This is not the way I expected things to start in the big L-O. I think it is time for a beer.
There are so many bell and whistles in the new stadium, including a retractable roof and a retractable north window, both very cool features. But just as impressive, there are 778 beer taps at 525 points of sale, which is almost double what the Colts’ old Hoosier Dome home had. And that is good news for beer fans.
Or it should be. As I walk around, I notice that Budweiser takes up about half of the taps. The other taps are pretty well split between Miller and Coors. There are stands selling bottled beer, but they are basically limited to Corona, Heineken, and Amstel Light.
I had read in the Indianapolis Star that there will be beers from the downtown Indianapolis Ram brewery. But I wasn’t able to find them. And every beer vendor and concession stand worker I asked didn’t know that Ram beer was sold in the stadium.
Obviously there aren’t many points of sale dedicated to Ram. But why just Ram? There are so many great beers in Indiana and the entire Midwest. With so many more taps available, why isn’t the variety of beers available more diverse? That is the question I asked Bob Mack of World Class Beverages.
“[B]reweries have to pay to have their beer served in stadiums and it is very, very expensive. That situation really gears Lucas Oil towards macro brands who have large marketing budgets. Miller and Coors [which is distributed by World Class Beverages parent company Monarch Beverages] pay to be there, but that doesn’t cover any World Class brands. Anheuser-Busch pays well into the millions of dollars each year for their presence.
“I don’t know that any of our breweries are in a financial position to pay the fees involved in being present there, but we have talked to Centerplate about a consortium type approach where the financial burden could be shared, but there is a limit to how many products can be represented, which limits the number of breweries who can help to share that financial burden.”
Call me a naïve beer geek, but I thought teams would (or should) select beers based on what their fans would like to drink. “You are thinking logically and with your palate,” Mat Gerdenich of Cavalier Distributing informed me. “Those guys only think with their wallets.”
But it is not just the big sports teams that are doing this. I asked Andrew Castner at Oaken Barrel about their long time relationship with Victory Field. “In order to have our beer on tap at the field, we buy advertising and signage in parts of the field. As our math has gone, we sell as much beer to them as it costs to purchase the advertising. As a result, we don't make money on that account, but we are able to increase our exposure.”
It turns out that most venues and events that sell beer make their beer selections based on who buys advertising or pays to be a sponsor. “The current Oktoberfest at the Fairgrounds gets money from Warsteiner for their products to be on tap there,” says Mack, “which makes it difficult for us to be involved with brands like Spaten or Paulaner. Though they will bring in some bottles our products aren’t that visible.”
I understand giving a greater presence to those who pay extra. But I’m disappointed to hear that beer brands are not being brought in at all because they don’t have the marketing budget to compete with the big three. So even though the new stadium was paid for by Hoosier taxpayers, you most likely won’t see many Hoosier produced beers being sold there.
(Okay, so maybe I'm being melodramatic. To be fair, the new stadium did just open, so hopefully a deal to have more craft beer will come together in the next season or two. Diana Evans, Director of Marketing at Centerplate, said "Whenever possible, we like to incorporate regional flavors (locally-sourced) and signature offerings to make the fan experience more special. As you've probably seen on the website, we recruit talented chefs and restaurateurs to inform our purchasing, design and menus--and we're always interested in new concepts. " So keep your fingers crossed.)
I know that other NFL stadiums sell craft beers. On Sunday, fellow Colts fan Bryan Haza was in the Metrodome in Minneapolis and texted me that he bought a 21 oz. cup of Pale Ale from St. Paul-based Summit Brewing Company for $7. So we emailed the concessionaires for the 32 NFL teams asking if they would share their beer list with us. Most were happy to share.
It should come as no surprise that in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome that Anheuser-Busch dominates the beer lineup. They submitted that their beer list includes the Budweiser family of beers, the Michelob family of beers, and the Anheuser-Busch specialty and seasonal beers, plus Miller Lite and Coors Light.
Knowing that St. Louis brewery Schlafly Beer has a presence at Busch Stadium, home of the MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals, we wondered why their beer isn’t available at Rams games. Tom Schlafly wondered the same thing in a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Business Journal on June 16, 2008:
“There are lots of Rams fans who like Schlafly Beer. We see them at The Tap Room before or after every home game. There's no doubt that Schlafly would sell well at the Edward Jones Dome if it were available. Cardinals fans can buy Schlafly Beer at Busch Stadium. Blues fans can buy our beer at The Scottrade Center. Why can't Rams fans buy our beer at the Dome?”
We asked brand manager Mitch Turner if there had been any discussion about having their beer at Rams games. He said, “The Edward Jones Dome is run by Sport Service and they declined to serve our beer (I approached them personally). Their official stance was that we approached them too late in the year to get in. We approached them (both through the brewery and our distributor) periodically starting in late spring/early summer. The final answer of "no" was given to us in June.
“The reality is that they do serve Sam Adams, Killians, Blue Moon, and Boulevard,” Turner continues, “and that if there is an enemy #1 to the local AB/IB wholesaler, it is us. So, we are left out due to politics.” So while demand may be there for Schlafly by Rams fans, in this case business practices and politics seem to be getting in the way. But not necessarily money, as Schlafly doesn’t pay to be in any of those venues. “We are sold in Busch Stadium and the Scottrade Center (and the Pageant, the Roberts Orpheum, Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Harrah's Casino, etc.) because consumers demand it and we are very active (non-monetarily) in seeking opportunities to be in these venues and helping them achieve their goals.”
Despite some political and monetary hurdles, somehow quality, local beer offerings are making their way into some NFL stadiums. Abita is available at the Saints’ Superdome in New Orleans. Boulevard beers are available in their hometown’s Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. LP Field serves Yazoo, based in the Tennessee Titans town of Nashville. And the Buffalo Bills serve beers Flying Bison at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Honker’s Ale from Goose Island is available at Soldier Field in Chicago. But you also can drink regional favorites like Old Style and Leinenkugel’s while watching da Bears.
There are also stadiums that have stepped up their beer menus in a major way. At Bank of America Stadium, whose food services are operated in house by the Carolina Panthers, you will find one of the largest beer lists in the NFL, with over 44 beers listed. The local Carolina Beer Company has three varieties of its ABA Carolina Blonde at the stadium, including Carolina Strawberry Blonde and Carolina Blueberry Blonde. On top of these standard offerings, they also brew two beers for the stadium: Gridiron Red and Gridiron Brown.
At the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota Vikings fans take their beer very seriously. In addition to Summit’s Pale Ale, you can also find several varieties of Leinenkugel’s, as well as regional brewer Grain Belt. And Finnegan’s, which is a beer contract brewed for charity by Summit, is also on available.
Raiders Nation has a taste for craft beers as the Oakland Raiders serve an impressive selection at McAfee Coliseum. California originals like Gordon Biersch, Pyramid, and Sierra Nevada are available, as well as New Belgium’s Fat Tire and beers from Hawai’i based Kona Brewing Company.
In Denver, Invesco Field at Mile High offers plenty of hometown Coors to the thirsty Denver Broncos fans. But they also offer other Colorado brews: Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Grill and Brewery, Fat Tire from New Belgium Brewing, and Hercules Double IPA from Great Divide Brewing Company. This is on top of a large collection of domestics and imports, including Sierra Nevada.
There is a monster beer selection in Monster Park, home of the San Francisco 49’ers. Five Golden State beers can be found. Gordon Biersch and Sierra Nevada have been mentioned at other stadiums. Anchor Steam beer, not surprisingly, is available, as is fellow San Fran brewery Speakeasy. Top it off with Lagunitas IPA and fans will leave happy, no matter the score.
But when Hoosier Beer Geek reviewed all the submitted beer lists, the NFL stadium that impressed us the most is the home of the San Diego Chargers. Qualcomm Stadium has a line up of 37 beers, with 9 craft brews and 11 imports. Anchor Steam, Fat Tire, Gordon Biersch Hefewiezen, Gordon Biersch Marzen, Kona Fire Rock, Kona Long Board, Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale, and Ballast Point’s Yellowtail Pale Ale make up 1/4th of their beer menu.
It goes to show that demand drives supply. Given that in California and Colorado craft beer has a much larger market share than here in Indiana, it isn’t surprising that the NFL stadiums in those states serve up big craft beer menus.
Hopefully, as demand increases, the supply of craft beer in Lucas Oil Stadium will also increase. Until then, might I suggest to my fellow beer geeks that you tailgate with your favorite selection of beers or visit J. Gumbo’s, Spencer’s, or one of the microbreweries before kickoff.
And pray that during the game, the Colts on-field performance doesn’t drive you to drinking.