Here’s how to make a brewery collaboration work for your bar

Beer texture background

The rise of consumer demand for craft beer — as nebulous as that term can be — has seen a corresponding growth in the number of breweries doing their thing, whether it is here in Australia, over in the USA, or even in less traditionally beer crazy countries such as South Korea. Craft brewing is booming.

And because the breweries tend to be small and with limited means of getting their name out there to the public, they have had to consider different ways of spreading the word.

That’s where bars come in. More and more we’ve seen bars from all over the country working with brewers on collaborations and bringing out their own tins, kegs, and bottles.

Bars around the country have done this, from the divey vibes of Heartbreaker and the upmarket Boilermaker House in Melbourne, Frankie’s Pizza in Sydney, even further afield in Panamericana in Singapore, and all the way up in Seoul, where Charles H. at the Four Seasons have done their own release to get in with the craft brewing scene.

Here, we’ve spoken to a number of bar bosses to get their advice and insight into the collaboration process, to help you along with crafting your own special release brew.


Ryan Lane
The Gresham, Brisbane

The Gresham in Brisbane is a two time Bar of the Year winner at the Bartender Magazine Australian Bar Awards, and they love their beer. They recently collaborated with New England Brewing on a Quandong & Grapefruit Gosè — read what bar manager Ryan Lane had to say about it here.

Why have you done these collaborations? 

They’re cool! There’s a great sense of pride (for me especially) when I see something released with Gresham’s logo on it. I really have to praise the owners here for letting me have creative and marketing freedom on such a scale like this. It’s also super educational for the guys here when I send them off to brew a beer, distill a whisk(e)y etc. They get to be hands on, learn about the processes by getting in and getting dirty. It’s a far better and effective way of training.

What does your bar get out of it? 

Again, the guys get to sell something that they have worked on personally. It fits our service style also. “Yeah dude, Billie over there actually made it herself!” etc. In the case of the latest collaboration with New England Brewing and our Quandong & Grapefruit Gosè, it was the first time we decided to make it a marketing exercise at the same time by taking The Gresham as a brand interstate. People will (hopefully) see the beer and go “Hey, who’s The Gresham?” if they haven’t heard of us before.

Lorenzo Antinori
Charles H., Seoul

We’ve been big fans of the work that Lorenzo Antinori, the bar manager at Charles H. in Seoul, does when it comes to his list. Their cocktail list pays homage to Charles H. Baker Jr, but their attention doesn’t stop at classic inspired cocktails; they’ve also recently done a collaboration with a local brewer. 

The idea behind the collaboration was to craft a brew that would riff on the flavours of classic cocktails, and the first one takes its inspiration from the French 75. Below he talks about the benefits of a collabo with a brewery for an upscale hotel cocktail bar.

Why have you done these collaborations? 
The idea was to create a connection between us and the Korean craft beer movement, [which is] very popular nowadays in Korea, and mainly give the opportunity to consumers to try something different and introducing them to meaningful collaborations which showcase the creativity and the dynamism of our industry. We wanted to change the perception (in Korea) that the cocktail world is only limited to mixing ingredients together or serving spirits. There are many ways to express what an establishment does.

What does your bar get out of it? 
Being in Korea, we are far away from the main bar scenes around the world, and people tend to forget or just not paying too much attention on what’s going here. “Raising the voice” is a way to be listed.  We “raise our voice” when creating those kind of collaborations, and the final goal is to always have interesting [and] fresh contents and make sure people talk about what Charles H. does in South Korea. For us, this project is all about craftsmanship and storytelling, and getting together for the first time with a brewery, is a way to encourage our guests and consumers in looking at the cocktail world under another light.

Jordan Mcdonald
Frankie’s Pizza By The Slice, Sydney

Jordan McDonald has done over 30 collaborations with breweries in his time as the self described beer monster at Frankie’s Pizza By The Slice, and has seen Frankie’s take out the title of Best Specialty Beer Venue at the Bar Awards.

Why do you do these collaborations at Frankie’s?
We collaborate with breweries to deepen the relationship and bridge the divide between producer and purveyor. In less poetic terms though, it’s just great to see how these cats work and get pissed at the source! It really is a fun exercise. From the conception of an idea through to the brewing process and finally the release event.

With 365 days of entertainment to curate, it makes sense for a beer-centric venue to hinge some of these events on beer itself. It helps if we’ve had some hand in its creation! We are constantly looking to inspire ourselves, there is so much creativity to play with when engineering a beer; crazy concepts, out-there artwork, fucked up titles and that’s before even getting to the beer itself. Palate bending weird shit through to slake-able smashers, there is something to learn from every brew and it’s this course of discovery that keeps us inspired. Basically we’re trying to keep the venue and its offerings exciting!

There are of course tangible benefits aside from all this whimsy. We’ll often strike a deal with the producer given the volumes we’re likely to move. Any gain as far as that goes will usually go directly into throwing a big ass event for the beer’s release.

Caleb Baker
Mr. West, Melbourne

They’ve done three collaborations with brewers at their Melbourne venue, which opened in the last quarter of 2017. They even flew to faraway lands, tripping all the way to Toronto to craft a brew with Canadian craft brewing legends, Collective Arts, co-owner Caleb Baker told us.

“We wanted to have a little Aussie influence on the beer we brewed with them so we made a Chocolate Malt Milkshake Breakfast Stout which we added 330kg of Milo and 150kg of lactose (milk sugar) to!” he says. 

What did you guys get out of it, and what did the breweries get out of it?
Collaborations are so much fun! They are a great way of strengthening relationships between awesome brewers and venues. Both parties involved get great exposure and promotion from it and it’s also a way of getting lots of creative minds together to come up with really interesting and delicious beers and products that may not have otherwise be thought of. I think bartenders and hospitality professionals can sometimes bring a different approach to flavour combinations than brewers might and obviously hospitality crew learn a lot about the brewing process and are therefore able to pass that knowledge on to customers at their venues. [It’s a] win-win for all involved really.

Hamish Goonetilleke
Rum Diary Bar, Melbourne

As a bar which also makes its own spirit, the Rum Diary Spiced Rum, these guys know a bit about making and marketing a product. They’ve done a couple of collabs — one with 4 Pines from Sydney, and one with Thunder Road.

What did you guys get out of it, and what did the brewery get out of it?
With these collaborations the run of beer is pretty tight; the 4 Pines one we did was only 10 kegs and released through Beer Week so Rum Diary Bar took five to six [kegs] and the others stayed at the brew pub; the upcoming run with Thunder Road is a 50 keg run so again Rum Diary Bar and Beneath Driver Lane have an allocation of 10 kegs and the rest will be sold.

From the bar, we get the chance to show liquor creativity and create something which is a significant talking point outside of what we usually do. In this day and age of social media, the reach you can get is massive and can attract people who would not have normally visited the bar and this all adds into the bar’s brand as a forward-thinking and creative place; this is something customers believe in and want to be part of.

The brewery again gets to show that they are doing things that their competitors are not doing; creating the same old beer day in day out can be boring for the brewery so this gets them thinking and motivates them to work with other industry professionals. It’s also a way they the breweries can give added value to the bars, working with the venues which support them — and we love that!

The beer can get into cocktail bars where the bars have a relationship and visa versa – for the spiced rum we have an intro into the bars which we may not have had before.