Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Here's the report on the latest craft beer news at Louisville Slugger Field.

Beak's Best (and Alltech's Kentucky Ale) remained on tap at Louisville Slugger Field on Sunday evening, but a source indicates that Centerplate, the stadium concessionaire, has ordered Cumberland Red and BBC Nut Brown Ale for the next homestand local craft beer go-around. I'm told that Browning's will remain, along with Shock Top, which is not a craft beer no matter how many times Anheuser-Busch repeats the blatant lie aloud.

Although I can't predict whether NABC will continue as a progressive beer option as the baseball season proceeds at Louisville Slugger Field, it is somewhat heartening that there appears to be a commitment to local choice at the portable concession stand behind Section 115. That's a start, even if the price for purely euphemistic 14-oz pours (a 12-oz actual measure) increased from $5 to $5.50 at some point when we weren't looking. I try to see it this way: Craft always is better than Bud, even at twice the price.

My only regret (and no small measure of frustration) in this experience is that there seems to be so little communication between concessionaire and wholesaler/brewer.

The reality is that Centerplate and Craft Beer Nation operate on business models so profoundly different that they might as well be on separate planets, and I'm not sure if this implies that we should learn to speak their language, or they learn ours. The truth would lie somewhere in between if the playing field were level, and it is not. The prevailing system of ballpark vending discourages most of the marketing techniques that Craft Beer Nation successfully deploys -- primarily, education.

Consumer education is job one in our craft beer world. Consequently, if NABC is on tap at the ballpark on a dependable basis, and we know that we're not to be treated as Charlie Brown, with the ball yanked away at the last moment, then we can aggressively help sell the product, educate the consumers, and create a vibe. We make the same wholesale money in such a situation. Centerplate makes an increased amount of money from its higher craft beer retail sales. It should be a no-brainer, yet it is not. Maybe some day, it will become axiomatic.

Imagine the excitement that might be generated from making the concession stand at 115 into a genuine locally-themed craft beer destination, with signage and artwork to match. Unfortunately, when I asked about hanging banners, I was told that a table tent would be an acceptable idea. At best, that's 8.5 x 11. Budweiser's colossal right field billboard apparently overshadows not only a mere wee table tent, but also the very possibility that ballpark customers with no intention of drinking Budweiser might find refuge somewhere inside the belly of the corporate beast.

And that's the part that slays me.

On Sunday, the crowd in attendance at Louisville Slugger Field was reminded twice to pay homage to Memorial Day and the gallant fighting men who fought and died for freedom. I have no argument with that, although surely there were more folks in attendance than just me who grasped the damning irony of "freedom" in the context of monopolistic, non-free capitalist product placement. What does a "free market" mean in such a place? Is it really the sort of economic system that people should die to perpetuate?

Apologies, but some times serenity is elusive. As local craft brewers, we can't be satisfied with the status quo, where public tax money is used to create venues where corporate monopolies are exuberantly enforced, and free choice is exceedingly difficult, if not outright impossible. This should not be taken as criticism of Centerplate, which operates within rules of the game that were in effect when their contract was signed. I genuinely appreciate that they're doing what they're doing now.

Rather, it is to stress that there is much work to be done. The battle against the A-B's of the world cannot be abandoned.

As for the illustration above, it was with palpable optimism that NABC's artist in residence, Tony Beard, produced this baseball-themed homage to Beak's Best and its namesake, Dr. Donald Barry. We hope to be able to post it at the ballpark some sweet day in the future.

Don is returning to New Albany later this week for his annual visit prior to decamping for Europe. Back here in Louisville, there's a four-game weekend homestand coming for the Bats, beginning Friday, June 4th, and ending on Monday. The team then departs for a long road trip, returning on June 17. If you attend this weekend, let us know what's available and how it's being served, i.e., which kegs are on ice and being served via the cold plate; it's easy to glance around the back of the serving area and see what's on ice.

And: When you see Centerplate and Louisville Bats personnel, please thank them for having a true craft beer option.


Rob T. said...

I was at Slugger Field about 10 days ago, and I couldn't locate the "portable concession stand behind Section 115". My inability to locate it probably it stems from two factors. One, I was looking in the large concession windows, on the other side of the walkway, not at the portables. Two, I had my six year-old in tow, who was more interested in getting a snow cone and/or cotton candy to worry about whether Daddy got a decent beer...

...I decided that the NABC brew must be available in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'...

...so I drank Diet Cola Product instead.

At least the baseball was good that night. Bats pitcher took a no-hitter into the 8th against the accursed Yankees.

I'll find it next time, now that I know better where to look.

The New Albanian said...

I try not to be jaundiced, but one must wonder whether the difficulties in locating craft beer are intentional.