Craft beer is supposed to be intertwined with its communities. In theory, it’s created, brewed and distributed locally, so it makes sense to form an intimate relationship with the musicians that drink and perform at the local bars where the brews are sold.
Local breweries and musicians are forming these alliances across North Texas. The Toadies were one of the early adopters. A couple years ago their manager, Tami Thomsen, had a prophetic dream about the band releasing a beer. “There are so many great breweries,” Thomsen says. “Why couldn’t we make that happen?”
Thomsen began reaching out and found fans at Martin House Brewery that soon after became business partners. They recently released their third and fourth Toadies beer and, according to Thomsen, Martin House is already brainstorming future collaborations. “My personal goal is to get to six beers so we can have a mixed six pack,” Thomsen says.
Prior to craft beer, collaborations between musicians and adult beverages were reserved for the highest echelon of musicians that had enough disposable income to start their own company or invest in an existing one. The advent of craft breweries created the opportunity to form mutually beneficial partnerships between smaller artists and local breweries.
The Toadies, of course, still hold a good bit of cache in North Texas, especially among the demographics that most frequently drink local craft brews. As time goes on, local breweries are becoming more open to working with smaller artists. Earlier this year, Jessie Frye released a limited production of Boss Bitch beer through a collaboration with Noble Rey Brewing.
The pint was originally slated to sell at 18 bars but demand was so high that the production was expanded and it was sold at nearly 60 bars in DFW. A few kegs were stockpiled and occasionally pop up at local bars but the vast majority of the production is gone forever, unless Noble Rey decides to make another batch.
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Even if Boss Bitch never returns, there’s hope. Brent Camp, Frye’s manager, confirmed that another beer collaboration is in the pipeline and is scheduled for late 2016 or early 2017.
In the meantime, Martin House has entered uncharted territory by forming a new partnership, the first of its type, with Ken Welker and his DFW-based promotion company, 13th Floor Music. Last weekend, Martin House hosted a release party for their newest beer, Tip Jar, which features all 12 bands currently attached to 13th Floor Music.
The spotlight is shared among the artists, but Welker’s label is using the attention to release a music video for each band in conjunction with the release of Tip Jar. “We’re continually trying to build momentum off of [the partnership],” Welker says. “It’s a perfect opportunity to link everything together.”
Everyone involved in these collaborations agrees that there is a lot to gain and, seemingly, little to lose. The limited productions are likely to sell out, whether or not the bands themselves actually increase sales. When they are purchased because of the branding, the six-packs and pint glasses can land in the hands of new customers. Artists are in turn introduced to new audiences when fans of the brewery sample the new beer. "A lot of people that never drink our beer drink it because it says Toadies, and a few people that may not have heard of the Toadies are buying it because they're Martin House fans," says Martin House's David Wedemeir. "It's really good. You kind of introduce both sets of people to each other."
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Some of the partnerships are simply vehicles for marketing but other artists are receiving percentages of sales and the deals are becoming more lucrative in other ways as well. After all, beer isn’t the only branded product being sold.
Shirts, cozies and pint glasses are just a few of the secondary products being sold through the partnerships. Boss Bitch shirts flew off the rack and sold out when Frye released her beer. “We sold a shit ton of shirts,” Camp says. “It was a huge bump for us in 2016.”
It’s an exciting time for local bands looking to gain a larger presence in the scene, but musicians are also keeping a close watch on the craft brewery industry. Larger corporations like MillerCoors are snatching up craft breweries left and right — including, just last week, Dallas' Revolver Brewing — in an effort to maintain their market share.
It’s not clear what kind of long-term effects buyouts will have on these collaborations, but it seems likely that there will always be a craft brewery ready to start a joint venture with musicians. “It’s a cool thing,” Camp says. “It helps everybody.”