If you’ve ever poured a beer on your head, you know this nectar’s not only good for drinking — it can give your hair body and shine. Beer contains protein, B vitamins and natural silicon — all of which promote healthy hair. But, let’s face it, beer straight from the fridge to your head can be cold and messy.
Brad and Sarah Pearsall of Asheville have come to the rescue with a new, all-natural shampoo, the primary ingredient of which is locally brewed craft beer. And no, Bröö Shampoo doesn’t make you smell like a brewery.
Before embarking on Bröö shampoo, the Pearsalls worked as attorneys in Miami, specializing in maritime law. They’d spent lots of time visiting Asheville (Brad’s dad is longtime Asheville resident Mack Pearsall), and they decided to move here in 2008 to become entrepreneurs.
Their newly released pale-ale-infused shampoos and conditioners were inspired both by Asheville being named Beer City USA, and by Sarah’s search for all-natural body products for her family. Sarah learned that both her and Brad’s moms poured beer on their hair in the ‘50s to add body to their bouffant hairdos. Then the couple learned about “Body On Tap,” a beery shampoo manufactured in the late ‘70s. Inspired, Sarah got in the shower and upended a Highland Brewing Gaelic Ale on her head. “I was shocked,” she says. “I loved how my hair looked and felt afterwards.”
She says she then tried every local beer she could find on her hair, from French Broad Brewery's Kolsch to Asheville Brewing Company’s Ninja Porter. The couple even made a home brew, which they say was a disaster. Ultimately, Sarah decided that her favorite beer, at least for hair, is St. Therese’s Pale Ale.
The couple set up a meeting with Highland’s owner and founder Oscar Wong and brewmaster John Lyda. “They laughed when we told them we wanted to use the beer they were making for people to drink [for] shampoo,” says Brad. “But Oscar gave us a case of St. Therese’s to try it out.”
Now Highland sells cases of St. Therese’s to the Pearsalls to make shampoo. “I think it’s pretty cool actually,” Lyda says. “We don’t do anything special to the beer, and the stuff works great. I’m about halfway through a bottle.”
The Pearsalls initially tried formulating shampoo themselves with a friend, Steve Thompson, an Asheville doctor and organic chemist. They rented space at the BioBusiness Center at A-B Tech’s incubator campus in Candler and spent a day trying to make shampoo from beer and other natural ingredients. What they brewed there was “horrible,” says Sarah.
They found a chemist who specializes in shampoos working for a manufacturer in Kannapolis, N.C. They told him what they wanted — namely beer as a primary ingredient — and that he couldn’t use any of the 400 ingredients that the Whole Foods grocery stores forbid in their products, which includes aerosol sprays, artificial colors and parabens.
“It took nearly two years to get it right,” says Brad. “We have boxes and boxes of rejected formulas. Our shower looked like a chemistry experiment.” Finally, in September 2010, Brad drove 40 kegs of St. Therese’s down to Kannapolis. A few months later, the Pearsalls had 10,000 bottles of Bröö Shampoo and Conditioner — before Whole Foods had approved the formulation for sale.
“We had to submit beer as a new cosmetic ingredient to Whole Foods,” Brad notes. Now all Bröö is shipped to the Bröö warehouse in Asheville, and the Pearsalls distribute it themselves. “We’re a mom-and-pop (and baby-sitter) business,” Brad says. Their baby-sitter, Emma Thompson of Asheville, is the model for their ad campaign, photographed by Sarah’s brother as a Christmas gift.
The shampoo and conditioner sell for $14.75 a bottle from the Asheville Earth Fare stores and four Whole Food stores in the region (they approved Bröö for regional sale). The product is also available via Amazon, and they've been inundated with orders from all over the country (and even from Australia) after a piece on WLOS was picked up by ABC News.
“Salon performance with craft beer attitude is our motto,” Brad says.
This fall, the Pearsalls also will release a body wash made with Highland Oatmeal Porter, and a second line of hair and body products, which contain pale ale and an added citrus scent. I suggested they throw some Citra hops in there, but the line’s already been formulated.
And what’s with the double-umlauts?
“We thought it made the name seem more European. It’s our homage to the German and Belgian beer traditions,” Brad says. “We’ve since learned that it’s totally grammatically incorrect to have two umlauts in a row.” The Pearsalls say that, in addition to supporting their family, they want to support the craft beer scene in Asheville. And help us all have great hair. Just don’t drink Bröö — the alcohol evaporates during the manufacturing process anyway.
— Send your brews news to Anne Fitten Glenn at firstname.lastname@example.org