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Milwaukee Company's Dog Treats Unite Craft Beer And Dog Lovers

Enjoying a refreshing craft beer in Milwaukee is a pastime many beer lovers in the city enjoy. Now those same beer lovers can enjoy a cold one with their dogs — sort of.

On the surface, making craft beer and feeding a dog might seem like pretty different activities, but they have more in common than you think. A Milwaukee startup called Leashless Lab is bridging the gap.

“Two things that make you feel really good: petting a dog and drinking beer. It doesn’t get much better than that," says Nikki Collier, one of the creators of Leashless Lab.

What started with leftover spent grain from a home brewing system in Nikki Collier and Kevin Goss’s home, has blossomed into a burgeoning dog treat business both people and their dogs enjoy.

However, the married couple didn’t go at it alone. Their Labrador retriever, Tonka, had a hand – or should I say a paw – in the treat’s development as well.

Credit Leashless Lab
Tonka, the inspiration behind Leashless Lab treats.

While Collier experimented with different ingredients, Tonka was the first taste tester. Tonka gave his nod of approval, and the rest was history.

“We’d give them to family and friends and also got favorable reviews from them and then around that same time we were thinking, “Hey, this might be something fun to do outside of just for dogs that we knew personally,” Collier says.

Leashless Lab treats are baked with four all-natural ingredients: rice flour, eggs from a local farm, organic peanut butter, and spent grain from four local breweries in Milwaukee (Lakefront Brewery, Black Husky Brewing, Central Waters Brewing Company, and Raised Grain Brewing Company).

I joined Nikki Collier at Black Husky when she was picking up more spent grain to make a new batch of treats, and to see the brewing process.

Collier never pays for the grain she gets from any of the breweries.

Both Leashless Lab and their brewing partners benefit from working together. The breweries might be looking for ways to repurpose their leftover grains anyway, so in Collier’s case, using them for dog treats gets her buckets filled every time.

Black Husky’s owner, Tim Eichinger, explained how Black Husky gets its spent grain.

“We get the malted grain and we go through a process called mashing where it takes the starches and converts them into sugar. And then we remove that sugary water; think of like steeping tea, and then as you’re removing that sweet liquid, the grains have less and less of that sugar in it and depending on how you brew, they still have some food value.”  

Eichinger also gives some of his spent grain to a farmer who uses it to feed his cattle, and one of his neighbors uses it in his garden.

As the owner of a brewery named for a dog, Eichinger says he supports what Leashless Lab is doing with their business.

Credit Teran Powell
Eichinger fills one of Collier's food buckets with the grain.

“I think it’s really a great idea because, like you’re saying, craft beer and dogs. I mean that’s what we’re about,” Eichinger says.

Both Collier and Eichinger say there’s an overlap of people who enjoy beer and love dogs.

“That’s how, obviously, we got into it because we (Nikki and Kevin) love both and we’re like, “There’s a lot of people out there that are like us,” Collier says. 

Eichinger added, “We (the Black Husky) want people to come and bring out their dogs and their parents and their kids and just have it be a social thing because that’s what beer is."

Leashless Lab also partners with the Wisconsin Humane Society, which gets 10 percent of the profit from the treat’s sales. The Humane Society also sells the treats on site.

Credit Teran Powell
A puppy at the Wisconsin Humane Society ready to have a Leashless Lab treat.

Angela Speed, vice president of communications at Milwaukee's Humane Society, says partnerships like Leashless Lab help provide care for the animals, and she jokes that the treat seems only right for this city.  

“Where else but Milwaukee could you get a dog treat made from beer? Like it’s so novel and such a fantastic idea,” Speed says.

Judging from the dogs that got a chance to test Leashless Lab treats, it seems to be a hit with the canine population.

Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.