You don't have to be a cyclist to be familiar with the Tour de France, the three-week road race that features the best cyclists in the world competing for the Maillot Jaune (or yellow jersey). Cycling as of late has become as well known for its use of performance enhancing drugs as for its competitions, but one drug has an even longer and more public history with cycling: alcohol.
The Tour de France, along with the Giro d'Italia, and the Vuelta a España form the triple crown of cycling. But not so long ago America had its own grand cycling competition: The Coors International Bicycle Classic. Although the Coors Classic went away after 1988, the Red leader's jersey is still popular among cyclists, and is still available for purchase at many cycling stores.
But the Coors jersey is just the tip of the iceberg as far as beer-based cycling jerseys go. The list of microbreweries with their own jerseys is growing exponentially, giving the biking beer geek a vast and almost overwhelming selection to choose from. A recent online search turned up jerseys from Dogfish Head, Ommegang, Stone Brewing Company, New Belgium, Smuttynose Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Boulder Beer Company, Harpoon Brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, Troegs Craft Brewery, Avery Brewing, Bell's Brewery, Lancaster Brewing, Full Sail Brewing, Deschutes Brewery, Leinenkugel, Redhook, Guinness, Fuller's, Brooklyn Brewery, and Left Hand Brewing.
The connection between beer and bicycling jerseys starts with customers, jersey suppliers, and brewery employees. Frederick Mazzeo, Dogfish Head's Merchandise Manager/Community Relations & Licensee Liaison, designed the Dogfish Head jersey himself. When asked why Dogfish got into cycling jerseys, he wrote "Customers began asking." In the case of Boulder Beer's jerseys, Brewmaster David Zucker informed me that the process worked a little differently. "We got involved with cycling jerseys when the guys at Primal Wear contacted us after drinking our beers. They liked the beers, and the graphics, and then they contacted us about whether we would be interested in having them produce the jerseys."
For Chris Lennert, the jerseys actually served as a sort of gateway into working for Left Hand Brewing. "Before I started working at Left Hand, I worked for a company that did a few cycling jerseys, and I approached Left Hand (my favorite brewery) to do a few jerseys with them. We wound up doing a Sawtooth and Milk Stout jersey, both of which are sold out. Based on the response that we had, a few months after I started working at Left Hand, we decided to do another one."
At Smuttynose, demand for the jerseys started with company president Peter Egelston and his partner, Joanne. "Joanne and I have been avid cyclists for a long time. When we expanded our brewpub ten years ago, adding a retail shop, we were looking to expand our product line beyond the usual lineup of tee-shirts and logo glasses. Since many of our friends ride, as well, we'd gotten inquiries about cycling jerseys, so Joanne, who designs all of our graphics, got in touch with Louis Garneau, based in nearby Vermont, about custom jerseys." There was a similar sort of in-house demand at Harpoon Brewery, says Liz Melby. "We have always had a very active crew that has worked at the brewery, including many passionate cyclist. Because of that, there was a demand for Harpoon cycling jerseys." According to Chris Cochran at Stone Brewery, the demand came from everywhere. "We had been thinking about doing them for awhile, some of the Stone Staff requested we make some, and there are LOTS of people in SoCal that ride, and we were contacted by Canari to make them so it all came together."
The production of jerseys may also come from brewery sponsorship of bicycling teams. Todd Thibault of Breckenridge Brewery, said they got into the business of cycling when a cycling shop in Breckenridge contacted them to sponsor their cycling team. Because Great Adventure Sports was already creating jerseys for the team, it was only natural that the brewery would offer them for sale to the general public. The brewery also supports smaller cycling teams through what Todd calls "beer support". As he says, "What more could a rider need?"
The graphics used on many craft brewery labels are a natural choice for use in cycling jerseys, which often feature designs that run the gamut from classy to garish. But is there a deeper link between beer and bicycling? Why do so many cyclists choose to wear brewery based jerseys? Left Hand's Lennert thinks it's about the passion. "Cyclists and breweries are both very passionate about what they do, and they take pride in who they partner with."
Breckenridge's Thibualt sees the connection as a continuation of tradition. "Beer and cycling is an old tradition, we even have some framed photos in our pub in Denver dated to the early 1900's that show cyclists on the side of the road drinking beer...well, OK they're just big bottles...we assume it's beer." Smuttynose's Egelston says it's a lifestyle choice. "The big guys have NASCAR, we have cycling. People who ride seriously are not likely to choose mass-marketed beer because they are not making mass-market choices in other areas of their lives." For Dogfish's Mazzeo, the answer is a bit more simple. "The carbs, man."
Perhaps it is just the carbs. It shouldn't be surprising that companies that sell cycling jerseys also promote cycling and wellness through in-house programs and sponsorship of cycling teams. The folks at Dogfish promote a healthier lifestyle through securing gym memberships for employees, and on site Bocce courts. At Breckenridge Brewery, wellness is explained in simple terms. "We're all from Colorado; the out-of-doors is how we roll." The folks at Boulder seem to have a similar philosophy. "We have a lot of staff who are bikers. Boulder is an exceptionally bike friendly community, so biking comes naturally to many of us. With the athletic inclination of Coloradans, we have a very fit group of people. Aside from biking, we have people play ultimate, disk golf, baseball, softball, hike, rock climb, ski, board, water ski." The folks at Harpoon see cycling as an extention of the company motto. "Our brewery's motto is 'Love Beer. Love Life' and we encourage living the motto to both our employees and our drinkers," said Melby. "We host and sponsor several cycling events each year, including the Harpoon Brewery to Brewery Ride and the Harpoon Point to Point." So perhaps it's only natural that these breweries are selling jerseys. They're also out there wearing them.
So if brewing and cycling really do go hand in hand, shouldn't a beer make a perfect post-ride reward? Which beers do the brewers themselves prefer? Each brewer had their own opinion, though Smuttynose's Egelston may have the most sound advice. "Obviously, the best post-ride cooldown is plain water. After re-hydration, I'd recommend a nice hoppy pale ale or IPA." Chris Cochran at Stone Brewery says you've got to consider circumstances: "If you are looking to cool down and carb up with a lower alcohol beer, I would say Stone Levitation Ale or Stone Pale Ale. However, if you just worked your ass off on a ride, and want to “reward” yourself, I’d say go with a Stone IPA or Arrogant Bastard Ale!"
Todd Thibault at Breckenridge recommends their Avalanche Amber Ale. "It matches the jersey. It's all about a balance." Frederick Mazzeo at Dogfish Head says he enjoys a postride 60 minute IPA followed by a 90 minute IPA. Chris Lennert at Left Hand isn't picky. "Any of them! It depends on what time of year you’re riding – do you want a good thirst quencher or a good winter warmer??" Harpoon's Melby recommends any of their beers for a cool down, but adds "IPA is always a great choice because it will cut through the salt of the sweat." David Zuckerman at Boulder Beer has his own very solid advice. "Whichever of our beers satisfies you, is good enough for us. It's kind of like the question that I get a lot about what is my favorite beer. My answer is always, the one that's in front of me."
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Thanks to those of you who provided links to more jerseys in the comments section. They've been added into the article and hopefully will provide as a valuable resource for cyclists looking to support their favorite brewery.