Saturday, May 08, 2010

Louisville Slugger Field craft beer update: So far, so good (we think).

Here is what I know (so far) about the great crusade to have locally brewed craft beer in the ballpark.

I'm trying to be honest about this: So far, so good, but we're in the beginning stages of a business relationship with multiple entities, and I'm not going to mislead you into thinking that it always will be smooth. With a bit more time, I believe season-long craft availability can be assured. Right now, choices are expanded. Kepp your fingers crossed.

By game time on Thursday, although not without a misadventure or two, Beak's Best was pouring at the portable "hot roasted peanut" concession stand at Section 115, on the main concourse behind home plate. I wasn't able to make it over last night to check on matters, and tonight is off, too. Sunday night's a maybe for me. I mention this only because as this local craft experiment continues, it will be important to have our people on the ground at each game to help sell the product. In turn, that's because we must never ignore our mandate to educate beer drinkers.

We already know that craft beer is all about the beer in your glass. But it's also all about reliable information and teaching. With reliable information, we teach. It requires no information whatsoever to sell dollar Budweisers, as was being done at "happy hour" before Thursday's game. Unsurprisingly, a gigantic crowd of youthful humanity was standing in the sun, waiting in line, and waiting to two tiny plastic cups of liquid nastiness, for no other reason than Anheuser-Busch's relentless expenditures on advertising. Dollar beer time is a no brainer, in more ways than one.

For craft brewers, information disseminated one drinker at a time takes the place of megabuck saturation advertising, which few of us can afford. Obviously, a ballpark concessionaire is not going to be the agent for this sort of information, and we mustn't expect them to be. It's something that we'll want to do ourselves, and to effectively do it, we need to have a presence. If the beer can stay predictably on tap, we can organize to support it. We can educate the consumer as well as the concessionaire. We all can win.

A final thought about dollar Budweisers: Why the degradation, when Browning’s Brewery right outside the gates matches the cup size and price, pre-game, during such "happy hour" events? I did not know that. Now, I do.

So, according to the information I've received to date, which may vary from homestand to homestand and even from game to game, Centerplate's plan is to have NABC Beak's Best and Kentucky Ale on tap by means of a cold plate/jockey box, alongside Browning's Guillotine ESB and A-B's Shock Top, the latter two served via a two-faucet draft tower. The keg box is big enough for four kegs, and as I've been told by a Centerplate employee, it soon will be adapted to pour four by adding a second tower.

Pour size is 14-oz as announced by the concessionaire, but in reality, 12-oz as measured by me and other in our kitchens, and the price is $5.50. This is higher than last season, and so permit me to be blunt.

For craft beer to be sold in the ballpark under the beer distribution system as currently constituted, with a brewer, wholesaler and concessionaire involved, the only way that the dictates of sustainability can be met is for the price point to be slightly higher. I don't make those rules, but I must play by them. As a brewery, we cannot give the beer away and survive. We cannot operate according to Anheuser-Busch's marketplace expectations. A wholesaler must make money, and so must the ballpark concessionaire. Perhaps eventually we can have a craft beer happy hour to compensate.

Speaking personally, it would be easy for me to pick nits with various aspects of this embryonic experience, but I shan't. This is unexplored territory for all of us. Centerplate has been receptive to the idea of an expanded selection of craft beer in the ballpark, and River City Distributing has done a fine job of negotiating the terms of engagement. As the season progresses, I hope there is the opportunity for NABC (and the other brewers) to help sell the product through signage, our social medias and the all-important physical presence at game time.

If you're there tonight, please provide a report. More later.

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