How Middle Brow Marketed its Small-Batch Malt Collaboration

A fun side project ended up becoming a marketable event for Middle Brow Beer recently.

The Chicago-based brewery likes to focus on working with local producers and co-owner Bryan Grohnke shared during the Virtual Craft Malt Conference how he worked with Sugar Creek Malt House to create a small-batch raw ale for the brewery’s subscription members.

Fellow Middle Brow co-owner Pete Ternes launched an idea of smoking Sugar Creek’s malt in the back lot of the brewery to create a one-of-a-kind beer and Grohnke, along with Sugar Creek Malt‘s Caleb Michalke jumped at the opportunity together to make it. So they made a 5x5x5-foot cinder block kiln and did a 30-hour smoked malt project before brewing with about 25% of the grist being the smoked malt a few days later.

All of it was what Grohnke called “Instagramable” and the entire process of documented to help not just get consumers interested in the process, but to sell the beer even before it was made,

“How the hell do you market your company nowadays is pretty much just on Instagram,” Grohnke said. “I don’t want to shit on hops too much, but, it’s just all about IPAs. There’s so much other stuff out in the world for beer that is so damn beautiful. And we captured it.”

Grohnke pointed out that the video and photos taken at the end of January were not just for that day to bring people in to watch, nor for the following week to promote the beer.

“But for a very long time,” he said. “We haven’t released the beer yet. We do have a small subscription service that we put out special beers for, and we’ve made enough of this beer to advertise that and say we do have more slots open and you won’t be able to get it anywhere else.

“It opens up with further collaborations too. We have a restaurant in our brewpub, we started smoking some trout on the damn thing that the following week. And now we have this beautiful smoked trout. We’re utilizing this kiln in a multitude of ways. And I think a lot of breweries around the area caught wind of it.”

Although just netting ​20 gallons, ​Grohnke said it was such a fun project ​and it ​got to show what these collaborations can do. The educational aspect is worth it as well on the professional brewing side.

“​It really is continuing to push those realms of brewing and working ​toward​ making ​malt the showcase of beers​,” ​Grohnke said. “Hops have had the limelight for too long in my opinion. ​Let’s share the love a little bit.”

Screenshots Courtesy Middle Brow Beer Co. Instagram​

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