How Breweries and Food Trucks are Teaming Up

by Billy Broas

The UBER Sausage food truck serving Denver Beer Co. customers

Mutualism: The way two organisms biologically interact where each individual derives a fitness benefit (i.e. increased survivorship). Source: Wikipedia

The oxpecker bird eats parasites from a zebra. The zebra stays healthy and the oxpecker gets a meal. Win-win.

Does mutualism exist in the beer world? I believe it does.

Filling a Gap

When possible, I’ve always preferred to drink a brewery’s beer at its tap room. The beer is at its freshest, you can talk to the people that made it, and drinking beer at its birthplace is just damn cool.

There’s one thing that’s missing from many of them though – food.

This is common in Colorado where many breweries do not have a brewpub. Denver in particuliar has seen an explosion of breweries recently and none of them offer food. You can’t really blame a brewery for wanting to focus on beer and not worry about forks and knives.

It’s not only the new breweries. Even established Denver breweries like Great Divide and Dry Dock are beer-only.

This might be a turnoff to customers, except that food trucks have driven in and filled the gap (and bellies). The brewery can offer food to its customers, and the food truck has a new market.

A New Breed of Food Trucks

You name it, Denver's got it

I’m not talking about the shady taco truck on the corner. Yes, Denver does have tons of those, but there is another, more sophisticated group of food trucks proliferating in the mile high city.

We’re talking cuisine like wood-fired pizza, grass-fed beef, and even cupcakes. They travel all over town, parking wherever there’s a hungry crowd and using Twitter to announce their location. Hell, we even have Civic Center Eats twice per week where all of the food trucks show up in the same spot for lunch.

The Harvard Business Review wrote an article commenting on the national food truck trend. An excerpt:

“The truck and its staff of merry makers have become a sort of roving party, bringing people to neighborhoods they might not normally go to, and allowing for interactions with strangers they might not otherwise talk to.”
- LA Times

While the new breweries in Denver are taking advantage of the food truck phenomenon, Great Divide was one of, if not the first local brewery to feature them on a regular basis. I asked Great Divide’s Hanna Laney about their relationship with the food trucks.

“We were excited to be one of the first breweries in Denver that utilized food carts and we have built some relationships with some really delicious carts. Food carts are a great part of food and drink culture in Denver and we are happy to host them at our Tap Room. We see food trucks and breweries going hand in hand.

Our anniversary party was catered solely by food carts and I think that speaks to both the legitimacy and deliciousness of their cooking. After the party wound down, our staff was just hanging out and the boys from Basic Kneads stayed around, blasted music from their truck and cooked us up some delicious pizza.

We believe that good food (like good beer) is meant to be shared. These food trucks seem to have that same philosophy, too.”
- Hanna Laney, Great Divide Brewing Company

As a frequent Great Divide customer I can tell you that the partnership is a good fit. During events like the anniversary party Hanna mentioned your tickets are good for both food and beer (hurray for simplicity) plus both ends are good about announcing the food truck’s schedule via social media.

Great Divide announcing the arrival of Basic Kneads Pizza via Facebook

Looking forward

It will be interesting to see how much the food truck + brewery relationship evolves. Is it thriving in other cities? Let me know, I’m curious.

Here are some other things to think about:

  • If the food trucks themeselves have a loyal following (many do), could this become a competitive advantage for breweries that can book the hottest truck? (no pun intended)
  • We already know that there are tons of breweries in planning. They are going to have to decide whether or not they will serve food. If there is a strong food truck scene in their area, could that influence their decision?
  • Besides just filling a gap, will we see more thought put into which food is served with the beer? What I mean is, might both parties promote specific pairings, for example a new IPA release with a speciality pizza?

Basic Kneads Pizza serving up pie's in the Great Divide tap room; Photo: http://basickneadspizza.com/

Here is a final quote I want to leave you with from the Harvard article:

“Consumers are telling us that they prize drama over utility, scarcity over ubiquity, novelty over the guaranteed sameness of the national brand. They want brands that are porous to the world, that integrate with the world. They are prepared to embrace brands that take a little more effort, especially if that effort rewards them with something that is exciting and rare.”

Wow, sound familiar?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Win Bassett September 21, 2011 at 11:06 am

Fullsteam in Durham, NC has done an excellent job of establishing relationships with area food trucks. As evidence, check out their calendar! http://www.fullsteam.ag/events/

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Billy Broas September 21, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Thanks for the link, Win. Fullsteam seems to have a really solid food truck program. Hope I can visit sometime!

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Sheppy September 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

This is a great relationship. Lots of these tiny little breweries just don’t want to add the headache of serving food. But, obviously, consumers want to (need to) eat while consuming beer.

Denver Brewing Co uses beer trucks (as I am sure you know, Billy). It seems quite often I see on Facebook some sort of post where DBC announces that for whatever reason, their beer truck cannot make it. I don’t know if this is typical for other breweries as well, but it does seem to me that some level of reliability needs to be built in.

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Billy Broas September 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Hm I haven’t seen those posts but that would sure upset me if I were counting on the Food Truck for dinner. Totally agree that they need to be reliable. If you check out Win’s link in the comment above, I’d love that sort of Calendar for all the Denver tap rooms.

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Sheppy September 22, 2011 at 8:34 am

Take a look at their facebook page right now: https://www.facebook.com/DenverBeerCompany about 4 posts down “Any Denver foodtrucks want to swing down and serve in the Beergarden tonight? We’re looking for a last minute substitute…”. This is at least the 2nd or 3rd similar post I’ve seen from them, and they have not been around that long.

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Billy Broas September 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

You’re right. I guess they’re bailing because there is a bigger crowd elsewhere? If there’s no contract then there’s really no repercussions for a no-show. That is certainly one of the drawbacks of relying on someone else. Also, if you look at one of the responses to that post it looks like there is an email blast that goes to 50 trucks. A good line of communication would definitely help fill in any gaps.

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Corey September 21, 2011 at 2:34 pm

We have a similar deal in Nashville with Yazoo and the great food trucks of Nashville. This is an interestng twist to the brewpub experience because you can frequent the taproom but have a different truck experience each time.

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Billy Broas September 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Exactly, Corey. You can have Pizza one day and Chinese the next, so you really never get tired of the food. Good to hear Nashville has a great food truck scene.

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Beer Bunny September 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

How cute ! Go Denver ! I love the “Biscuit Bus”

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Basic Kneads (Reid) September 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Sorry I didn’t get back to you Billy!

We totally agree about the need for consistency from the food trucks. We haven’t missed a Wednesday at Great Divide since we started over a year ago, save for a few snowy December nights. But a lot of the other trucks haven’t been able to match that. One big reason is that we have two mobile units, so if something comes up we are able to do both and not ditch out on our regular schedule for a bigger thing. Because we have multiple units and are double booked frequently, we also have a pretty big team (ten in total) and that make it easier for us to be reliable.

We are always at Great Divide on Wednesday and Friday, and are now at Denver Beer Co on Thursdays. Hope to see you there!

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Billy Broas September 23, 2011 at 10:10 am

Hey Reid, thanks for stopping by. No worries.

You guys sure do have a great attendance record and us hungry beer drinkers appreciate that. Love your pies and hope to see your truck soon.

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Jenny September 29, 2011 at 1:36 pm

This is thriving in San Diego as well. I don’t think it’s just that the breweries don’t want to get distracted with food, I think it’s also an extra license. One of our local breweries moved into an old factory building near downtown and it’s so cavernous they can actually have three food trucks drive right into the building for special events! My favorite beer pairing? The pierogi truck. Insert Homer Simpson gargle…

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Billy Broas September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I totally agree about the license – that’s just one more reason not to serve food. What SD brewery is that? Sounds incredible.

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Chris Harvey March 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

I actually saw this exact thing outside Brooklyn Brewing Company. They even ate up the sterotype by having a pizza truck parked outside with other italian dishes available. At BBC you can’t buy food but you can bring it in. It was pretty clever.

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Billy Broas March 2, 2012 at 10:19 am

Sounds like a winning combination right there.

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