Finnegans: Mission BeerPossible

Meet Jacquie Berglund, the entrepreneur whose ability to feed the hungry with beer is … kinda sobering.

By Becky Lang

You’ve probably been noticing Finnegans beer a lot lately. If you haven’t sampled it at your go-to liquor store, you’ve probably seen their ads looming high on downtown Minneapolis buildings, shooting out catchy lines like, “Every time you don’t buy one a Leprechaun dies” and “Kiss me I’m just standing here awkwardly.” When you first encounter the beer, it is perplexing, almost hard to believe. How does this sexy beer, with equally sexy advertising, give 100% of its profits to charity? Do companies give 100% of their profits to charity? What makes an idea like that work in such a capitalist country?

 

Finnegans_Blonde

The answer is two words: Jacquie Berglund. The creator and, for a long time, sole full-time employee of Finnegans, Berglund runs the company assisted primarily by a fleet of volunteers inspired by the simple idea of a beer doing good for the world.

So, how exactly does the company work? Well, it’s actually two companies. Finnegans Inc., which is an S corporation—meaning they pass all income, losses, and deductions onto their shareholders, and in turn does not have to pay federal taxes—makes and sells the beer. The Finnegans Community Fund is a non-profit. As Berglund explains it, “Basically, the for-profit owns the beer brands, and we pay our salaries and 5 staff members, and all the profits that are left over are donated to the Finnegans Community Fund. That’s how any non-profit works. They pay their staff, they pay their bills and they give the money away.” Berglund tried to make the whole company a non-profit, but, as she explains it, the IRS wouldn’t allow it.

Over the company’s almost 12 years of existence, it’s grown to have more than 1,200 volunteers, not to mention a multi-year, pro bono contract with local advertising agency Martin Williams. What’s her secret for motivating people to work for free? Her answer is straightforward: “I think people are attracted to what we do.” Some of the most common volunteer activities are liquor store tastings (thus why you’ve gotten a Finnegan’s 101 course while buying vodka, at some point or another), and packing food for the non-profit’s charity work.

When you look at what the Community Fund does, the Finnegans’ story starts to go beyond “Mmmm beer” and feel more like a TED talk. That’s because Berglund didn’t approach Finnegans with a vague ambition to give back. She had long, thought-out goals. After spending 7 years in France working at the policy level for the Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development, helping poverty-stricken Russian markets, she observed that most of the impact was at the grassroots level. She thought, “I want to do something more grassroots, where you can see the impact.” Her dreams were never based in beer, but in creating a non-profit that runs on a solid business model. “I wanted to make a difference … I’m hard-wired that way,” she explains.

It’s this belief in grassroots, locally-motivated work that inspired her to use Finnegans to help farmers, and to bring healthy food to hungry mouths. In Minnesota, their partner is The Emergency Food Shelf Network’s Harvest for the Hungry program. The profits go to purchase produce from localized farms and bring that food to localized food shelves. “This is localized so that the beer we sell in the Twin Cities goes to purchase and provide fresh produce in the Twin Cities,” she explains.

“[Berglund] is very worldly and international in her scope and her interests,” points out Kieran Folliard, her long-time friend and former business partner, who founded Kieran’s Irish Pub, along with a gaggle of other Irish bars, and now Two Gingers Whiskey. “Even though she’s very local in all of her efforts. I think that’s interesting.”

Folliard himself is an integral part of Jacquie’s life, career—and of the origin of Finnegans. The two met when Folliard first moved to the Cities in 1987 and was working at Andcor, where Jacquie became an intern. They became such good friends that Folliard even visited her when she was living in Paris, and was quick to nab her talents when she moved back to the States. He was just about to open The Local in December of 1997, and invited her to be his marketing manager. She accepted.

Working with Folliard, her mind quickly gravitated to the charity side. “We were giving to a lot of different charities and we didn’t have a real strategy to our thinking,” she explains. “A friend of mine said ‘Kieran is a local celebrity, he could have his own beer.’ … So I pitched it to Kieran.” That beer became Kieran’s Irish Potato Ale, which would later become Finnegans.

Eventually, Folliard sold her the Potato Ale for just $1. “She said, ‘I don’t like this business of bars and restaurants, but I really like this charity beer,’” he remembers. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll sell it to you.’ She gave me a check for $1 and she changed the name. I never did cash it.”

Reflecting on Finnegans’ success, Folliard adds, “It’s worth a lot more than a dollar. She’s done amazing work with it. … Even when she was an intern you could see the same passion and pride for doing a good job and doing the right thing. Her enthusiasm was contagious.”

Running Finnegans has provided Berglund with plenty of hard work. When she’s not meeting with creatives at Martin Williams or working with her PR agency, Haberman Associates, she’s managing distributors in four different states and checking in with non-profit partners at farms. “I work a lot, but I love my job,” she explains. She does not, however, unwind every night with a few beers. “I’ve gotta keep that in check—but we do our fair share of happy hours.”

When it comes to enjoying her beer, Berglund recommends pairing the Finnegan’s Irish Amber with pizza. For the Finnegan’s Blonde Ale, she suggests a seafood, like white fish. For scenery, she prefers a patio in the summertime. If she’s not drinking Finnegans, Berglund usually keeps it local, although she admits, “You know what I do like sometimes with Mexican food is the Dos Equis. I like that one, I gotta say.”

But she’s finding less and less reasons to drink any beer that’s not local. “At the last Brewer’s Guild meeting, there were 25-27 brewery reps there. Nine years ago there were 10 of us at the table,” she says. “It is so fun and exciting to have so many great beers.”

She believes this sudden flourishing of the local beer landscape is due to beer lovers becoming more educated and sophisticated about what they are drinking.

As she explains it, “People engaged in this vein of better, flavorful, more adventurous beers, becoming more educated and they
demanded more. With the local thing, people think, ‘Let’s get people more jobs.’ Also, it doesn’t get fresher than beer that’s made here.”

But the love of good beer that does more for the world isn’t just local—it’s national. In Berglund’s eyes, all of society is “learning the art of beer,” and the world is a better place for it.

 

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