Pro sports and bland beer. That’s what we’ve been used to for decades.
But that’s changing in a hurry. We’ve started to see craft beer at Sacramento Kings games, even if it means paying $14 for a brew that typically goes for $5 at any respectable pub.
Like a lot of other businesses, smaller sports teams tend to be more nimble and open to change than the corporate behemoths. That appears to be the case in Sacramento, where the River Cats Triple-A baseball team and the Republic FC soccer team are primed to open their home seasons. Both beer programs are overseen by Ovations, a food service, and the DBI Beverage, a distributor.
While it’s beyond the purview of this column to offer a scouting report on who can (and cannot) hit a split-finger fastball or which soccer prospect is poised for stardom, I can tell you plenty about each team’s beer lineup.
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Let’s start with soccer. The Republic FC has worked diligently to understand what makes Sacramento tick and cement itself as a very-Sacramento sports fixture. Studies? Stats? They’ve got stuff on everything.
It turns out, the craft beer patron and the avid soccer fan are often the same person. A survey of 3,213 Republic fans revealed that their first choice is local craft beer, followed by craft beer in general, then imported beer (24 percent of respondents don’t drink beer).
Of the 20 beers on tap or in bottles and cans at Bonney Field this season, 12 will be craft beer and at least three will be local. It’s worth noting that the Republic’s stylish urban office at 17th Street and Broadway has a kegerator (I’m told it was purchased before the desks and phones were installed) and that the staff has a weekly review meeting in which craft beer is served.
“There is a huge growth of our local breweries and pride and consumption of craft beer,” said Erika Bjork, the team’s vice president of marketing and communications. “We are across the street from New Helvetia Brewing, and I jokingly say I use it for a lot of our marketing research. You go to breweries now and there are a lot of people with their dogs and people with their kids. We have found that a lot of people who come to our games are very similar in their lifestyle choices.
“It’s very similar with the European model, where the pub is not just a bar. It’s a gathering place for the neighborhood. These gathering places are critical to the growth of our sport. These are where our fans are.”
What does that mean for beer at the games? In addition to easy-drinking but easy-to-forget Tecate Light and Heineken, you’ll find beer from some excellent craft breweries, including Ninkasi, Knee Deep, Rubicon, Heretic, Saint Archer, 21st Amendment, Anderson Valley, New Belgium, Calicraft, Deschutes and more.
Bjork tells me that the typical fan begins the game enjoying a craft beer, then transitions to a 24-ounce can of Heineken or Tecate Light at halftime. And the fun doesn’t end when the game is over.
“We’re going to have a beer-garden area that will be open post-match for people to grab a pint so they don’t feel they have to rush to the parking lot or catch that Uber right away,” Bjork said. “In our research, we know that our fans go to more food, beer and music festivals than even sporting events. They love those social experiences.”
The Sacramento River Cats are keeping pace with the beer boom, too. At its home opener at Raley Field on April 9, you’ll be able to take advantage of the “Thirsty Thursday” deal in which Coors Lite, Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Lite are $2 for 12 ounces and $4 for 24 ounces.
If that doesn’t float your boat, the River Cats also have craft beer featuring a local heavy hitter. I’m already getting positive reports on the special beer Rubicon brewed for the ball club. It’s called, rather cleverly, the RBI-PA, a “sessionable” IPA that has big aromas without the corresponding big bitterness.
“It’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to how it sells,” said Sierra Beshears, general manager of Ovations.
“We wanted to design a beer that would be a great summertime-out-in-the-bleachers beer,” said Rubicon’s owner, Glynn Phillips. “It’s light in color, more sessionable, not tons of alcohol and a great, big hoppy mess of a beer. We made our first batch for Beer Week (in February) and it sold tremendously.”
The beer is apparently so good that it promises to become a part of the regular Rubicon lineup sold at retail. Phillips says Rubicon will start selling it in 22-ounce bottles, followed by a nine-pack of 12-ounce bottles in a package that could include a baseball scorecard.
The label is in the design process at the moment; expect to see in the beer in stores in the coming weeks. If your timing is right, you can also find it on tap at Rubicon’s pub (2004 Capitol Ave., Sacramento).
“It’s a fun beer that we all really like, and it’s going to quench your thirst on a hot summer night,” Phillips said.
Sounds like a home run to us.
Selfies a collaboration
Circling back to last week’s Beer Run, it seems that in my excitement about Ryan McKillop and his amusing beer-selfies, I did not make it entirely clear that it was a collaborative effort.
McKillop’s friend Renee Cashmere came up with the idea for fine art parodies. The props, the staging and most of the photos were her doing. Since these “selfies” have become very popular and could soon be expanded to create a calendar, I wanted to set the record straight.
“I enlisted Ryan because I didn’t want to be nude and knew he’d be up for it, and we are friends,” Cashmere told me in an email.
You decide: Should we thank Cashmere for the nude of McKillop posing with a beer? Or blame her?