Brand Collaborations Bring Opportunity, Good Karma for Brewers

News by | Nov 2016 | Issue #118
Photo by Amy Kumler

Collaborations between brewers and lifestyle brands continue to sprout up. But how exactly do they happen? And who gets the ball rolling?

Hopworks Urban Brewery in Oregon recently partnered with Patagonia Provisions, the food arm of the outdoor apparel brand, to release Long Root Ale, the first beer made using Kernza, a newly-developed perennial wheatgrass. According to Hopworks marketing manager Eric Steen, the project started with an out-of-the-blue phone call to founder and brewmaster Christian Ettinger.

“Patagonia called Christian’s cell phone while he was shopping for groceries. He thought it was a prank call at first,” Steen says. “The next day Patagonia flew up and met our team in person and told us about Kernza.” Long Root Ale was released in cans October 3.

In other cases, brewers approach brands—sometimes for very personal reasons. Dogfish Head founder and president Sam Calagione explains the genesis for Pennsylvania Tuxedo, its spruce-hopped IPA produced in partnership with clothier Woolrich.

“I had read the journals of the patriarch of the Woolrich family, and in them he described homebrewing a birch beer,” Calagione remembers. “I also grew up wearing Woolrich and my dad rocked the full on Pennsylvania Tuxedo—black and red check from head to toe—while deer hunting in Western Massachusetts. So I reached out to the current generation [of Woolrich owners], and the collaboration on a beer took shape.”

Other recent brewer-brand collaborations include New Holland’s partnership with Carhartt, another clothing company, to create a barrel-aged Pale Ale. And with the VICE lifestyle brand just announcing the launch of Old Blue Last—a beer brewed by AB InBev—the market may be ripe for more brands and beers to work together. As long as both parties choose partners carefully.

Dogfish Head’s Calagione has recommendations (both karmic and legal) for any brewer considering such a project.
“We believe a lot more in the good karma that comes with focusing on collaboration than the negative energy that comes with focusing on competition. That said, when a brewery is considering doing a collaboration, my recommendation is to make sure it is an equitable relationship and that there are clear written expectations and definitions of success for everyone involved. It doesn’t have to be a nine page legal doc—just make sure things are clear and agreed upon.”