A look at how some restaurants are lending brand identity and flavors to beverage lines.
One of the hippest trends in bar menus as of late has been the appearance of chef-inspired drinks—usually a craft beer—exclusive to a particular restaurant through a partnership with a beverage producer.
For instance, Washington, D.C.’s Bluejacket offers a spiced dopplebock known as The Butcher, a dark and strong lager brewed with 10 percent smoked malt, inspired by Red Apron chef Nathan Anda. Then there’s the Blue Apron, a bottle-refermented Belgian-style custom beer for New York City’s Per Se and Napa Valley’s French Laundry, which was created by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garret Oliver.
While it might seem like a new trend, chef-driven beverages have been gaining momentum since the turn of the 21st century, even back to 2003, when James Beard Award—winning chef Masaharu Morimoto teamed up with Rogue Ales & Spirits for its Soba Ale, among others.
A more recent partnership for Rogue has been with the eccentric Voodoo Doughnut of Portland, Oregon.
“Rogue founder Jack Joyce and president Brett Joyce approached us using the appeal that we are both ‘rogues’ in our own perspective business fields and suggested we become a ‘collaboration of crazies,” says Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson, co-owner of Voodoo Doughnut. “From there we developed the Bacon Maple Ale, which won awards across the beer spectrum from taste to bottle design.”
While the two brands are in totally separate fields of the hospitality industry, both understand the idea of co-branding and how that can benefit each other. “The Rogue [brand] is distributed nationally and internationally,” Pogson says. “By adding our [logo] to Rogue’s distribution network, Voodoo has been able to spread its brand recognition across the globe and not just in the current three cities where we are located.”
Before embarking on the co-branding, Pogson says he asked the advice of some of those who had co-branded before (including some of the above examples), to get a grasp of the potential impact of such a partnership.
“If the situation is prime and right, I would recommend others follow suit as a way of not only raising revenue, but to expose your brand to others,” Pogson says. “Once the initial process of creating, negotiating, and implementing is through—which can be demanding and intense—it is relatively pain free and simply waiting for royalty checks to arrive.”
Pogson notes that when the first one hit the market, there were reactions from all over the scale. Some people pontificated on the wonder and brilliance of it, while others bleated out that it was an abomination. It won taste and design awards, but was also panned in the press.
“All of those reactions equal press in this day and age,” Pogson says. “Now that we have released three more beers and a Bacon Maple Vodka, the reaction is more of astonishment that we have so many options,” he adds. “Plus, we have emails that come in saying, ‘I saw it in Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Louisiana, and Japan,’ which keeps your brand recognition high, even in markets that you are not physically in.”
Of course, effective co-branding requires some thought. The product needs to be exciting, there needs to be savvy marketing, available distribution channels, and high public demand for at least one of the two brands.
Caroline Krediet, partner and head of strategy at Figliulo & Partners, a New York City—based brand agency, says it’s a continuation of a trend that’s been happening the past few years, with the likes of Buffalo Wild Wings partnering with Red Hook to introduce Game Changer, a sports-themed custom craft brew.
Krediet notes the movement sits at the nexus of three big cultural trends: authenticity and craftsmanship as a corrective to the tech age, sustainability and a smaller footprint vs. the industrial machine complex, and the rise of the local movement.
“A craft brew is a fantastic canvas for a partner to paint itself onto. Really, you could think of them as a medium for partners who share their values, and also their sensibility—usually rustic, farmyard industrial, handmade, handcrafted,” she says. “A craft brew is a really great distillation of popular cultural values among Millennials and young Gen X-ers, who brewers and restaurateurs are keen to please as their best, thirstiest customers.”
As the director of food & beverage for Diversified Restaurant Holdings Inc., Caleb Grose says finding a standout way to convey those values through beverage programs is crucial, referencing the efforts of Bagger Dave’s restaurants (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio) to roll out it’s own brand of unique, co-branded craft sodas.
“In this day and age ‘normal’ beverages are no longer acceptable to the everyday consumer. Having co-branded beverages allows us to have a say in what is produced for us,” he says. “Since this item is proprietary to us, we are able to alter the recipes, adding fresher, more natural ingredients, such as the use of cane sugar in our sodas. It also becomes more of a premium option, one that guests can be proud to order, that cannot be found anywhere else.”
In this spirit, The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Course in St. Petersburg, Florida, has introduced a craft brew, Paul’s Landing, in conjunction with a local partnership with Three Daughters Brewing.
“We wanted to create something that told a story and fit the history of The Vinoy, and the orange grove tale was a perfect tie in,” says a spokesperson for the club’s restaurant. “Our local historian, Elaine Normile, worked with the Museum of History in St. Petersburg on a fact finding mission where she uncovered the story of William Paul and Paul’s Landing, confirming it was William Paul who helped pioneer not only the location where The Vinoy now sits but also planted the first 50 orange seedings in the fall of 1854—the perfect inspiration to get started on a craft beer.”
Chef-inspired drinks have become an innovative direction for the craft-beer world, and one that will likely gain momentum as other big names follow suit in pairing beer not just with particular menu items, but with a concept’s entire cultural and culinary character.