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More Than A Beer

FINNEGANS Brews Community

Jacquie Berglund talks quickly when asked about her businesses.  And that’s a good thing because as the CEO of FINNIGANS Brew Co., founder of both the non-profit FINNIGANS Community Fund and the entrepreneur coworking space FINNOVATION Lab, Jacquie has a lot to say.  “I have a lot of energy.  I’m very passionate, so once I put my mind to something and I feel passionate about it, I usually find a way to get that done,” says Jacquie.  I sat down with Jacquie on the patio of FINNIGANS Brewery and Taproom in downtown Minneapolis to discuss the long story of how it came to be. 

“I had a hard time trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life,” says Jacquie when discussing her winding careers.  Her first started in international relations where she worked as a consultant at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  From her time bringing Baltic governments to seminars on how to move to market economies, Jacquie learned something: “I didn’t know I was an entrepreneur before that.”  That realization led her back to Minnesota where she partnered with restauranter and “Local Irish celebrity,” Kieran Folliard.  Together they had a hunch: “In 1998, we thought what happened with red wine would happen with beer: people would want a more sophisticated beer with more flavor.”  In order to catch that new wave, Jacquie and Kieran in conjunction with the James Page Brewing Company created what would later be FINNIGANS flagship beer: FINNIGANS Irish.  “It was a gateway product,” says Jacquie, “not too hoppy, not too malty, not too heavy, not too light, just really an easy drinking middle-of-the-road beer.”

 So, with the creation of the Irish Amber, Jacquie knew she wanted to leverage it towards social change: “It was never about the money for me, it was always about the impact.”  Jacquie was inspired by other “give-back” models like the Paul Newman brand and Share Our Strength, and wanted to do the same thing with the Irish Amber.  In 2000, Jacquie bought the recipe for the Amber Ale from Kieran for the sum of $1.00, creating the for-profit company FINNIGANS, and the 501(c)(3) nonprofit FINNIGANS Community Fund.  This for-profit/nonprofit model was based on that of The Newman’s Own Foundation and was designed to be able to donate more over time than that of a nonprofit alone: “As we grow, we will be able to donate more than if we did the other model,” says Jacquie. 

 In 2011 another shift took place within the impact focus for FINNIGANS.  On the 10-year anniversary of the creation of Finnegan’s, Jacquie was tasked with writing the impact statement of all the services that had been done during that time.  “It was just 4 pages,” says Jacquie.  In those 10 years, FINNIGANS had been dedicated to ending poverty cycles, but for all their work, “There was no talking point of really our impact,” says Jacquie.  It was at that time that Jacquie stumbled upon a program for Harvest for The Hungry operated by The Food Group, an organization that works to end hunger by working with local farmers.  Jacquie was so impressed with their work and concrete talking points she, “Picked up the phone and asked to donate.”  That epiphany changed the focus of FINNIGANS philanthropy to their current goal: ‘turning beer into food.’  According to Jacquie, it was an instant success: “When we changed our mission into turning beer into food […] all of a sudden it was like lightbulbs went on with our distributors, retailers, and with my family: this is where the money goes.”

 Since 2011, FINNIGANS Community Fund has worked directly with local food banks across Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas donating to them directly.  In Minnesota, “Our money is used to purchase produce at $1 per pound from local growers who donate that produce to local food shelves.  So, we’re getting super healthy food to those in need and supporting local farmers and food sources,” says Jacquie.  FINNIGANS Community Fund divides their philanthropy by beer market meaning, “The communities that support our beer the most, give back the most food, so it’s truly, truly hyper-local,” says Jacquie. 

So far, our story is still brewery-less, and that was by design.  Despite FINNIGANS being 1 of the first 5 Minnesota beer brands, “I never wanted to manufacture beer,” says Jacquie.  After taproom laws changed in the state, allowing local brands to run their own breweries open to the public, however, “then I was the only Minnesota beer brand without a taproom so you’re at a huge disadvantage,” says Jacquie.  Thus, Finnegan’s Brew Co. was born in 2018 in Elliot Park, Minneapolis. 

It’s hard to capture the extent to which philanthropy sits at the heart of FINNIGANS model.  From the monthly ‘Broadway Night’ food drives at the taproom where live show tunes are sung to the pull tabs in the bar that support Fire Fighters for Healing, to the FINNOVATION Lab geared towards helping other socially-focused entrepreneurs get their start in the state: FINNIGANS encourages its patrons to make the most of their ‘barstool philanthropy.’  Or to put it as Jacquie does: FINNIGANS is simply “A lot more than a beer company.”

For more, visit finnegans.org. 817 S 5th Ave, Minneapolis. (612) 208-3374.

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