Brewery collaborations and signature beers can keep profits flowing and guests coming back.
When Tasty Burger in Boston, Massachusetts, went searching for a beer it could offer its guests as a private-label tap handle, the growing chain, which has four locations, a food truck, and a stand in Fenway Park, wanted something that would pair perfectly alongside its burgers. It already carried plenty of Samuel Adams products, and both Boston-born entities carry significant brand recognition—Tasty Burger happens to be the official burger of the Boston Red Sox. “So we went to them and asked them if they would be willing to come up with a beer for us,” says Tasty Burger CEO Dave Dubois, “and Tasty Ale was born.”
The result is a readily available house ale that works seamlessly with its house burger. Dubois makes a point to emphasize the beer has to be—first and foremost—delicious, and that it needs to sync with the concept of the establishment. “People come in and they’re like, ‘Why sure, why wouldn’t
I try that? I come into your restaurant because I like the quality of the burger—why wouldn’t I try a beer that represents you?’”
Similarly, Niche in Clayton, Missouri, recently released a chestnut mild ale in partnership with Schlafly Beer in St. Louis, as part of a special Chestnut Beer Dinner. Orchids at Palm Court in Cincinnati has had multiple collaborations with nearby Blank Slate Brewing Co. The list continues, and one can basically make private-label beers as simple or as intricate as needed. The high number of U.S. breweries means finding a local partner has never been easier.
For El Palacio in Chandler, Arizona, the process was reasonably straightforward. “We either wanted to create something from scratch, or find a good beer and label it as our own,” notes Anthony Serrano, the owner and executive chef. The restaurant had already orchestrated beer dinners with Mother Road Brewing in Flagstaff, and ended up tasting through the brewery’s whole portfolio and finding a fit with Gold Road, a Kölsch-style ale. “We had it with our food, and we were just blown away by how well it paired with pretty much everything on our menu,” he says.
El Palacio worked with Mother Road to design the tap handle and marketing materials, and renamed the beer to Cantina Gold for its private-label purposes. Reps from the brewery have visited for behind-the-bar education—pouring an ounce or two of Cantina Gold for guests to taste. Six months after the project kicked off, it is tied as El Palacio’s top-selling beer, along with Dos Equis Amber and a Modelo offering. “We see it going long-term, and possibly adding another two or three private-label beers,” Serrano says. Of the next one, he adds, “It may be something a little on the crazier side.” Possibly a jalapeño or chipotle hefeweizen.
One major benefit to relabeling a current beer as a private-label offering is that there’s less of an issue with availability, as it’s already part of the brewery’s production cycle. For smaller volumes and tighter time frames, there’s much more flexibility in the forms these projects can take.
Bern’s Steak House, a destination restaurant in Tampa, Florida, that opened in 1956 and touts one of the world’s largest wine lists, has been leveraging the whiskey program at sister establishment Haven for its signature beers. “When those barrels come in, we just allocate them out to local breweries to age beers in,” explains Dean Hurst, Bern’s director of spirits. The collaborations started with Cigar City Brewing, also based in Tampa, producing a bottled 13 percent ABV barley wine for the restaurant—a short run of about 16 cases. That run, given the restaurant’s greater focus on wine and liquor, has actually lasted a few years. It releases a few cases each winter to customers, but the beer can only be served on-site.