Ten years ago, Kieran’s Potato Ale beer brand was sold for a single dollar. Today, this beer has been recreated as Finnegans and is part of the regional effort to alleviate poverty.
Jacquie Berglund, CEO of Finnegans, created the beer brand as a nonprofit organization whose profits go to charities across the Midwest. Since 2000, Finnegans has donated more than $153,000 to organizations dedicated to helping poor and homeless people.
Berglund entered the beer industry in the late 1990s as the marketing manager for Kieran Folliard, owner of Kieran’s Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis.
While Berglund was working for Folliard, he created Kieran’s Potato Ale – a beer whose profits were donated to charity.
Shortly after, Berglund approached Folliard saying she was no longer interested in working for him.
“She told me she was only interested in the nonprofit part of the company,” Folliard said.
Folliard then decided to sell Kieran’s Potato Ale to Berglund for $1.
“I want to get that $1 check framed one of these days,” Folliard said. “What she’s made of the beer, it’s all her and the great company she has built.”
In 2000, Berglund changed the name of the beer to Finnegans and created two separate companies to make her plan work.
“Finnegans Inc. is the beer company that makes the money,” Berglund said. “Finnegans Community Fund is where we donate 100 percent of the profits from the beer.”
Three years later, Finnegans Inc. was profitable, and since then, more than $150,000 has been donated to Finnegans Community Fund.
Finnegans is primarily a volunteer-run organization, with Berglund as the only full-time employee and a small number of part-time employees to help oversee both parts of the company.
“She could have made an incredible salary in the corporate world, and she decided to go and do this and earn a fraction of what she could have in the big-time world,” Folliard said. “The commitment she has made is incredible.”
Because Berglund was not interested in the beer industry as much as the nonprofit side, Berglund created a partnership with Summit Brewery in St. Paul to produce and manufacture Finnegans beer.
“It’s not our recipe,” Nate Siats, one of Summit’s six brewers, said. “Jacquie created the taste and flavor, but we put the same care and consideration into brewing their beer as our own.”
Berglund said she tried a number of combinations before deciding on the right Finnegans flavor.
“We wanted to follow the trend as light beer drinkers move into something more sophisticated, something a little heavier,” Berglund said. “It’s not too heavy, not too hoppy. It’s a very drinkable beer.”
Once or twice a month, Summit brews the Finnegans mix using the same equipment as they do for their Summit line.
“Finnegans is only a small fraction of what we make, but it’s a great mission and a great cause,” Siats said.
Siats said that of approximately 98,000 barrels of beer brewed at Summit each year, about 3,000 of those barrels are Finnegans.
After being brewed, Finnegans beer is sent to restaurants, pubs and liquor stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.
Berglund said she loves being part of an economic engine that creates social change.
The Community Fund is comprised of nonprofits around the Midwest whose missions are to alleviate poverty.
Berglund said she became interested in community service because of her childhood experiences.
“When I was young, my family was poor, and I was brought up without a lot of money even though both my parents worked full-time,” Berglund said.
She said she spent time volunteering in a homeless shelter and was touched by people who were working up to four factory jobs and still remained homeless.
“Living in the wealthiest country in the world, it’s not OK that we have so many in our population who don’t even have their basic needs covered,” Berglund said. “We’re all about ending poverty.”
In order to become part of the Community Fund, organizations must submit an application explaining their mission and why they deserve a grant.
Twice a year, applications are reviewed and grants ranging from $500 to $2,000 are given to the chosen organizations.
Finnegans also raises money and promotes its product by sponsoring events in Minneapolis such as 5K races and sampling events.
These events are run by volunteers solely interested in Finnegans’ mission.
“The bottom line is that it’s an admirable idea and the beer really is good,” Phil Platt, a volunteer for Finnegans, said. “I wanted to be part of this greater mission.”
For each Finnegans beer sold, their Community Fund reaps the benefits.
“The heart and soul and the passion that Jacquie has is what it comes down to,” Folliard said. “It’s all about two of the best things: charity and beer.”