It can be jarring, so to speak: to peruse the shelves and see a beer logo so familiar it’s like an old friend—then to realize it’s not a beer at all. You’re in the mustard aisle.
The arrangement starts something like this: A locally based maker of sauces or cheeses or pickles or whatever approaches your brewery with an idea. Why not make a special product with your beer in it? The contents and formula differ, but in the end, there is a confluence of brands and marketing—your logo front and center, on their foodstuff—with the brewery getting some sliver of the profits.
The existence of Budweiser barbecue sauce will, perhaps, not surprise you (did you know they put it on Dodger Burgers at Chavez Ravine?). Yet this is an arrangement that has also worked for relatively smaller independent breweries. It helps if the beer and brand are well established and recognizable, at least locally.
In San Diego, the Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop hooked up with Karl Strauss Brewing Company to put out some beer-infused beef jerky. The Steakhouse Stout Beef Jerky marinates for two days in Wreck Alley Imperial Stout—which in turn gets some of its character from coffee roasted by local outfit, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.
Also in San Diego, Stone’s Greg Koch launched a side line of nut butters last year. One of the Nutista varieties has Tangerine Express IPA on the label and among the ingredients. Stone is no stranger to this sort of deal: San Diego-based Carlsbad Gourmet has been producing a range of Stone condiments, from Arrogant Bastard Jalapeño Hot Sauce to Double Bastard Habañero Hot Sauce via Stone Go To IPA Stone Ground Mustard with Chipotle Peppers. There are Stone beef jerkies, too.
It gets meatier. Coloradans looking for something to grill might have spotted Fat Tire beer bratwurst, or Fat Tire pulled pork, shredded beef, or ribs. Those come from a partnership between New Belgium and Niman Ranch, a company whose network of producers are certified in the humane handling of animals. (New Belgium provides an example of how these deals can work the other way, too. In 2015 and 2016, the brewery released two ales inspired by Ben & Jerry’s flavors Salted Caramel Brownie and Chocolate-Chip Cookie Dough. Some proceeds went to the group Protect Our Winters, working to fight climate change.)
In the Kansas City area, Rufus Teague makes barbecue sauces and rubs with a growing national profile. Hooking up with Boulevard Brewing was a natural for them.
“We thought, ‘Well, let’s try to do a little partnership that’s mutually beneficial,’” says Brad Jungles, chief marketing officer at Rufus Teague.
Then they took the idea a step further.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to put it into a can?’ We thought it would be easy,” Jungles says. “It turns out, not so much. That was a really big hurdle that I did not foresee.”
The problem was in the ingredients: Barbecue sauce is usually tomato-based, and its acids react with aluminum in ways that are frowned upon by health officials and probably don’t taste great either. Rather than modify the container, they modified the recipe—though Jungles won’t say how, preferring to keep that a trade secret. What he will say is that the flavor is more distinctive because of the changes, including the influence of bright, lemony Boulevard Wheat.
The packaging was tricky, too. Rufus Teague has no canning line, so they did what many small breweries do—they rented a mobile canner. Then they made some adjustments to combine their sauce-filling line with the canning line.
Meanwhile the can is what it appears to be, he says. “People probably aren’t going to use 12 ounces of sauce in one go, so there’s a plastic lid that snaps on. But other than that, it’s a straight-up beer can.”
Rufus Teague sent 6,000 cans around the Kansas City area for their first run, and despite minimal publicity, “it flew off the shelves,” Jungles says. A few months later, they produced a second round of 24,000 cans. If it continues to sell well, they hope to expand the product’s regional footprint, he says.
The two companies work together on marketing the product. Boulevard gets a small percentage of the sales in what Jungles calls “just a minimal licensing agreement.”
“The relationship was really founded out of mutual love,” says Natalie Gershon, Boulevard’s vice president of marketing. “K.C. is full of great barbecue, and Rufus Teague makes amazing sauce. After tasting their final sauce, we are so proud of what their team created, and we are honored to be a part of it.”
Photo: Courtesy Boulevard Brewing