Customers at Kentucky’s Liquor Barn were recently treated to a unique beer offering that riffed on the popular single-barrel Bourbon phenomenon. Dreamer’s Oud Bruin, a collaborative beer between the retail chain and Louisville’s Monnik Brewing Co., was aged in a W.L. Weller barrel for 18 months, and then poured on draft at the beverage retailer’s stores, priced from $7 a 16-ounce pint up to $24 for a 64-ounce growler. According to Jonathan Blue, principal at Liquor Barn, response to collaborative beers ($9-$15 a 22-ounce bottle) like Dreamer has been stellar. “Our customers love the local aspect of blending the beer with Bourbon,” he says. “We can’t keep these beers on the shelves.”
Brewer-retailer partnerships have been getting particularly creative recently, with some of the offerings being produced with iconic ingredients from the retailers themselves. Ohio’s Killer Brownie Co., sister company to three-unit Dorothy Lane Markets, teamed up with Warped Wing Brewing earlier this year on Killer Brownie brown ale, designed to mimic the popular dessert item that comprises chocolate, caramel, and pecans. According to Warped Wing’s vice president of sales and marketing, Nick Bowman, the brown ale is expected to spread awareness of Killer Brownie, which is available in stores around the country. Packaged in 6-packs of 12-ounce cans ($12), the beer launched in western Ohio retail accounts in February, and could be expanded further, Bowman says. In a similar collaboration, Michigan’s Perrin Brewing teamed up with Beer City Bread Co., a bakery and restaurant in Grand Rapids, earlier this year to create Imperial Fudge Cake stout, a combination of the brewery’s imperial stout and the restaurant’s Mackinaw Island fudge cake, as part of Perrin’s small-batch Side Hustle series. The brew—produced by dropping several of the cakes directly into the mash—is packaged in 6-packs of 12-ounce cans ($13) and distributed throughout Michigan.
Last fall, Pennsylvania’s Rutter’s convenience store chain introduced its first private label beer in partnership with Lancaster Brewing. The limited-edition Rutter’s Chocolate Milk stout ($10 a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans) was available in more than 40 of the chain’s stores. “The beer blew away our expectations and received fantastic reviews from our customers,” says Sean Pfeiff, senior category manager at Rutter’s, who notes that Chocolate Milk stout may return later this year.
Other Pennsylvania-based c-stores have also collaborated with breweries on unique beers. Wawa and 2SP Brewing Co. have teamed up since 2018 on year-end brews featuring the c-store’s popular coffee. Last summer, the partnership was expanded to include Sunfest Strawberry Lemonade shandy, produced with Wawa’s fresh lemonade. In addition to Wawa stores, the brews have been distributed at other retail sites throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The Sheetz c-store chain, meanwhile, has collaborated with breweries including Evil Genius and Neshaminy Creek on beers incorporating goods such as the retailer’s vanilla cappuccino and hot dogs, respectively.
On a wider scale, Boston’s Harpoon Brewery has teamed with the Dunkin’ chain on collaborative brews every fall since 2018. “We decided to join forces on a coffee porter, incorporating Dunkin’ coffee, just to see how it would go,” says Harpoon brand manager Tim Kast. “People really liked it, and we’ve kept it going.” Last year, four different beers were produced as part of the collaboration—Pumpkin Spiced Latte ale, Blueberry Matcha IPA, Maple Crème blonde ale, and Midnight American porter—as well as a mixed 12-pack, which were all distributed to 30 states. Kast says that retailers have been creative in merchandising the brews, with some accounts like Wegman’s grocery stores cross-merchandising the beers with bags of coffee and doughnuts to encourage sales.
“Brewer-retailer beer collaborations are a fun, new distinction for craft beer,” Kast says. Bowman at Warped Wing adds that the efforts are “a celebration of local business, which people want to support when they can.”