During every seventh inning stretch, baseball goers sing the praises of “peanuts and Cracker Jacks.” Contrary to what historic jingles would make you believe, beer is king at Major League Baseball stadiums. There are few greater pairings than an evening at the park and a couple beers. The numbers don’t lie, either. Collectively, MLB teams hit 6,105 home runs last season, a record. For almost every dinger hit last year, there is an American brewery.
Even before the Colorado Rockies new stadium was christened Coors Field, there was Anheuser-Busch, who bought the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957 and National Brewery’s ownership of the hometown Orioles. In 1979, Budweiser became the Official Beer of Major League Baseball. The current deal expires at the end of the 2018 baseball season and, while Bud will still remain the powerhouse clean-up hitter in most ballparks, some franchises across the league have begun catering their beer menu to the demographic of beer drinker that prefer their options to be a bit more craft-heavy.
This past December, one of the league’s premier franchises, the Boston Red Sox, ditched Bud in favor of local stalwart Boston Beer Company (recognized otherwise as Samuel Adams). The deal, which the Red Sox pitched, between MLB and an independent brewery is the first of it’s kind, according to Samuel Adams co-founder and chairman Jim Koch.
“The move highlights an important cultural shift as the popularity of American craft beer provides new opportunities for Independent craft brewers,” Koch wrote via email. “When drinkers visit their local bars, they’re used to having options on tap—from local brewers to imports to mass domestics. It’s only natural for that shift to make its way to ballparks and stadiums.”
Fans will still be able to get their fix of the King of Beers at Fenway, of course, but a significant cosmetic change will occur when the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck, which features sizable Budweiser signage, is replaced by the Sam Deck. While Koch admits he can’t “share all our plans for Fenway yet,” he did submit that the classic Boston Lager will headline a lineup that includes Summer Ale, Rebel IPA, and the newest addition to the Sam Adams lineup, Sam ’76.
“This marks an important era for the rising tide of craft beer and opportunities for Independent craft brewers,” Koch adds. “I think it speaks volumes about what drinkers are looking for and the quality they expect at a ballpark.”
While the sponsor partnership between Boston and their local stalwart is the first of its kind, other breweries are sourcing their beer not just locally, but in-house. Two National League East rivals, the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves, host breweries within their respective ballparks, Citi Field and SunTrust Park. MikkellerNYC recently opened a 20-barrel brewery and taproom located right outside of right field at Citi Field with 60 taps. In Atlanta, the ATL Brew Lab, hosted by Athens, Georgia’s Terrapin Brewing is open year-round and their five-barrel experimental brewhouse serves as a gateway for Braves fan to enter through the brewery, grab a beer (it’s cheaper, we’re told) and head into the game.
The two spots join a third, already-established stadium brewery. In the National League West, Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, has been home to The Sandlot Brewery since since 1995. Bellyslide Belgian White, one of the breweries first offerings, subsequently became Blue Moon.
Like most situations in which beer is involved, quality and variety are paramount. It also makes sense that ballparks in cities with thriving beer scenes tend to be the proverbial leaders in the craft beer clubhouse for quality and variety.
“[Beer] is a significant component of the fan’s experience,” said Joey Nigro, who leads the charge for craft beer at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field. “As craft beer popularity continues to grow in the market, we feel it is important and makes business sense to offer a variety of brands to our fans, matching their purchasing habits outside of the ballpark.”
Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)
Koch moved to Boston in 1967, the same year as the Red Sox “Impossible Dream” season. He calls the partnership with the Red Sox part of his “own impossible dream.” More than Sam Adams, though, Fenway Park has opened up its taps the lager-only local brewery Jack’s Abby and its flagship House Lager. Wachusett Brewing Company’s Green Monsta IPA is, naturally, also always on tap near the famous left field wall. Among the other local favorites are Narragansett Lager, Harpoon and Smuttynose.
Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
The Cleveland Indians have come a long way since $.10 beer night. The infamous promotion in the summer of 1974 resulted in a ninth inning suspension of play due to the crowd’s growing inebriation and subsequent ninth inning riot. The stadium formerly known as “The Jake” not only fields one of the better American League ball clubs, but also hosts one of the big league’s best beer selections. Local favorites such as Great Lakes, Fat Heads, Brew Kettle and Market Garden highlight the offerings at the ballpark on the Cuyahoga River.
SunTrust Park (Atlanta Braves)
As of last season, you can walk around the Battery Atlanta outside SunTrust with a Chopsecutioner IPA or any other of the ATL Brew Lab and Terrapin Beer Co. creations. According to Terrapin rep Leah Kuck, “[Terrapin works] extremely hard to have a rotating list of beers so that every time someone comes out to a Braves game, there’s something new on tap.” Each beer is named according to a baseball theme, so beers such as One Hopper Pale Ale and Changeup Belgian Pale get fans in the mood to head into the stadium and Tomahawk Chop.
Citi Field (New York Mets)
Mikkeller Brewing NYC, and it’s 10,000 square-foot Flushing, Queens brewery, is Mikkeller’s 32nd location worldwide. Mikkeller’s 60 rotating taps join an already loaded Citi Field tap list that boasts beer from Ommegang, Sixpoint, Blue Point and Montauk. The best spot to find those beers is at the Empire Craft Beer Stand with two different locations stadium-wide. The Mets will likely forever rest in the mammoth shadow of the other New York baseball team, but fans can rest their blue and orange caps on the fact that their stadium’s beer list is vastly superior.
Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
San Diego County lays claim to over 125 breweries, so it goes to figure that the selection at Petco Park refects the quality and variety offered around the area. 30 local breweries occupy tap handles inside the stadium, so it’s not uncommon to pair the San Diego sunshine with a Ballast Point Sculpin or a Stone IPA. The biggest star of the beer lineup comes from AleSmith. Their .394 Pale Ale is brewed in honor of legendary Padre Tony Gwynn, and portions of the proceeds of the beer go to the Tony and Alicia Gwynn Foundation, which helps provide essential resources to underserved children.
Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)
Chicago is rightfully proud of their independent beer scene, so it makes sense the beer scene at the ballpark will also reflect that craft-forward attitude. At Guaranteed Rate’s Craft Kave, near the right field bullpen, there are nearly 120 local and nationally-brewed beers. Chicago favorites such as Off Color, Solemn Oath and Two Brother's highlight the local lineup, but craft beer geeks also have access to beers from Bell’s, Founders and Three Floyds. This season, the South Side Chicago stadium revealed anoter craft beer paraside by the name of Revolution Brewing #Sox Social Tap Room, which features 38 additional brews including Deth’s Tar stout.
Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)
Seattle’s Safeco Field also reflects its booming local beer scene and, while it’s not technically on stadium grounds, Pyramid Brewing Company sits across the street from the home of the Mariners. It can also be found on tap, joining Washington state beers from Georgetown, Bale Breaker and Fremont. Pair any of these beers with world-class sushi, hot dogs or, wait for it, toasted grasshoppers. Need more incentive? Safeco overlooks the Port of Seattle and the sun doesn’t set until 10 p.m. some summer nights. There might not be a better view in baseball.