In August of 2018, I was standing in line for a beer at Bauhaus Brew Labs when a fracas erupted behind me.
A Rubbermaid trash can flew through the air. When I turned around, a bedraggled man in plaid tights was standing in the clearing, staring down his opponent: legendary hardcore wrestler Tommy Dreamer. Tommy picked up a pickle off the floor, took a bite, and spit it towards him. Then, the melee resumed.
Three years ago, a wrestling match breaking out in a brewery taproom was a total anomaly. But since the first-ever Blood, Sweat, and Beers event at Bauhaus back in 2018, professional wrestling has become more and more common at Minnesota’s breweries. Modist and Lift Bridge both hosted shows in 2019, and this July, Revel Brewing, Starry Eyed Brewing, and The Lab joined in on the fun. But this coming weekend represents a first: two shows at two breweries in the Twin Cities. On Friday, August 13, Clutch Brewing is holding Nightmare on 7th Street, and two days later, Bauhaus Brew Labs will follow up with Blood, Sweat, and Beers III on Sunday.
“We encourage the party,” says Arik Cannon, wrestler, promoter, and owner of F1RST Wrestling. “People can come out, have a couple of drinks, and holler at wrestlers. As long as everybody gets home safe, let’s have a good time.”
Cannon, the crazed brawler who went up against Dreamer during that impromptu match at Bauhaus, is an icon of Minnesota wrestling. F1RST Wrestling’s bi-annual WrestlePalooza shows at First Ave have become a local touchstone, inviting hundreds of nontraditional wrestling fans into a show that features a melange of grappling, burlesque, music, and drag. Now that pandemic restrictions are lifting, breweries are looking around at their big, outdoor spaces and calling in Cannon to book a show to bring the crowds back in.
“The brewery owners and staff are very open, like, ‘Hey, no offense, I don’t know shit about wrestling, but many of our customers like F1RST Wrestling, and it’d be cool if they did a show here,” Cannon says. “Other brewery owners and staff are like, ‘Hey, we go to WrestlePalooza and it’s the coolest shit ever. Can you do that at our brewery?’”
The short answer is “Yes.” Cannon has long sat at the convergence of beer and wrestling. A longtime Pabst Blue Ribbon–sponsored performer, he still chugs tallboys mid-match. So when former Bauhaus sales rep Jake Quam suggested they put up a ring on their patio, Cannon knew just how to make it work.
“We can get a little edgier at the breweries, we can include more beer participation in the event,” Cannon says. Since the first Blood, Sweat, and Beers show, Cannon has developed his wrestling show into a turnkey operation. If you can provide him the space to set up a 20” x 20” ring, he’ll put together a card of performers that will make your brewery a pro wrestling hotbed for one night only. “We can do some crazy hardcore stuff at these events, and that plays into the idea that people are there to party and have a couple of drinks and spend time with their friends watching something crazy to go home and talk about.”
He tries to make it as light a lift for his brewery partners as possible. That probably explains the sudden proliferation. In most cases, the taproom handles logistics and ticketing. The rest is best left to the guy who’s getting the pickles spat in his face.
“We just plan out the footprint, any sort of structural plan, and they bring in the ring,” says Bauhaus Communications and Marketing Manager Maura Hagerty Schwandt. “We provide a VIP area, pipe and drape, the bar service, and we run the Facebook event. What Arik really concentrates on is pulling together the talent and planning out the show.”
When The Lab Executive Assistant Laura Preston brought up the idea of doing a wrestling show at their pilot brewery and taproom in St. Paul, Founder and CEO Janet Johanson had no idea if it would work out. Their July 10 pre-Pride wrestling party was a rousing success, to the point where Preston said her boss now expects it to be a yearly event.
“This event was a huge marketing win for us,” Preston says. “We literally brought out 600 people that I don’t think have ever been to The Lab before. It was not a craft beer crowd, but they definitely loved craft beer. So I guess any crowd can be a craft beer crowd.”
The Lab may not have been the first brewery to host F1RST Wrestling, but they were the first to give the wrestling promoters their own beer. For the event, they cooked up a Mexican-style lager brewed with lime called Chair Shot. Now, it’s a requisite for every taproom wrestling show. If you’re going to bring in a chanting throng of wrestling nerds, you need to welcome them into the craft beer ethos. Bauhaus will be serving a light lager called Headlock, and Clutch is releasing a special dry-hopped pale lager called St. Paul Slammer.
Clutch co-founder and brewer Max Boeke had similar reservations as Johanson. He was a WWE fan as a kid, but he had no concept of what independent wrestling could bring to his space at Keg and Case Market when his partner brought the idea of hosting a F1RST Wrestling show to him. Now, as they’re heading into a weekend of headlocks and suplexes with a specially formulated release in the tanks, that primordial excitement has reawakened in him.
“I can certainly get down with it,” Boeke says. “We’re all just accepting this alternative reality and having a blast with it. It’s kind of the perfect thing when everybody’s having a beer and being merry. People do acrobatic moves, and there are big beefs, and a little bit of gore. Seems like a lot of fun to me.”