Sean Nook is serious about making good beer. But he doesn't take himself too seriously when it comes to marketing or selling it -- which is why his place, Black Bottle Brewery in Fort Collins, takes an irreverent approach to its everyday operations. Last year, for instance, Nook came up with a plan to brew a series of of beers that would use sugary breakfast cereals as key ingredients. Then, based on a now-famous Twitter prank involving a comedian and Pace Picante sauce, he began tagging General Mills in tweets about the cereal -- just to see what, if any, response he would get.
"A lot of people thought we were going to get sued," says Nook, who brewed the first two Cerealiously beers in early 2013 with Golden Grahams and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
But General Mills loved it, and the idea grew on the company over time until it reached a head in October when a Fort Collins newspaper wrote a story about how all of the seasonal Count Chocula cereal had mysteriously disappeared from two grocery stores in town: The culprit turned out to be Black Bottle, which had purchased it all for its latest brew. The story went viral and General Mills ended up sending the brewery more cereal, along with Count Chocula-themed gift bags for Black Bottle to give away.
"The CEO called to congratulate us," Nook says, adding that the brewery bottled two cases of the beer just for General Mills and mailed it to the cereal maker.
The Minneapolis-based food giant was reluctant to share too many details about its friendship with Black Bottle, but employee Katie Dahl compiled a few answers to some Westword questions and sent them via e-mail. "Cereal appeals to people of all ages and we know that there are groups of people who love craft beer," she explains. "So why not combine two things that these people love, their favorite cereal and beer?"
For Black Bottle's latest Cerealiously beer, Nook used Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch, which only comes out around Christmas, making three batches this time (a total of 24 barrels), based on the popularity of the Count Chocula brew. Playing along, General Mills sent the brewery 200 boxes of the cereal, "free and clear," Nook says.
To make it, Black Bottle brews a milk stout and then steeps the cereal -- forty pounds per batch -- in it for a week, similar to the dry-hopping process. Some of it will be bottled and sold at liquor stores, a first for the series, and distributed to bars or restaurants between Fort Collins and Denver. It should be showing up sometime in the next week or two.
"This one tastes like we literally added cookies. People are freaking out about it," Nook says. "It's a total gimmick beer. It's not who we are really, but it's a lot of fun."
Next up for Black Bottle: a St. Patrick's Day beer made with Lucky Charms. Nook says he hopes General Mills will send cereal for that one as well: "It's great publicity for them, and free publicity for both of us. Companies, especially older companies, are always looking for ways to stay relevant and alternative ways to brand products."
And adults eat just as many boxes of Lucky Charms and other brands as kids do, he adds, something that Dahl confirms.
"Our cereals are for the entire family," she writes. "As an example, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is loved by people of all ages and actually, 51.5 percent of consumption is by adults. And for Lucky Charms nearly half of the consumption is by adults. We have seen people eat our cereal in a variety of ways. Some people will eat their cereal with milk and a glass of orange juice, while others prefer it as an after dinner treat in an adult drink.
"There are many ways to eat our cereals and we just ask that the adults who eat our cereal eat it responsibly," she adds.
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