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Minor League teams craft their perfect match

Club-branded, locally distributed beers capture community spirit
Kannapolis, South Bend, El Paso and Amarillo are among the many teams taking advantage of beer-related branding opportunities.
April 7, 2020

When visiting a Minor League ballpark, it's not usually difficult to find a Budweiser or a Miller Lite.In fact, the El Paso Chihuahuas are the only Minor League team to have their logo placed on an Anheuser-Busch Budweiser can and put into distribution. But that kind of a partnership with

When visiting a Minor League ballpark, it's not usually difficult to find a Budweiser or a Miller Lite.
In fact, the El Paso Chihuahuas are the only Minor League team to have their logo placed on an Anheuser-Busch Budweiser can and put into distribution. But that kind of a partnership with an uber-brewery often on display in the Majors doesn't necessarily mix with the local, homespun spirit of the Minor Leagues.

These days, there are almost four times as many craft breweries in the United States than there were a decade ago, and oftentimes they pop up in the small cities and towns that host Minor League clubs. As natural as the link between beer and the game, it's become almost commonplace for an enterprising MiLB franchise to link up with a local brewery.
"The size of the smaller markets match better with the marketing budgets of Minor League Baseball," Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association, told Front Office Sports last August. "It makes sense from a marketing perspective since teams are always trying to find a deeper local connection and the same goes for breweries."
As an example, the Flagship Brewery found its home on the St. George waterfront in 2014. Just a mile up the road, the Class A Short Season Staten Island Yankees play their home games at Richmond County Ballpark.
"It kind of just made sense for the local brewery and the local Minor League team that we're obviously really, really close to each other … to have a relationship," Flagship co-founder Jay Sykes told "I think the groundwork was always there for a really cool collaboration to happen."
In 2017, Staten Island had famously jumped on the trend of allowing fans to vote on a new team name. When "Pizza Rats" won, the club opted to use the name as an occasional alias -- similar to the West Michigan Whitecaps' adoption of the temporary moniker Beer City Bung Hammers or the Salem Red Sox's Beer Mongers.
Last year, the SI Yanks went to Flagship with the idea for a collaboration beer. The brewery considered different concepts and didn't think to tap into the Pizza Rats alter-ego right away.
"After probably about two weeks of going back and forth, I think we all just kind of said to each other, 'This is silly. Pizza Rats has got to be what it is,'" Sykes said. "It's just such a ridiculous name that is hilarious. I feel like, for your local craft brewery, and a team that rebrands itself with something like that for eight home games a season, it was a natural fit."
Last June, the Pizza Rats Pilsner was produced and distributed, with the club's blessing, throughout the city and with a special place at Richmond County Ballpark. The beer remains in the rotation at the Flagship tap room and is still a popular item, even as the coronavirus pandemic has forced a shift to home deliveries.
Though every story has its own personal twist, the partnership between Flagship and the SI Yanks is not unique. When contacted through email, some 20 teams responded with details about a beer that was produced by a local craft brewery either in conjunction with the team or for the purposes of being sponsored by the team.

Staten Island, Nashville and Pensacola are among a few teams with Kolsh, pilsner or blonde ales.

There are a few similarities within the beers themselves. Most are lagers, pilsners or a Kolsch. Many are light in color, alcohol content and IBUs (International Bitterness Units). These beers aren't too hoppy, and they're closer to a traditional Budweiser or Miller Lite than what might come to be expected from "craft" beer.
"It should be something that's drinkable," Sykes said of what constitutes a good beer for a ballgame. "We wanted [Pizza Rats Pilsner] to be something that you could have a few of ... we didn't want the alcohol to be too high on it -- it's a baseball beer, something you could have a good experience with."
Below are details from the clubs that volunteered information about their partnership with a local brewery:
Kannapolis Cannonballers: Baller Beer by Cabbarus Brewing (American Lager, 4.6 percent ABV)
The White Sox's Carolina League affiliate paired with nearby Cabbarus Brewing to market a beer using their new mascot, Boomer. The beer was set to launch at the ballpark this spring. But it instead hit stores with the delay of the season. Steve Steinbacher, Cabbarus managing partner, describes Baller Beer as "The high-flying, death-defying, gravity-denying fearless feats of the crash helmet-wearing, mustache-bearing, nostrils-flaring Cannon Ballers baseball club mascot are the very embodiment of the indomitable spirit of those who call the City of Kannapolis, Cabarrus and Rowan counties and the rest of the Piedmont region, home."
Indianapolis Indians: Indians Lager by Sun King Brewing (Vienna Lager, 5.5 percent ABV)
This beer first appeared in 2012 at Victory Field and the downtown Sun King brewery. The description on the Sun King website explains that the Indians Lager is certainly meant to be enjoyed on a warm day at the ballpark. "When summer days have got you beat, reach for Indians Lager. Brewed in the Vienna style, Indians Lager features a balanced malt flavor that finishes crisp, thanks to the addition of German noble hops." This beer sticks out from the bunch with 24 IBU, which is twice as many as Budweiser.
Nashville Sounds: Nashville Sounds Kolsch by Hap & Harry's (Kolsch, 4.5 percent ABV)
The Nashville Sounds Kolsch debuted at First Horizon Park -- then known as First Tennessee Park -- on July 4, 2018. There are only two regular beers listed on the Hap & Harry's website along with some evidence that this brewery has an affinity for collaboration. The Nashville Sounds Kolsch was made special for the ballpark, and the club sold about 250 cases worth of 16-ounce cans last season.
Columbia Fireflies: Luminescent Lager by River Rat Brewery (American Lager, 4.2 percent ABV)
Tapping into the characteristics of the team mascot, the River Rat Brewery lists Luminescent Lager among its "core beers" on its website. The site description reads, "This American Lager was brewed with baseball in mind. The corn, pilsner malt, and perle hops come together to hit a home run." It also suggests pairing with a ballpark feast of peanuts, popcorn and, of course, chili dogs.
Portland Sea Dogs: WALK OFF by Lone Pine Brewery (Session IPA, 4.2 percent ABV)
This beer takes a different approach to the traditional baseball beer. A session IPA is more hoppy in flavor but lower in alcohol content. They're brewed for a few to be drank in one sitting (or session) while watching Minor League Baseball. WALK OFF debuted last spring and is described on the brewery website as "the ultimate bleacher buddy, packing a proper punch with a crisp body and juicy finish thanks to Mosaic and Idaho 7 hops."

WALK OFF Session IPA is the highest-rated MiLB team beer on UnTappd with a 3.79 score.

Fayetteville Woodpeckers: Woodpecker Wheat by Southern Pines (Hefeweizen, 4.8 percent ABV)
The light and slightly hazy Woodpecker Wheat is described by Southern Pines as one "you can crush throughout the game." A hefeweizen is a German-style wheat beer that often has hints of citrus, which doesn't put it outside the mold of a "baseball" beer. The Woodpecker Wheat was fermented with grapefruit purée.
Richmond Flying Squirrels: Richmond Rally Cap by Center of the Universe (Shandy, 5 percent ABV)
Richmond Rally Cap is a new collaboration with Center of the Universe that was scheduled for release this spring. The Ashland, Va. brewery is co-owned and operated by former MLB pitcher Chris Ray and produced a different beer, Chin Music, for the Flying Squirrels for the past six years. The traditional shandy mixes a lager and lemonade, but the Rally Cap is made with grapefruit flavors. Here is the description on the website: "Sure to fuel the charge and fan the flames of victory! Light, crisp, and relentlessly refreshing, this shandy is a perfect compliment to a ballgame, BBQ, or any other outdoor adventure!"
Reno Aces: AceBall Ale by Hop Valley Brewing (Blonde Ale, 5 percent ABV)
The Aceball Ale, the highest alcohol by volume on our list, became available at Greater Nevada Field last season and remained a hit for more than 70 local businesses in town. Its taste is described as "a touch of wheat malt and a mixture of Northwest Hops give this blonde a crisp, refreshing finish that will have you rooting for extra innings!"
South Bend Cubs: Crooked Catcher by Round Barn Brewing (Golden Ale, 4 percent ABV)
The Crooked Catcher crosses state lines from its hometown in Baroda, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan to get to Four Winds Field. But it's only a 30-minute trip to get this "light-bodied and crisp, with a hint of biscuit character," ale to the ballpark. The brewery describes its finish as "subtle and dry, with a slight note of citrus. It's the perfect companion for any day-long activity."
Pensacola Blue Wahoos: Blue Wahoos Blonde by Props Craft Brewery (Blonde Ale, 5 percent ABV)
The Blue Wahoos Blonde was introduced at the ballpark in 2017 and remains available in grocery stores throughout the area. The traditional blonde ale fits the mold of the common baseball beer. The golden, blonde and Kolsch-style ales are similar in profile.
Amarillo Sod Poodles: Sud Puddles by Six Car Pub & Brewery (Kolsch, 5.5 percent ABV)
Just six blocks down the road from HODGETOWN in downtown Amarillo, Six Car Pub produced a Kolsch for the inaugural season of the Sod Poodles. Six Car has temporarily closed it's services but promises to have "big things in the works" and will be back as soon as it is safe to do so.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers: Snaketail Ale by Fox River Brewing (Red Ale, 4.8 percent ABV)
The Fox River Brewing Company released Snaketail Ale just before Opening Day last year. According to its UnTappd description, "the malt character is the main feature while keeping flavors mild. A caramel and toasted malt character are evident from the aroma which leads into the start of the flavor, then finishes clean with a slight sweet caramel malt note left on the palate." A small brewery sticking out in Wisconsin is no easy task, but the clever name and partnership with the ballclub make this beer a hit in the Appleton area.

Hartford Yard Goats: Hit by Pitch by Thomas Hooker Brewery (American Pale Ale , 4.5 percent ABV)
The Thomas Hooker brewery describes the experience of drinking a Hit By Pitch as one that "beats getting beaned by a 100-MPH fastball." Even without a formal tasting, it's difficult to argue with that logic. The can features one of the Minors' most recognizable logos and is available year-round in local stores.
Chattanooga Lookouts: Lookouts Blood Orange Ale by Big River (Blood Orange Ale, 4.6 percent ABV)
The Lookouts planned to release their first team-branded beer this season. The Blood Orange Ale will be available for limited release. The Big River Grille & Brewing Works website describes the beer as a "crisp refreshing ale [that] packs a strong Blood Orange flavor and is the perfect beer to drink while watching Lookouts baseball."
Omaha Storm Chasers: Ale Storm by Nebraska Brewing Company (Blonde Ale, 5.1 percent ABV)
Ale Storm was the gold medal blonde ale at the Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition and took home silver in the Great International Beer Competition that same year. Though it may have international acclaim, its roots remain at the ballpark. The website describes "the perfect 'baseball' beer. A smooth, thirst-quenching beer that balances the delicate sweetness of Pilsner malt and lemony/spicy notes of Sterling hops. It was specifically crafted to be an approachable but flavorful addition to everyone's favorite pastime."

Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @Gerard_Gilberto.