First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz remembers the conversation, which started, aptly, over a beer.
“It’s certainly something we’d talked about,” he said, “just an end-of-day, having-a-beer-with-the-co-workers kind of thing. We’d say, ‘It would be cool if we had our own beer.’ ”
More than a decade later, First Ave does: A special Surly Brewing release in an all-black can printed with the iconic venue’s name.
In addition to the First Avenue beer, Surly has also collaborated for a new brew with the Minnesota United FC, and infused a version of an existing beer in honor of Lord Fletcher’s 50th anniversary — just in the past month.
Surly isn’t the only one to get into the game. In the Twin Cities, brewery-brand collaborations for limited-run beers have become a trend in the past couple of years.
Modist Brewing is planning to premiere a new collaborative beer with Minnesota singer/songwriter/actor Har Mar Superstar at its second anniversary bash on April 14.
Red Cow got its own brew last year via a partnership with Lift Bridge Brewery. Summit Brewing Co. made a beer with Twin Cities rockers the Suburbs. Schell’s made one with 89.3 The Current.
Heck, even we jumped into the mix, with Fulton Beer Co. releasing our collaborated Extra Extra! Pale Ale last May, in honor of the Star Tribune’s 150th anniversary. So did Game Informer, the video gaming magazine, celebrating its 300th edition this month with a special release of Fulton Beer Co.’s 300 Mosaic IPA.
“Before, it was like a coffee mug or just general swag that a brand would put its logo on,” said Emily Tritabaugh of Ingredient, a Minneapolis marketing agency that partners with local food brands. “Now, a lot of local brands are doing the beer thing, and it just speaks to the popularity of craft beer in general in the area and the growth of breweries.”
Holly Manthei, the senior marketing manager for Surly, said the collaborations feed into the spirit of camaraderie she says has traditionally run deep within breweries. They also allow breweries another chance to stand out from the ever-growing pack. (Minnesota currently boasts 151 brewhouses.)
The idea is if, say, a MN United fan who doesn’t drink much Surly sees her team on a beer can, perhaps she’ll pick up a six-pack — or simply think of brewery in a new light next time she encounters it.
“There are just so many purchasing options out there,” Manthei said. “The hope is there’s a translation — that I trust the brands that the brands I love trust. When you go to the liquor store and you see that beer on the shelves, well, we’ve already made that connection.”
Similarly, brands see an opportunity to gain exposure and find new consumers in markets they might not reach otherwise, Tritabaugh said.
“It’s not so much about any immediate payoff, if there is any, some on both sides agree — but rather the long run. When people drink the beer, it’s like a mini billboard for the company,” Tritabaugh said.
Partnering to create a beer also gives companies a fresh reason to market themselves, capitalize on major milestones and take advantage of the breweries’ social media networks, many of which are substantial.
Oh, yeah, and it’s not exactly nerdy.
“It’s really the cool factor,” Kranz said. “And that’s about the end of it. After the release party, you looked around the room and you saw all these all-black First Avenue cans. It was just really cool.”
Manthei noted that while collaborations are happening all over the country, they seem to be happening in a bigger way and at a faster pace in Minnesota. So don’t expect branded beer to disappear anytime soon.
“The industry trends say these aren’t going anywhere,” she said. “The challenge is to keep them relevant. It’s all about what is shiny and hot right now, but can you keep them relevant for years to come?”