The craft beer that has Minn. credit unions buzzing

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The Minnesota Credit Union Network is exploring how it can top a successful collaboration that helped increase awareness of the industry and raised $14,000 for the Minnesota Credit Union Foundation’s financial literacy efforts.

“There’s kind of been this conversation in credit union land about the similarities between credit unions and craft brewing,” said Andrea Molnau, vice president of communications and engagement at MnCUN. “We’re going after similar markets. We’re kind of the small craft competing against these big behemoths and we really have a lot of values in common — collaboration being one of them, along with being high-quality, local and connected to our communities.”

In advance of the Minnesota State Fair this past summer, the league worked with two local craft breweries to create and distribute an exclusive beer that could be featured during the event to help promote CUs in conjunction with the state kicking off its participation in the Credit Union National Association’s Open Your Eyes awareness campaign.

The resulting brew, a strawberry milkshake cream ale known as the Great Minnesota Handshake, was created as a collaboration between Indeed Brewing Co. — a league partner whose event space MnCUN frequently uses — and Freehouse Beer. The latter was particularly important since it helped the league get access to the Blue Barn, one of the most popular restaurants at the fair. That was the only place the beer was available, and it was one of nine select taps available.

Along with being selected as a “featured beer” for the event, every pour of the Great Minnesota Handshake also earned $1 for the Minnesota CU Foundation, and signage promoting the beverage explained that it was presented by the league.

“People were coming in and asking for it,” said Molnau. “At the Blue Barn, of the nine beers on tap, our beer was 35% of their beer sales.”

And that popularity led to a major lesson — if the league repeats this in the future, they’ll need to brew more.

“We only brewed enough for the fair and actually at the end of the fair we had to ration it, because it was so popular we were afraid it would run out before the fair ended,” said Molnau. “We ended up selling out of the beer.”

This isn’t the first time credit unions have successfully partnered with local breweries. Multiple state leagues, including Florida and Ohio, have in recent years launched events that pair credit union advocacy and fundraising with craft beer, holding events at local breweries to attract young professionals.

Molnau said that she was not aware of any other CU-brewer collaborations, and that while the league hasn’t ruled out trying to do something more long-term, it’s still in discussions about what this might look like in the future.

“Having the limited run gave us an opportunity to try it and create some buzz and see where it could go," she said.

She noted, however, that there may be good reasons other industry groups haven’t tried craft beer partnerships.

“We had conversations when we first came up with the idea about whether there was a reputational risk with aligning ourselves with a brewery,” she said. “We talked through that and really felt like the advantages outweighed that concern, particularly in trying to reach the target audience we’re going for.”

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Collaboration Growth strategies Financial literacy Minnesota