For nearly 30 years, Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has partnered with companies around the U.S. and even abroad to make unique beers that strive to not only showcase its brewing skills but also the comradery of the beer business. “Even before opening our doors in 1995, we’ve felt that collaboration would be our driving force,” says founder Sam Calagione. “Beer collaborations bring good karma versus the negative energy of competition that often characterizes the industry.” Calagione estimates that Dogfish Head has been involved in 175 collaborations in the last 28 years.
Beer collaborations have grown and diversified since the 1995 pairing of Dogfish Head—often credited as a collaboration originator—with a local coffee roastery on a chicory stout. Indeed, brewer-on-brewer collaborations have become commonplace over the years, and today, it’s not unusual to find breweries teaming up with consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms and even beer retailers on special offerings.
Charlotte, North Carolina’s Birdsong Brewing has collaborated with a number of breweries—many of them also from the Tarheel State—over the last decade, and according to co-owner Tara Goulet, consumer response has always been positive. “People love it when two favorite breweries collaborate,” she says. One of the company’s more popular collaborations, Rice Rice Baby imperial rice milk stout, was produced in cooperation with nearby Free Range Brewing in 2021. Dogfish Head, meanwhile, has partnered with brewers near and far, including the likes of California’s Sierra Nevada and Belgium’s Brouwerji Rodenbach. Its latest collaboration, Liquid Breadfruit pastry stout, is made in partnership with Maui Brewing—a previous collaborator—and was unveiled in Hawaii in February.
Beer collaborations with consumer products has been a newer wave. Hi-Wire Brewing of Asheville, North Carolina, paired up last year with Wickles Pickles of Alabama on Wickles Pickle beer. “We had a great first run,” says Hi-Wire owner Adam Charnak, who notes the brew was marketed at its six taprooms and in nine states. “It sold out immediately.” In fact, Charnak notes that the brewery is in talks with Wickles on one or two more releases of the product, and separately with a soft drinks manufacturer and snack foods company on additional collaborative brews.
Retailers have also gotten into the act, pairing with brewers on unique beer recipes. Two-unit Molly’s Spirits in Colorado has had a beer collaboration program since 2015, according to beer manager Ben Cushing, and has partnered with more than 25 breweries on at least 40 beers. “We’re always looking for creative ways to offer our customers exclusive items and programs that set us apart from our competitors,” he says, noting that the beers are only sold at the breweries’ taprooms and at Molly’s. “Shoppers like seeing our logo on beers and recognize that they’re limited in availability.” In Severna Park, Maryland, Dawson’s Liquors has collaborated on beers since 2010, typically at the rate of three a year with breweries such as Oliver and Black Flag, beer manager Henry Dahl says. “Our name is on the can and that brings more business to the store,” he says. “It’s fun and it’s free advertising.”
The collaborations benefit brewers and retailers alike. Hi-Wire’s partnership with Wickles, for example, resulted in the brew being cross merchandised with the pickles outside of the beer department in some groceries, Charnak says, expanding sales opportunities. “It helped deepen our relationship with the retailer,” he explains. “And it also allowed us to deepen our relationship with our customer base, as there’s a big overlap between beer lovers and pickle lovers.”
Brewer and retailer collaborations, however, can provide challenges for some retailers. As legalities vary by market, merchants must assure that such partnerships are permitted. Volume is also a consideration. “Brewers need to be secure that one retailer can sell through 100 or 120 cases before it goes bad,” says Dahl.
Still, beer collaborations don’t appear to be slowing down, and many brewers have plans for more joint projects in the future. “We’ll continue to do it because it’s fun,” Dahl says.