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Promotions Watch: Ballpark Beers

Raging Cougar AleOver the past several seasons, the bond of beer and baseball has grown, thanks to teams embracing the growth of the craft brewery industry. In the latest Promotions Watch, we highlight some of the most recent developments in this trend, including the growing numbers of clubs rolling out team-branded brews.

Professional baseball, of course, was built on beer: when Chris Von der Ahe opened Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, it was as a much a venue to sell beer as it was to host baseball. Today, most teams — ranging from rookie teams to MLB franchises — offer a wide variety of brews, with the Colorado Rockies actually brewing beer at the ballpark.

In the past few weeks, two Low Class A franchises have unveiled their own brands of brew. The Kane County Cougars (Low Class A; Midwest League) recently announced that Raging Cougar Ale will be available this season. The beer—which is being produced by Two Brothers Brewing Company of Warrenville, IL—will have wide availability outside of Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, as it will also be on draft at Two Brothers’ tap house locations in Warrenville and Scottsdale, AZ, as well as at Round House restaurant in Aurora, IL. Most notably, it will be part of the beer lineup at Chase Field, home of the Cougars’ parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cougars are believed to be the first team to have its beer offered at its parent club’s ballpark.

According to the Cougars’ announcement, Raging Cougar’s flavor is “best described as a light and hoppy pale ale, golden in color with a nutty, caramel malt flavor”; it will be unveiled as part of a ceremonial first pour during Opening Day on April 9. Raging Cougar was chosen by the fans in a name the beer contest, beating out Home Run Ale and Grand Slam Ale.

Along with the Cougars, the Hagerstown Suns (Low Class A; Sally League) have gotten on board with this trend, as a special brew from Antietam Brewery will be available at Municipal Stadium. The beer, which will be unveiled in a pre-game keg tapping ceremony during the team’s home opener on April 16, is part of the Suns’ celebration of their 35th season. (Disclosure: I am running a 35th-season related blog that highlights the team’s history).

Aside from a mention in the team’s release of its promotional schedule, neither the Suns nor the brewery have offered many details about the beer and plan to keep its name under wraps for the next few weeks. The pairing between Antietam Brewery—which will also sell the beer at its brew pub near Municipal Stadium—and the Suns makes sense: Antietam has sponsored the ballpark’s beer garden over the last few seasons and is the only craft brewery in Washington County, MD.

While Kane County and Hagerstown highlight some of the most recent beer-related announcements in baseball, fans wanting to sample some unique craft brews at the ballpark do not have to wait for the regular season. Four Peaks Brewery of Tempe announced in February that it is offering its beers at stadiums across the Cactus League during spring training. Nine ballparks—including two newly renovated facilities, Peoria Sports Complex and Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium—will offer Four Peaks’ beers among their concession items. The brewery has partnered with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to provide beers in the Kilt Lifter Tap Room at Tempe Stadium, and will be featured among Chicago-based craft brews at the Cubs’ Sloan Park.

With those options available, it looks like 2015 will be another year in which the relationship between local craft breweries and baseball grows. For the past several years, many teams have been using ballpark-specific beers as a promotional item. The aptly named Hillsboro Hops (short season A; Northwest League) have featured Long Ball Ale since 2013 as part of their much larger partnership with BridgePort Brewing Company, a Portland-based brewery that is the oldest in Oregon. In addition to creating Long Ball, BridgePort is also the team’s official brewery and is the sponsor of Ron Tonkin Field’s beer garden.

Including Hillsboro, nine minor league clubs had team-branded beers on sale by the beginning of last season. Triple-A led the way, with three International League clubs—the Rochester Red Wings, Charlotte Knights, Indianapolis Indians—and two Pacific Coast League squads—the Omaha Storm Chasers and Iowa Cubs—all offering team-exclusive ales. Perhaps the most unique among that group is the Cubs, who have sold Iowa Oaks Ale since 2008. The name is a tribute to the Iowa Oaks, the team’s moniker from 1969-1981.

At the lower levels, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High Class A; Carolina League), Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League), and Charleston RiverDogs (Low Class A; Sally League) have all jumped on board. Myrtle Beach has offered its own beer the longest among the three, with Pelicans Summer Tide from New South Brewing Company being sold at Pelican games since 2013. The Flying Squirrels rolled out Chin Music, an Amber Lager by Richmond-based Center of the Universe Brewing last year, the same season in which the RiverDogs began offering The Original from Palmetto Brewery. That ale compliments the RiverDogs’ variety of beer-flavored milk shakes at Joseph P. Reilly Park since 2013. Beer shakes were the creation of the Goldklang Group’s John Schumacher. Another Goldklang team, the Fort Myers Miracle (High Class A; Florida State League), has also added beer shakes to their menu — an offering also made to Minnesota Twins fans for spring training games at Hammond Stadium.

Craft beer is also gaining traction at the collegiate level: The Madison Mallards (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) offer 20 different beers at Warner Park, including Great Dane Mallards Pilsner, brewed by the sponsor of the team’s massive beer garden. And the Rochester Honkers (summer collegiate; Northwoods League), feature Honkers Red Ale from the August Schell Brewing Company of New Ulm, MN. The beer is sold exclusively at the Honkers’ Mayo Field.

Some clubs have adopted different approaches to team up with craft beer. The Lake Elsinore Storm (High Class A; California League), with their ninth annual Sip N’ Swing at The Diamond on March 15, are among several teams that will host large-scale beer festivals. Those looking for festivals during the season can find options at several other locations across the minors, including Hagerstown on June 27 and Daytona on May 16.

Other teams have partnered with local breweries to create exclusive beer gardens. Among the more notable include the Lakewood BlueClaws’ (Low Class A; Sally League) Craft Brew House. In partnership with Freehold, NJ-based Shore Point Distributing, the BlueClaws added this area to their offerings at FirstEnergy Park in 2013. Meanwhile, the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association) will bring The Craft Beer Bullpen from Midway Stadium to new CHS Field. The area will be available at group rates for parties of 50-75 individuals during the upcoming season.

Craft beer is catching on across all levels of baseball, to the point where the Washington Post took time last season to rank major league stadiums based on their offerings. With a strong start in 2015, look for beer and baseball to forge more partnerships in the coming years. Craft beer’s expansion as a whole and its popularity with drinkers of all ages makes it a natural fit for teams, especially those trying to diversify their community ties. For fans this is a positive, as it makes the connection between the pastimes of beer and baseball all the more unique.

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