Ready for a craft beer at a River Cats game? New choices give fans better options

For years, craft beer fans have rolled their eyes at the options (and prices) available while watching their local nine at a baseball game.

While craft beer was readily available at bars, burger joints and even the grocery store, ballparks kept rolling out the same junk year after year and expecting fans to pay $9 for the privilege.

Corey Brandt is trying to change that. Brandt is the vice president of ballpark experience at Raley Field. When the River Cats start their season Thursday night, you’ll find Sacramento breweries like New Glory on tap, as well as Drake’s, Device and Revision.

Yes, you’re going to pay a ballpark premium. The lowest regular price at Raley Field is $8. That isn’t cheap, but it’s actually an improvement.

Prices dropped by $2 a beer across the ballpark in 2018. In another move aimed at beer fans, Knee Deep Alley – a craft beer area with a decent selection of Knee Deep’s brews – opened last year. They’re adding a blonde ale to the alley this year to give non-hoppy beer fans an option. It’s $12 for a Knee Deep beer.

If you’re looking to keep things thrifty, you can hang out on the outfield berm on Thursdays and enjoy $2 Coors Lite and Bud Light as well as a different $5 craft beer. (Brandt said the opening night craft will likely be Lagunitas IPA.)

It can still be frustrating trying to find a local brew at a ballgame. You’re not going to find any Moonraker at Raley Field. Craft’s slow penetration of baseball parks boils down to math, Brandt said. There are few Sacramento area breweries that can pump out enough beer for 70 home games a year, plus special events. There are thousands of people at Raley Field each night and hundreds are enjoying a beverage.

“The pressure has really come from consumers to add better beers,” Brand said. “People want local beers. The problem is getting local brewers who can do enough volume to keep our ballpark supplied.”

Brandt said he tried to get Russian River on tap for 2019 but officials with the Santa Rosa-based stalwart didn’t think they could consistently provide enough beer to make it worth the River Cats’ trouble.

The other math problem is cost. A keg of Coors Light or Budweiser costs about $130 in the Sacramento area. With 15 gallons in a keg, you get about 96 20-ounce beers that cost the stadium about $1.30 apiece and sell for about $9. That’s roughly a 700 percent markup.

Craft is much more expensive. Track 7’s Panic IPA costs about $220 for a keg, which means the River Cats would have to charge about $16 for a beer to make the same percentage of profit. Baseball teams will have to negotiate a deal with a local brewer and maybe give people 16 ounces instead of 20 if they want to maintain that margin.

Whatever the cost, this much is clear: Fans want craft beer. Craft sales were up 250 percent at Raley Field last year, Brandt said. There’s nothing finer than enjoying a game while also having a great craft beer.

Now we just have to hope it doesn’t rain.