimmer, co-founder of Hop Butcher for the World and uber Smashing Pumpkins fan, sent some beer to Madame ZuZu’s Teahouse, owned by lead singer Billy Corgan and his wife, Chloe Mendel.
"The story goes that they had the box on a shelf and one of their team members happened to be a big fan of our beers and encouraged them to open it up and try it," says Zimmer. "That's when I got an email from Chloe inquiring if we'd be interested in doing some form of tea beer collaboration. A few weeks later, we all got together to taste through teas and beer and talk recipes when Chloe brought up the upcoming 30th anniversary of Gish. We didn't have much time to pull it together, but everyone came together to make it happen."
The tea collab was placed on hold to focus on Gish, giving Hop Butcher for the World three weeks to create the beer and design can art. They produced 250 cases of Soul Head—named for the type of amp used by Corgan on the Gish album—and sold the beer for $15.99 per four-pack or $30 for two four-packs. Due to the limited production, beer was available in-state only.
"We don't intentionally single out non-beer collabs, but we've done a few before," Zimmer tells Muse. "We did one with Ditka's Restaurant Group called 'Witka' and another with Garrett Brands over a holiday chocolate mint stout that uses the same Frango mint oil used in the making of the chocolates."
That beer/tea collab that was placed on hold to promote Gish? It's launching later this month. Called ZuZu's Winter Garden Pale Ale, the beer will use ZuZu's Tropical Spiced Clementine tea and was named by Corgan. Canning will take place Dec. 14, and a launch party will be held at ZuZu's on Dec. 16.
Earlier this year, another singer rooted in Chicago—Wilco's Jeff Tweedy—put his face on a beer can to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album.
Bigelow Tea x Stony Creek Brewery
Another beer and tea collaboration launched just this week, this time between two Connecticut-based companies—Stony Creek Brewery and Bigelow Tea.
No Comment is a German-style lager infused with Bigelow's Constant Comment, a black tea with orange peel and sweet spices. Carpe Tea-em is a Hefeweizen brewed with Bigelow's Earl Grey Tea. Once the unfermented beer is brought to a boil, the tea is brewed into the beer, then hops are added.
"We were looking for unique Bigelow Signature flavors that consumers will not only be familiar with but also recognize as they taste the beer," says Dan Shannon, CEO of Stony Creek Brewery. "Bigelow Earl Grey has the most distinct flavor. Beer and tea are both not as simple as they sound. Both products can be made with simple ingredients yet will taste completely different based on how they are made."
The biggest collab challenge, according to Shannon, is which flavor leads the taste profile.
"There were challenges as at times many flavors were conflicting and competing with each other," he says. "How much tea flavor should the beer have? Should it be beer or tea flavor forward? We knew we needed it to be one cohesive finished beverage and not just taste like tea being poured into beer."