Here’s a Colorado conundrum: Wanna buy a joint for a penny? You’ll have to drink a beer first.
For the last several weeks, Grass Station, a north Denver pot shop, has been offering customers the chance to buy a joint for one cent if they bring in an empty can of Pinner Throwback IPA, the newest beer from Oskar Blues Brewing. The deal, which ends Wednesday, was dreamed up by Ben Loichinger, the Denver sales manager for the Longmont-based brewery – and it’s part of a larger grass, uh, roots marketing campaign that Oskar Blues created to get its employees involved in getting the word out about Pinner.
Although most of those employee efforts didn't involve marijuana, this one struck a chord since the beer and pot industries haven't teamed up much yet, despite the fact that both are uniquely tied to Colorado. “Everything is still so new in the marijuana industry, so there may not have been many opportunities for cross-marketing in a mainstream way,” says Grass Station owner Ryan Fox. “At the end of the day, though, we are both here to function as businesses and to be profitable and to be supportive of the communities we are in. So we should try to support each other. I think it is inevitable that we would help each other out.”
While other breweries have made reference to pot, there haven't been many events tying them together. One reason that breweries could be hesitant to hold pot-themed events is because they all have to be licensed by the federal government, which still deems marijuana to be illegal. Marijuana activists, meanwhile, often speak out against alcohol, saying it is a far more dangerous vice than marijuana.
One of the few joint efforts took place around last October's Great American Beer Festival, when Ska Brewing and the weed-themed deli, Cheba Hut, teamed up for Pints & Pipes; anyone who ordered one of three Ska beers got a free hand-blown glass pipe with the Ska logo.
And later this month, on March 21, Green Labs Denver (a co-working space for cannabis startups) will host a class that teaches people how to pair craft beers and gourmet cannabis or hash. Led by Ed Haas, who runs imstirringthepot.com, a similarly-themed blog, the two-hour course will show people how to match IPAs or barrel-aged stouts with the right strains.
For its part, Oskar Blues has never made a secret of its affinity for marijuana, even before recreational pot was legal. The company prints a small circular screen on every one of its cans that can be used as a guide to turning them into pipes. Its slogans often include pot lingo like “half baked, fully roasted,” and the brewery even released a pot-themed Christmas card a few years back. But Pinner really pushed the envelope. A “pinner” is a term for a small joint – just as the beer is marketed as having a lower alcohol volume. And its marketing campaign uses the slogans “Let's be blunt” and “sip, sip, give.”
According to Oskar Blues spokesman Chad Melis, neither the beer nor the campaign were intended to attract a lot of attention for the marijuana ties. "Historically, we've always had subtle hints and inside jokes and things that made us laugh,” he explains. “Most people don't know what 'pinner' means; it's a subtle, old-school reference....But because of the amount of focus in Colorado on weed, it got a lot more attention than our other jokes.
“When it comes down to it, what we did was make an amazing beer. That is the most important thing,” Melis continues. “People have also associated the aroma of hoppy beer with being weed-like, and the floral aroma on Pinner gives us off those subtle notes of weed. It made us laugh.”
The Pinner promotion at Grass Station was just one of many marketing ideas that Oskar Blues employees in Colorado put forward in February, Melis says, after receiving a challenge from founder Dale Katechis, who wanted them to come up with their own creative, grassroots campaigns. Each interested employee was required to gather three friends and come up with a plan to “make the biggest impact,” Melis explains; each team got $800 of Oskar Blues money to use. “They weren't allowed to break any laws, but other than that, there were no rules and no playbook to follow.”
The winner gets a brand-new Jeep.
“Dale and Oskar Blues have always had a big entrepreneurial spirit, and as we grow, the challenge is to keep that spirit alive and keep people engaged,” he adds. “We want our people to drive what Oskar Blues is.”
Loichingers' team went to Grass Station with a couple of ideas, and after some brainstorming came up with the Pinner-for-a-joint deal (full disclosure: ads for this ran both in print and online with Westword). “We thought it was a good fit," Fox says. "It's been fun. It hasn't been overwhelming, but we certainly got a response right away. Oskar Blues is the first craft brewery that I know of that has done something like this.”