Marquette Business

Solid gold – student-run craft brewing venture

77 Ale student project
In partnership with alumni brewery owners, students (from left) Connor Nelson, Will Dales, Gracie Pionek and Jackson Cosgriff brought ’77 Golden Ale to market. Photo by Patrick Manning.

The first release from a student-run craft brewing venture is a hit with Marquette fans — and a grade-A learning experience. 

When four seniors were tapped to launch the first Marquette-themed craft beer, they stepped into a whirlwind. They had four months to create not just a limited-edition brew, but marketing and distribution plans. And — no pressure — it would all culminate on National Marquette Day.

Jackson Cosgriff, Will Dales, Connor Nelson and Gracie Pionek began their task last November in a blur of white-boarding. They needed to come up with a concept that would resonate with their target audience of Marquette alumni, and the packaging had to strike the right chord.

Pionek, whose role was to create the visuals, remembers pitching brand concepts to a “Beer Board” of alumni advisers in the brewing business. As the students got peppered with questions, they realized their concepts weren’t hitting the mark. But a remark by board member Tim Pauly, Arts ’10, co-founder of Milwaukee’s Broken Bat Brewery, helped Pionek figure out why. “He said, ‘Look, I’m not trying to shoot down any of your ideas,’” Pionek recalls. “’I’m trying to give you a sandbox and then you can build within the sandbox.’” It’s advice about creative decision-making she still keeps in mind.

On National Marquette Day three months later, ’77 Golden Ale debuted with a name inspired by Marquette’s 1977 national championship men’s basketball team and a brand design by Pionek that pays homage to that team’s jerseys. It sold out that day and was later introduced to select local tap rooms and retailers for a limited run.

By all accounts, ’77 Golden Ale was a hit. But what excited Pauly most was watching the students learn. He had helped initiate the idea of a Marquette-themed craft beer that would give undergraduates hands-on business experience. When he and fellow alumni signed up as mentors, they wanted the students take the reins. “We had the last word pretty much on anything pertaining to the business,” Pionek confirms.

’77 Golden Ale is brewed under the auspices of Blue & Gold Brewing, an LLC established to support an applied learning program in the College of Business Administration. Each year, a new cohort of seniors will collaborate with local alumni brewers to launch a limited-edition, Marquette-themed beer. Additional ventures are envisioned, too.

Pauly is joined on the Beer Board by local craft brewers David Dupee, Law ’09, of Good City and Joe Yeado, Bus Ad ’07, Grad ’10, of Gathering Place, plus Kevin Brauer, Bus Ad ’19, of Draught Guard, a technology used to clean tap lines. Chuck Swoboda, Eng ’89, Marquette’s innovator-in-residence and an investor in a North Carolina craft brewery, was the official “Beer Mentor.” This advisory team supplied behind-the-scenes insights as students grappled with questions around distribution, supply chain, public relations, brand building and profit margins. Not to mention how the ale would taste.

“As students, we always hear about the alumni base and how willing they are to give back to students, and this could not be a better example of that,” says Nelson, who was responsible for sales and marketing.

“I’m really proud of our students and the level of dedication and maturity they brought to the project,” says Paul Jones, vice president for university relations and general counsel, who helped the venture navigate legal issues and achieve educational objectives with support from Innovation Alley, Marquette’s program to advance innovative leadership and education, and its executive director, John Knapp. “They leaned all-in on the learning experience and they’ve grown a lot, too.”

“This was a great opportunity for the students to see firsthand what it’s like to work in a startup,” Swoboda says. “We started with a concept and not much else, and they learned how to work through the challenges of turning an idea into reality.”