When a pair of Wisconsin natives living in New York started a podcast about their favorite football team over a decade ago, they never thought it would lead to a Packers-themed beer available across the badger state.
Lifelong Green Bay Packers fans Corey Behnke and Aaron Nagler started Cheesehead TV in 2007. Last year, they partnered with Milwaukee-based Gathering Place Brewing Co. to develop a Packers-themed beer — called “Carry the G” — that’s only available during the season.
It comes from a phrase Aaron Rodgers uttered at a 2019 press conference, saying his message to young players ahead of a bye week was that when they leave the facility, “you carry that ‘G’ with you wherever you go.”
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The beer was a hit among Packers fans, and has now expanded from the Green Bay, Fox Valley, Madison and Milwaukee areas to parts of central and western Wisconsin.
“This is the only beer we have currently that has statewide distribution,” said Joe Yeado, founder of Gathering Place Brewing Co. “Most of our other beers are in the Madison (and) Milwaukee areas, as well as Green Bay.”
How northeast Wisconsin natives created a Packers brand
Nagler and Behnke met in college at University of North Carolina School of the Arts in the late 1990s. Nagler was a first-year student and had to deliver a monologue in front of the entire drama program.
As he told the class he was from Appleton and would be reciting a scene from Hamlet, Behnke, an upperclassman, shouted, “Go Pack!”
While they had a lot in common having both grown up in northeast Wisconsin and worshiping the Green and Gold for as long as they can remember, they didn’t exactly become fast friends.
“Like-minded people don’t necessarily vibe right away — it takes a second,” Behnke said.
Nagler said they had a mutual friend who invited them both over to watch an NFL game. It was there that the two bonded over a mutual love of the Green Bay Packers.
“I would go to this house, and Corey was there. The Packers were on national television because it was 1996, and they were really good,” he said. “And this all happened because we started watching Packers games together.”
Aside from watching games together, Behnke said they’d play the video game Madden and visit each other’s families when they were in Wisconsin on school breaks.
A few years later, both moved to New York and began having weekly phone calls to talk about their favorite team. Then one day, Behnke had an idea about how to share their weekly discussions with cheeseheads around the globe.
“I remember in 2007 saying, ‘Hey, we should maybe turn this into a podcast,’” Behnke recalled. “And he was like, ‘What’s a podcast?’”
They started Packers Transplants, a show where two fans who — at the time — lived outside of Wisconsin would talk football.
“Where we play off each other is (Nagler) really watches the game, knows the game (and) is a savant of the game,” Behnke said. “Then 180-degree flip on me, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I really try to focus on, what are fans saying? What are they thinking?”
Cheesehead TV continued to grow over the years, and eventually became the first independent fan site to receive official press credentials at a Packers regular season game, playoff contest and Super Bowl.
Nagler credits the brand’s success to “being at the right place at the right time,” as it launched during the rise of social media. He said they filled a niche on the internet for Packers content that those outside Wisconsin lacked access to.
“We were very cognizant of the fact that there were lots of other people around the globe like us, and we really pitched it as, ‘We’re devoted to Packers fans worldwide,’ which is what we still say to this day,” he said.
Launching and expanding ‘Carry the G’
Prior to the beer, Nagler and Behnke initially had plans for a “Carry the G” whiskey, and worked with their friend from college, Luke Laga, co-owner of Scout Wine Merchants in southeast Wisconsin, to explore the possibility.
Laga eventually recommended they look at a beer, and suggested they connect with Gathering Place Brewing in Milwaukee.
Last summer, Behnke, who now lives in Green Bay, met with Yeado at Gathering Place and tasted a few of the brewery’s offerings. Yeado offered to rebrand the brewery’s popular cream ale as the official beer of Cheesehead TV, Carry the G.
They worked with Brent Schoonover, a Minnesota-based artist who has drawn comic books for Marvel, to design the can. The design features a 1940s-era football player wearing green and gold, with the state of Wisconsin in the background.
“We’re not trying to play with any copyrights or trademarks, but it’s so distinctly Packers,” Behnke said.
Gathering Place produced Carry the G in time for the Packers home opener last year, but the small brewery wasn’t prepared for “how quickly that beer would sell,” Yeado said.
Last year, he said the brewery handled its own distribution of the Packers-inspired beer, and focused primarily on Green Bay and the Fox Valley, with some availability in Madison and Milwaukee.
This time around, Gathering Place partnered with a distributor to expand across the state to accommodate requests in La Crosse, Eau Claire, Hudson and more.
“Working with the distributor this year, we ramped up our production plans and we have been able to get it to most corners of the state,” Yeado said. “The reception has been overwhelming.”
Nagler said enthusiasm for the beer has remained strong this year with fans outside Wisconsin clamoring for it — despite the team’s struggles on the field.
“It’s great to see how people have kind of embraced Carry the G as a means of like, ‘Look, I’m still a Packers fan. I’m still proud to be a Packers fan,’” he said.
Yeado and Behnke said their goal is to eventually expand distribution outside of Wisconsin. And Behnke said it’s possible that fans attending games at Lambeau Field could someday see the beer available inside the stadium.
He said they’ve been working with the Packers’ food service partner, Delaware North, to do just that, as the distributor they’ve partnered with already does business with the company.
“We’ve been in talks with Delaware North to try to get it in there,” he said. “We’re working on it. We’ll see if we get that last game of the season.”
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