Starting a microbrewery is difficult, but an exclusive distribution channel through Wisconsin Hospitality Group -- owners and operators of all Applebee's restaurants in Wisconsin -- may help the newly formed Lead Feather Brewing Company outpour its competition. Incorporated in November 2009, and founded by three business partners, including a brewmaster with over 30 years of experience, the brewery is a new entrant to the Wisconsin scene.
At the end of June, Lead Feather unveiled its debut beer, Hodag, a honey wheat ale named after the legendary northwoods monster. Hodag pours a hazy, golden yellow with an aroma of honey and hops. The flavor is a light combination of wheat and honey, balanced well by a slight sourness.
What sets the Hodag launch apart from a traditional beer launch is that the honey wheat ale will be available through an exclusive distribution channel, compared to the broader "anywhere that will sell our beer" approach commonly seen in the brewing industry. Lead Feather Brewing has decided to limit the distribution of Hodag to Applebee's, because the restaurant provides a built-in customer base that greatly increases brand awareness without the need for heavy advertising. In addition, the partnership with Applebee's provides Lead Feather Brewing with a steady revenue stream as they continue to build and expand their brand.
Lead Feather isn't the only one benefiting from the relationship though, as Applebee's also has good reasons for offering Hodag exclusively through its restaurants. The honey wheat ale will help bring beer fans to the restaurant, one they may not have previously considered for sampling microbrews. According to Wisconsin Hospitality marketing vice-president Anthony Cortese, Hodag is a great way for Applebee's to support a local business and provide their customers with the high quality microbrews that they are more frequently requesting.
Cortese adds that many barriers exist to using local food items in chain restaurants, but that beer is an exception.
After the premier of Hodag, Lead Feather Brewing will be releasing the rest of their beer portfolio locally through River City Distributing in Watertown, and statewide through the Badger Beverage Alliance. Beer fans can look forward to sampling a range of brews: Pretty Ugly IPA, Dark Star Brown Ale, Crash Landing Pale Ale, and True Blarney Irish Ale will all be available in the future. Lead Feather Brewing is currently headquartered in Janesville, but its beer is being contract-brewed off site, while the company attempts to secure local funding to build a dedicated brewery in southern Wisconsin.