Popcorn beer? Mankato Brewing and Angie's make for a surprisingly refreshing pair

Pairs well with a bowl of cheddar Boomchickapop.

Pairs well with a bowl of cheddar Boomchickapop.

Corn has been used in brewing as a cost-cutting substitute grain for decades, but Mankato Brewery and Angie's Boomchickapop have figured out a way to insert corn into beer with unprecedented purpose. 

The pair of Mankato natives have teamed up to produce the first ever commercial beer brewed with real air-popped popcorn.

Though popcorn is essential to the branding, the beer itself isn't overpowered by popcorn flavor. The Belgian farmhouse ale starts with a corny sweetness and finishes with a parch that's reminiscent of the snack. Other than that, it's just a good saison that so happens to be brewed with popped kernels and neighborly love.

"If it wasn't for our relationship with Angie's, there's no way we could've gotten the amount of air-popped popcorn that we needed," says Mankato owner Tim Tupy, who'd thought of brewing a beer with popcorn last fall and immediately contacted Angie's.

"When you're brewing, you want to find a way to convert a grain to a starch to a sugar, and the air pop is a perfect way of doing it. Regular straight corn — normally flaked corn is what breweries use — has to be cooked before you use it, but because of the air pop, we already have the starch ready to be converted."

Angie's co-founder Angie Bastian knew it was kind of a weird idea when Tupy brought it to her, but still, she went to her lab and popped up 25 pounds for test brewing. After a few months of testing, the two knew they were on to something.

Bright and bold as the packaging, Mankato's Boomchickapop is a farmhouse ale brewed with real Angie's popcorn.

Bright and bold as the packaging, Mankato's Boomchickapop is a farmhouse ale brewed with real Angie's popcorn.

They decided to style the beer as a farmhouse ale. It's an homage to the eclectic malt build — which includes oats as well as popcorn and barley.

"The farmhouse ale as a style, in Belgium, would be the beer that would be brewed by the farmer for the farmhands for spring and summer," Tupy says. "They would use whatever grains they had around the farm. They'd still need barley to make it beer, but they'd throw in anything else they had in their grainery, so using popcorn stretches that idea."

The lighter body of the beer and the banana esters of the saison yeast add to the beer's refreshment factor, making it an ideal spring seasonal.

Angie's Boomchickapop has emerged as one of the most recognizable, beloved brands in the natural food market. The brightly branded, non-GMO, gluten-free popcorn line got a big boost when booster firm TPG Growth bought a stake in the company in 2014. They now distribute in all 50 states and Canada, featuring heavily at Whole Foods.

As such, Mankato's own logo is supplemental to Angie's bold, Easter-colored wordmark, which stretches across the front of the 16-ounce can the same way it does their sea salt-flavored popcorn bag. By leaning on Angie's clear and recognizable bag design, Tupy knew they could attract drinkers from outside their usual demographic.

The beer, which hits Minneapolis/St. Paul markets this week, will be celebrated with a party at the brewery on Friday. The so-called popcorn ale is a one-time release, and if its popularity in Mankato is any indication, it won't last long on shelves and taplines in the Twin Cities.

"The idea was that we'd make enough that it'd last through summer, but, in our local market, every can that our distributor brought in is gone," says Tupy. He adds that it won't be on tap as long as they'd hoped at the brewery. As of this past weekend, there were zero gallons on hand at the facility, though more is coming. "More than likely, a beer that we thought was gonna be a spring/summer will probably be an early spring beer."

Mankato Boomchickapop release party

When: 6 p.m.., Friday, April 8

Where: 1119 Center St., Mankato

Tickets: $5 at the door