Up for the match: Craft beer on and off the pitch

Guinness announced a few weeks ago that it was extending its current sponsorship of rugby’s Pro12 tournament for a further four years. The company clearly hopes that this new commitment will give it added exposure and convince people to stop referring to the tournament as the Magners League. This is a similar problem to rugby’s European Cup as people long associate it as the Heineken (or simply ‘H in France) Cup. The new Guinness tie-in follows an unsuccessful attempt to become title sponsors of the English Premier League. Carling has made a return as the official beer of type-flight football.

Of course these sponsorship arrangements are important sources of funding of sports. Breweries will try to snap up as many competitions as possible to keep them out of the hands of competitors but also to respond to a more imminent concern – a blanket ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports. It already happens in France for example. Now the Irish Government and others are expected to follow suit. This undoubtedly will cause problems for the likes of the IRFU and GAA.

One of many Dublin GAA themed ads from Five Lamps
One of many Dublin GAA themed ads from Five Lamps

In addition to the sponsorship money forked over, sponsors can be typically expected to pay anywhere up to 50% of the amount paid telling consumers that the sponsor said team, league or event. This can range from exclusive bars inside stadia, branding pubs, competitions, TV ads, instore promotions etc. However, they are particularly exposed on their flank to one particular threat – ambush marketing; other companies getting in on the game with little to no money down.

In the run-up to the All Ireland Football Championship, Five Lamps Brewery hosted a couple of GAA-themed events. Other breweries have released sports-themed beer names such as Western Herd’s Danger Here. Rascals Brewing Co.have had a few like Holy Schmidt Pale Ale and 13 Seconds. Such approaches fit in with a sector that sees itself in the midst of a revolution, trying to usurp control from the larger, macro breweries. Attention-seeking from the likes of BrewDog and others is key to a sector that has minimal money to spend on advertising.

Beer names have long been a popular tool to pay tribute to sports but even more importantly, they attract attention in and around major events
Beer names have long been a popular tool to pay tribute to sports but even more importantly, they attract attention in and around major events

Ambush marketing is perhaps a little too harsh a prism to view such actions. It’s not like infamous battles of Coke versus Pepsi or Addidas versus Nike to claim hearts and minds of consumers. Craft breweries are using other tactics to reach out to consumers through sport. Trouble Brewing has hosted craft beer nights in Dalymount Park. Kelly’s Mountain have been involved with their local GAA club.

Craft breweries are approaching sponsorship opportunities strategically. Sweetwater Brewery was launched by Rye River in Ireland the week of Boston College-Georgia Tech American Football game. As if that wasn’t enough, SweetWater was available draught at The Trinity Welcome Village at Trinity College Dublin, the official tailgating venue for the Aer Lingus Classic. Over in the west, Wild Bat brewery has collaborated with Oughterard RFC on a limited edition rugby jersey.

Wild Bat taking it one step further with this limited edition Oughterard RFC jersey
Wild Bat taking it one step further with this limited edition Oughterard RFC jersey

It seems that craft beer is prepared to take on the larger breweries head on in their traditional domain – sponsorship in marketing. However, they’re doing it in their own special way. Sure, what else would we expect from them.

Beers from Atlanta in honour of the city’s famous son

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S. Whilst it takes place on the 3rd Monday of January, Dr. King’s actual birthday is 15 January but for the purposes of this post, I thought it prudent to feature two beers from a brewery in the city of his birth.

Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewery was founded back in 1997 by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerny, roommates at University of Colorado in Boulder (obviously a place to discover craft beer). Firmly embracing the importance of “localism”, the brewery takes its name from Sweetwater Creek, which flows off from the brilliantly named – and easier to say after a couple of beers – Chattahoochee River (any Alan Jackson fans out there?). The brewery’s motto is “don’t float the mainstream”, and it features prominently on all the packaging for its brews.

Sweetwater was one of the craft brewing outliers in the South. When I first started going to Nashville almost ten years ago now, their beers were one of the few regional beers regularly available, with their 420 Extra Pale Ale becoming an early favourite of mine. At 5.7%, it had enough fresh hop bitterness to be pleasant on those hot southern summer days.

image

The most recent beers I had from the brewery were Georgia Brown and LowRYEder IPA. Billed an “easy drinkin’ back porch ale”, Georgia Brown is “as smooth as a Bill Clinton apology”. According to the bottle, I was to “enjoy it some southern hospitality” so it was a bottle I cracked open during a trip to visit the in-laws. There’s chocolate and demerara sugar (or as they call it down there, sugar in the raw) on the nose. It’s colour can be best described as a fine amber syrup. It’s got what you’d expect from a brown ale – low bitterness (30 IBUs and is hopped with Columbus & Willamette) and some bready characteristics. There are also bold coffee notes on the finish, though, to keep you guessing.

image

Next up is LowRYEder IPA, described as “a flame trowin’ IPA ignited by a 25% shot of rye malt and capped by a booty hoppin’ blast of Mt Hood and Centennial hops that make this IPA bounce”. Rye’s a common ingredient in beers across the South. It can be sourced easier than hops and can help give that desired spiciness. The beer pours orange with amber highlights topped by vibrant head of foam. The beer’s hopped with Columbus, Mt Hood and Centennial. Whilst there was initial fresh citrus notes on the noses, the rye bill (plenty of brewers find 10% rye creates the desired spicy backbone) resulted in an aroma of dried fruit. This beer’s balanced, though, and the dry, bitter finish is not over-powering. It belies its 6.2% abv and cries out for a good burger to have alongside it.

Things even peachier for US craft beer

Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.

At the beginning of July I posted a piece on the US craft beer industry and the healthy state it was in. I based this on data available from the Brewers Association (BA). Since then, however, new data was released by Internal Revenue Service covering breweries operating at the end of June 2014 in the US and was published by the BA. There are now 3,040 breweries across the US. This is represents a 7.7% increase in breweries since 2013 and the number of breweries operating is at the highest level since the 1870s.The BA estimates that 99% of breweries are craft and that the majority of Americans are no more than 10 miles away from a brewery. The figures aren’t fully analysed and I’m looking forward to reading them when they’re released.

In the same piece, I mentioned that the Kentucky Peach Barrel Wheat from Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. was going to be available in limited quantities in Ireland. I had the opportunity to taste it this past weekend. You’re immediately hit by an aroma of sweet peach and vanilla oak. There’s also a nose tingling effect resulting from the bourbon warmth. With the head clinging to the side of the glass, it pours extremely pale, a light gold and is filtered clear.

You get the peach up front but the bourbon takes over, matches with the sweetness though. However, you’re hit by the aroma on each sip; similar to a tropical shampoo taking over your senses when washing your hair. It’s drinkable, dangerously so when compared with the snifter sipper that is the bourbon barrel ale. This beer has also spent six weeks in used casks.

I’m not one for cocktails (I prefer the Bellini with just the champagne) but I can see that at 8% ABV this beer is aimed at those who do. On the other hand, when you take into account the popularity of fruit wheat beers out there and in particular Sweetwater Blue (with blueberries and at 4.9%) out of Atlanta, this beer could perhaps be lower in alcohol and still achieve the same impact. Doing something like that could prove to be a big seller (even on a seasonal basis) if they wanted to re-release it on a more regular basis.

Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.
Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.

It would be good to see some more lower alcohol bourbon-inspired ales on the market. Take for instance BrewDog’s Bourbon Baby at 5.8% ABV. It’s a scotch ale aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. There’s rich, sweet fruits on huge nose. The beer pours dark and topped by a frothy head. There’s the expected vanilla woody notes on huge taste and sweetness continues into the finish complete with a warming sensation. According to Fraserburgh’s finest: “This is light. This is dark. This is Bourbon Baby”.

There's certainly room in the market for lower (albeit not too much) bourbon barrel aged beers
There’s certainly room in the market for lower (albeit not too much) bourbon barrel aged beers