Beer collaborations are nothing new, and craft brewers have been partnering on special releases for decades now. But in the last few years, savvy craft players have been collaborating with other consumer products on new beers that are spurring demand and even bringing new customers into the beer category.
Pottsville, Pennsylvania-based D.G. Yuengling & Son partnered with the nearby Hershey Co. last fall on the limited-edition Hershey’s Chocolate porter, which was available only on draft in 13 states and Washington, D.C. “Our goal was for supply to last through Valentine’s Day, but we had to double production,” says chief administrative officer Wendy Yuengling. She adds that some customers would head to bars looking specifically for this release—and if it wasn’t available, they immediately searched elsewhere. While the porter had wide appeal for Yuengling loyalists, the inclusion of the iconic Hershey bar “brought in non-Yuengling drinkers and even non-beer drinkers,” Yuengling notes. The beer was so popular that the brewer hopes to offer it again this year, including in a packaged version.
Boston’s Harpoon Brewery, meanwhile, has partnered with Dunkin’ Brands in the last few years on Harpoon Dunkin’ coffee porter (about $10 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans or bottles). Harpoon co-founder and CEO Dan Kenary says the fall seasonal brew, which features the Dunkin’ espresso blend, has been a hit. “People like that the beer pairs two Boston products that they love,” Kenary adds. The beer, or something very similar to it, will likely return this fall. In a similar pairing, 21st Amendment Brewery and Peet’s Coffee, both based in San Francisco, teamed up on the limited-edition 1966 Coffee IPA ($15 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans) earlier this year.
Additional collaborations include New York-based Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.’s partnership with ice cream franchise Carvel on Fudgie the Beer and Cookie O’Puss St. Patrick’s Day stouts—takes on Carvel’s well-known Fudgie the Whale and Cookie Puss ice cream cakes—that launched in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Noon Whistle Brewing in Lombard, Illinois, meanwhile, teamed up with the Kraft Heinz Co.’s Planters brand on Mr. IPA-Nut two years ago. The beer ($10 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans), which featured Mr. Peanut on its packaging, was available only in the Chicago area, but Noon Whistle owner Mike Condon says it’s become “famous from California to China.”
On-premise operators have also joined in on the fun. Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer put its spin on Fudgie the Beer last year with the Fudgie the Beer Float ($11), which comprised a can of the beer poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped off with whipped cream and a cherry. The creation was served at two of Black Tap’s New York locations. Barry Elvidge, general manager at Jerzee’s Sports Bar & Pizzaria in Glenside, Pennsylvania, says Yuengling’s Hershey’s Chocolate porter received a strong draw during its initial run. “Even people who don’t normally order flavored beer wanted to try it,” he says. “Today, beer is all about different flavors. A collaboration beer, especially one with unique flavors, can give a brewer an edge over competitors.”
Black Tap’s executive chef Stephen Parker agrees. “Consumers get excited when they see two of their favorite brands collaborating in unexpected ways, or when they’re introduced to a new brand they would’ve likely never connected with before,” he says. “With beer, there’s a huge opportunity to introduce the product to a new audience and generate a lot of excitement and awareness.”