Being a fairly new non-bartender member of USBG, I didn’t understand the ‘coin’ given to me when I joined. Our Holiday party was where coins were handed out to those that had joined in the previous months. I got mine, thought it was cool, and put it in my pocket.
It wasn't until I attended the San Antonio Cocktail Conference the following January that I saw people bringing out their coins and boasting about their adventures. I enjoyed listening to them and looking at all the different coins people had in their possession - some with many coins from all over the nation.
Not wanting to sound unknowledgeable, I still didn’t ask questions or know what to do with them. All I knew was to have it with me at all times. Over time, I learned they were Challenge Coins - "Carry your coin at all times or risk being challenged by a fellow member. If you cannot produce your coin, then that member owes the challenger a drink. Produce the coin and you will be owed the drink.”
So who is behind this coin popularity? Meet Bret Kragerud, owner and creator of US Medallions. “I started creating coins for the souvenir industry in 2011. Our coins can be found in many of the top souvenir shops in Las Vegas and many resort hotels including The Four Seasons, The Marriott and The Ritz Carlton to name a few. The coins have opened many doors for my business and have enlightened many people with their beauty and characteristics.”
I had the honor of meeting Bret at the USBG Toast in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail. I personally received the soon-to-be famous ‘Spinning Party’ Coin. What makes this coin so unusual? It SPINS! This patent-pending coin has a tiny little divot that allows it to spin and makes it even more fun to challenge with a Spin the Bottle, Spin to Win game.
His brother Tore was an integral part in the success of the bar industry by bringing the first beverage industry challenge coin to life in 2012 to mixologists in Las Vegas. They were a huge hit and the demand for coins went crazy. “The challenge coins have been a great marketing and promotional success for the beverage industry and we have produced many coins for the top industry suppliers, including the United States Bartenders' Guild."
Nicki Petry, USBG Austin, says: “Members love the coins. When we have a membership drive and launch a coin for new members. We always see the excitement. Having a chapter coin and going to a bar outside that chapter, and challenging the bartender with it shows that you're part of the cool kids from that chapter. The coins are something a member can psychically hold showing they are part of something. To that member it has an unspoken value.”
“It’s amazing how the coins have gone viral within the beverage industry. The coins are all over social media. We are now doing coins around the world with Fernet; Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Singapore, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Asia, Greece, Puerto Rico, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark. Beam Suntory, William Grant & Sons and Four Roses are big coin fans and have produced many coins such as Jim Beam, Basil Hayden, Laphroaig, Knob Creek, Makers Mark, Effen Vodka, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Milagro Tequila, and Hendricks Gin. Plantation Rum and Bushmill have coins, also.” says Bret.
Michael Rogers, USBG San Antonio Treasurer shared that “The USBG San Antonio members love the challenge coins. It's become a competitive challenge when a group of us are out. Not only must we have the coin produced, but it becomes a "who has more and which ones.".The stories are then told as to how we acquired the "cooler" coins. When a group of us get together to bar hop, it's not unusual to hear a cacophony of clanking coins emanating from the group's pockets."
US Medallions continues to create and innovate new products into the highly collective coin world. So what’s the latest from this coin maker? Bret tells me, “we did a 3-D profile of rapper 50-Cent on the front. It looks like a vintage 50-cent coin. On the back is the Effen Vodka bottle and when it spins, it strobes.”
I have got to get me one of those!!
This blog was first published on usbg.org October 17, 2016.