“Drinking and dogs … what could be better?” asks Beatrice native Crystal Wiebe.
Dog lover and craft beer aficionada Wiebe blended her two passions into a unique business -- Beer Paws -- featuring malt-infused beer and biscuits for canine companions, along with drinking essentials for their humans.
Wiebe, a former journalist turned social media marketing professional, has partnered with craft brewers in Lincoln, LaVista and Kansas City, Missouri, using spent grains to bake brand-specific Beer Biscuits and Beer for Dogs canine delicacies. Ten percent of sales proceeds are donated to area animal rescue organizations.
Wiebe came up with the Beer Paws idea during Cinco de Mayo 2013, when she couldn’t find a bottle opener for her beer.
Someone should make a bottle opener that attaches to the dog’s collar, she mused.
“It will make your dog a better drinking buddy,” she said.
And so, with the help of her father, they crafted a round half-dollar-sized bottle opener emblazoned with a dog paw that easily can be clipped onto collars and leashes.
Wiebe’s father suggested expanding the idea to include dog collars and bracelets featuring bottle caps from people’s favorite brews.
Wiebe, who now lives in Kansas City, saw the potential long before she recognized all the possibilities.
“When I was thinking about this concept, I had people like myself in mind -- friends who are passionate about dogs and have a great interest in beer,” Wiebe said.
“The pet industry and beer industry are more or less recession-proof. A new brewery opens in the United States at a rate of one a day,” she said.
In December 2013, Betablox, an “angel investors” group dedicated to helping startup businesses in the Kansas City area, awarded Beer Paws a grant.
The grant transformed Beer Paws from “the cute thing Crystal is doing” to a viable business idea, Wiebe said.
To give her sales pitch a bit of an edge, she made dog biscuits using spent grains from Kansas City Bier Co., a craft brewery that had just opened across the street from her house.
Spent grains have long been recycled as livestock feed, so Wiebe didn’t think it was too much of a stretch to turn these grains into doggie treats. Tweaking a basic dog biscuit recipe she found on the Internet, Wiebe tested several batches of beer biscuits on her own dogs, who responded enthusiastically.
And so did the public. Beer biscuits are now Beer Paws’ biggest-selling product ($5.95 for a 6-ounce bag/ $11.95 for 12-ounce bag). Wiebe and a cadre of family and friends make all the biscuits by hand in Wiebe’s kitchen. The biscuits contain just four ingredients: recycled brewer’s grains, enriched flour, peanut butter and organic eggs.
“These peanut buttery biscuits won’t get your dog drunk -- but they will get him buzzing with excitement,” Wiebe writes on her website beerpaws.com, noting that the biscuits do not contain hops, soy or preservatives.
Dog lovers attest to the canine appeal. Ralph Allen, sales manager at Lincoln’s Blue Blood Brewery, gave beer biscuits to dog-owning family members over the holidays. After chowing down the treat, his mom’s boxer licked the floor for 15 minutes hoping to find a stray crumb.
Another enterprising boxer paid close attention to where the treats were stored, then jumped onto the kitchen counter in an effort to steal the bag out of the cabinet, Allen recalled.
“For us, it's a win-win situation,” Allen said. It’s another way for brewers to recycle spent grains, and brewery customers get to bring something home for the dog. Plus, a portion of sales are earmarked toward purchasing a canine cop for the Beatrice Police Department, where Wiebe’s father has served for 50 years.
“Everyone who has bought them (biscuits) seems to come back for a second round,” Allen said.
Craig Reier, taproom manager and event coordinator for Lincoln’s Zipline Brewery, said beer biscuits sell out quickly.
“My dog, Racecar, enjoyed them thoroughly," he said, noting that that particular batch featured spent grains from the company’s oatmeal porter ale.
In addition to partnerships with Blue Blood and Zipline, Wiebe is working with Nebraska Brewing Co. in LaVista and Kansas City’s K.C. Bier and Green Room Burgers & Beer.
Eventually, Wiebe hopes to put together beer biscuit six-packs, featuring a variety of biscuits made from different craft brews -- as well as her Beer for Dogs.
The non-alcoholic doggie beer (retailing for $8.99 a bottle) is made with beef broth, malt extract and glucosamine.
She created Beer for Dogs as a novelty product to promote Beer Paws. But she soon discovered that Beer for Dogs had great canine benefits as a flavor enhancement.
Case in point, PBR (pronounced Pee-ber), an 11-year-old Boston terrier mix rescue.
PBR has always been a finicky eater, said owner Amy Montgomery. But the dog, which has lost most of its top teeth, was rejecting nearly every food offered and had dropped from 17 pounds to just 10 pounds, Montgomery said.
She met Wiebe at Lincoln Animal Ambassador’s annual Wine & Howl event, and Wiebe offered her a couple of bottles of Beer for Dogs. Wiebe’s own dogs, which included a rather persnickety golden retriever, lapped it up.
Montgomery was game, but skeptical.
“She went crazy for it,” Montgomery said of PBR.
“It’s like they get beer munchies,” Wiebe quipped.
A side benefit of Beer for Dogs is the glucosamine, which has eliminated the need for joint medication in Montgomery’s 12- and 14-year-old rescue dogs.
While Beer for Dogs is meant to be consumed in moderation, for some dogs like Montgomery’s, it’s a healthy condiment added to every meal.
Now Wiebe is thinking of making coconut dog biscuits (in honor of her rescue dog, Coconut), and one of her brewer partners is experimenting with a coconut porter for the human customer.
Outside of the partner brewery taprooms, Beer Paws items are sold in Nebraska at Lincoln’s Canine Scrub, 2774 South St., and The Green Spot, 1110 S. 71st St. in Omaha.
Items also can be ordered online at beerpaws.com.
Wiebe also will have a booth at Lincoln’s annual I Love My Dog Expo, Feb. 28 and March 1, at the Lancaster Event Center.