Though she’s been on the scene less than a decade, drag queen Shea Couleé, the onstage persona of 31-year-old Jaren Kyei Merrell, has quite the resume.
In addition to enjoying the national limelight from RuPaul’s Drag Race (Couleé won four challenges in Season 9 and appeared in RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars), the Chicago celeb is a dancer, singer, filmmaker, activist and social media personality. And starting this morning, she can (sort of) add “brewer” to that list.
Today, Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company is taking the wraps off what’s easily the most colorful and unconventional tie-in the beer business has seen since Iceland gifted the world with Whale Testicle Beer in 2015. Dubbed Shea Coul-Alé, the limited-run brew isn’t just the first to partner with a drag star but also features a can that Couleé helped design. Couleé, who counts over 919,000 followers on Instagram, will also lead promotional efforts.
“This light and lemony urban wheat pale ale is brewed right in my hometown of Chicago,” Couleé said in a statement, adding that it’s “great for social distancing cookouts.”
With Pride Month starting in just a few days, it’s unlikely that America will be seeing the kind of over-the-top parades and dance parties for which June has become famous. But there will likely be no shortage of the products, promotions and campaigns waving the rainbow flag around.
Goose Island is eager to let the public know that this activation isn’t an example of “pinkwashing,” an increasingly common phenomenon by which corporations, eager to tap into the LGBT community’s estimated $3 trillion in global buying power, slap a rainbow flag onto a product or service.
“While Goose Island is the first beer brand to partner with a Drag All Star, the whole process felt like it was always meant to be,” said the brand’s senior media manager Mike Erickson. “Our mission for the partnership was to reflect on the artists of our Chicago community but also share a message that resonates nationwide, which is to support one another now more than ever and hopefully bring a piece of the Pride celebration to your home.”
The beer brand’s “Drag-a-Beer” campaign has been out for over a year now, and Erickson said it’s an extension of the support the company seeks to offer artists throughout the Windy City.
“Mike Erickson came to me and said they wanted to do an LGBT program in 2020,” added Scott Cramer, director of local revenue and strategy for DoStuff Media, the experience-oriented shop that led the creative. Cramer, himself a member of Chicago’s LGBT community, had worked with Goose Island well before the brand’s 2011 acquisition by Anheuser-Busch InBev.
“I’ve seen Goose Island do different collaborations across the board, different ones with sports teams and musicians, but I haven’t seen a collaboration with the LGBT community,” Cramer said. “I knew Shea Couleé very well because she’s the hometown RuPaul drag star, and it felt perfect to bring [together] Chicago’s hometown brew and hometown queen.”
And, as one might expect, the queen has gotten her way.
For one thing, Couleé (with a creative assist from her visual designer, Dan Polyak) held sway over what the can is wearing. It’s a yellow-to-pink color gradient wrapped over bare aluminum with the brand’s signature goose rendered in a glitter foil, one purportedly never before used on a beer can. More observant imbibers might also notice that the goose is sporting false eyelashes.
As a nod to the community, Goose Island will also donate a portion of sales to TransTech, a nonprofit that provides support, education and job referrals for trans people, a charity that Couleé selected specifically.
Couleé will debut her “fierce and sickening brew” via her own show Cooking With Couleé and will also be promoting her new suds via her social channels. Customers can preorder the beer via Goose Island’s web site starting June 3.
The only bitter taste here is that, thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic, drinkers of Shea Coul-Alé won’t be getting close enough to one another to toast with it.
But Cramer points out that celebrating, decentralized and socially distanced as it may be, will still go on. And hopefully things will have returned to normal by next year, when Goose Island’s “Drag-a-Beer” initiative will partner with another drag queen—though, of course, she’s not ready for her closeup yet.