When you hear details about hidden cargo, a called-in favor to a supplier and an interstate shipment of 900 units, it might sound like Barn Town Brewing in Des Moines had made an illicit drug deal in St. Paul a few months back.
Nope, the Iowa beer maker was just trying to score some of Minnesota's favorite homegrown candy.
"It was hard not to just eat it all when it got here," Barn Town brewer Alex Lovinggood reported.
Barn Town is the latest in a growing batch of breweries around the country making beers based around Salted Nut Rolls, Nut Goodie Bars and some of the other cult-loved candy bars that roll off the lines at the Pearson's plant on W. 7th Street in St. Paul.
In addition to Barn Town's Oh My Goodies imperial stout, there are also Salted Nut Roll-inspired stouts and porters on tap at Grimm Artisanal Ales in Brooklyn, Southern Grist in Nashville, Jagged Mountain in Denver and AleSmith in San Diego.
In St. Paul, downtown brewery Tin Whiskers offers a superfecta of seasonal Pearson's-inspired beers: Salted Nut Roll Cream Ale, Nut Goodie Porter, Mint Patties Double Stout and Bit O'Honey Blonde.
"We're getting e-mails from all around the country about them," said Tin Whiskers president and founder Jeff Moriarty, who signed an exclusive Minnesota licensing deal with Pearson's. "It's been a fun way for some local businesses to collaborate."
But Pearson's has another Twin Cities company to thank for introducing its product to beermakers around the country.
In 2004, the Brewers Supply Group (BSG) of Shakopee — one of the country's biggest distributors of grains, hops, yeast and other craft-brew essentials — started sending out Salted Nut Rolls and Nut Goodies with shipments as a fun thank-you to breweries.
The candy bars were often hidden at the bottom of the pallets. Stories abounded of brewers diving into the bundles headfirst to dig out the prized candy before their co-workers did. (Hence the name of Southern Grist's Salted Nut Roll-inspired stout: Brewer's Treasure).
BSG's marketing director Juno Choi said the selection of Pearson's wasn't just a when-in-Minnesota thing, but also because their candy bars are solid and durable.
"Those pallets are heavy and sometimes sit out in the sun on loading docks," Choi said, "so it couldn't be some kind of candy that would get all mushy."
Like most Minnesotans who grew up with Pearson's products, the BSG crew didn't know the Pearson's candies would become such a hot commodity in other parts of the country.
"I think it added to the mystique that it was this regional thing," Choi added.
Sweetened beers — often called "dessert beers" — have been rising in popularity in recent years, including everything from Mike's Pastry Cannoli Stout by Harpoon to New Belgium's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale (a collaboration with Ben & Jerry's).
Minnesota-made offerings include Modist's Orange Dreamsicle Sour IPA, Dangerous Man's Peanut Butter Porter and Lift Bridge's Mini-Donut Beer (popularized at the State Fair).
A local pioneer of sweet beers, Tin Whiskers' Moriarty said candy-flavored beers "can get a little too gimmicky," but not the Pearson's-inspired brews.
"Peanuts, chocolate and maple flavors work pretty naturally with beer," he said.
While Tin Whiskers' beers are "based on" the flavors in the Pearson's candy bars using matching ingredients, Barn Town actually unwrapped hundreds of Nut Goodie bars individually and blended them in toward the end of the brewing process.
"The richness and saltiness of the candy bars really fits right in with the deep roastiness and bitterness of an imperial stout," Lovinggood said.
A new following
For the folks at Pearson's, who obviously never saw this trend coming, these beers have been a great way to generate — ahem — a buzz around their product.
"Especially in the markets we don't yet widely reach, it's a fun way of raising awareness for Pearson's and building brand loyalty," said CEO Dan Lagermeier, who wasn't completely surprised by the unique flavor pairing.
"I think it goes back to the social aspect of old beer halls, where people would sit there cracking peanuts while talking over beers. It all just seems to fit well together."
The Oh My Goodie porter was a natural fit for Barn Town's clientele, its brewer said. The brewery is already planning to make more of it, including a batch that will be aged in whiskey barrels and released a year from now.
"It'll be next year's Christmas present," Lovinggood said.
Chris Riemenschneider • @ChrisRstrib