The first time I went to a New York Red Bulls game was nearly a decade ago, back when they called Giants Stadium home. At that time, the best beer you could get could be found at a Guinness stand that was infrequently open. Last year, when taking in a game at the team’s home at Harrison’s Red Bull Arena, something caught my eye: a dedicated window serving two beers on tap from Jersey City’s Departed Soles Brewing Company.
I could drink locally-made craft beer while watching the beautiful game? This was a welcome development.
There are more than a few parallels to be found between soccer and craft beer, so the places where the two overlap aren’t that surprising. Both have shown steady growth in the States over the last few decades; both have found welcome audiences in cities large and small. Some breweries have embraced this even further: Brooklyn’s Braven Brewing Company had scarves made that evoke those worn by supporters of myriad teams the world over.
This season, Red Bulls supporters looking to drink Departed Soles’ beer at Red Bull Arena can do so in can form: specifically, their South Ward Ale. It’s made in collaboration with the Viking Army, one of the three supporters’ groups that call the arena’s South Ward home. This beer was my introduction to the place where American soccer and craft brewing converge – but Departed Soles’ ale is far from the only beer made in homage to or collaboration with a team or supporters’ group.
“South Ward Ale was really the idea of the Viking Army Board,” recalled Departed Soles founder Brian Kulbacki. “They reached out to a few local breweries, and I think my enthusiasm for the team, along with our proximity to Harrison and the ability to take the PATH train from our front door right to the team’s, was just a serendipitous lining up of the stars.”
The Major League Soccer season begins in March and – depending on a team’s post-season results – can last into November, if not longer. Finding a style of beer that worked for a range of temperatures was one of the challenges facing Departed Soles. “I didn't want to do a traditional blonde, but the idea of a honey-nut-cheerio inspired grain bill piqued my interest,” Kulbacki said. “Thus we ended up with a beer that has some local honey in it, [and] a bready malt base, but is fairly light and easy drinking with mass appeal.”
Broken Strings’ Purple Mane Pale Ale is a nod to Orlando City’s current logo, which prominently features a lion against a purple background.”
Since entering Major League Soccer in 2015, Orlando City SC has attracted some of the league’s largest crowds, boasting a roster that includes Brazilian superstar Kaká and US Men’s National Team forward Dom Dwyer.
That level of support didn’t come out of nowhere: the team previously played in a lower division and even then drew substantial crowds. Not far from the Orlando Citrus Bowl, where Orlando City played for its first few seasons, is Broken Cauldron Taproom – a bar founded by a pair of local breweries, Broken Strings Brewery and Black Cauldron Brewing. Both have created a number of beers inspired by their local team, and it’s something that dates back to the early days of the breweries and the team.
One of these beers is Black Cauldron’s Ruckus Red, which takes its name from long-running Orlando City supporters group The Ruckus. “Back when they started to play for the USL and when the team's and supporters colors were red, [Black Cauldron founders] Jeanna and Ken Malines would brew different reciped batches of their Red Ale to bring to tailgates,” recalled Broken Strings founder Charles Frizzell.
Broken Strings’ Purple Mane Pale Ale is a nod to Orlando City’s current logo, which prominently features a lion against a purple background. (It also, Frizzell mentioned, is in keeping with the brewery’s theme of using musical references in their beer names.)
The leonine theme is also present in another beer available at Broken Cauldron, the Lion’s Lager. Local weather played a factor in this brew as well. “We decided to also brew a lager,” Frizzell said. “It's hot in Florida and not everyone who stops by on game day is here for a craft ale, so it's nice to have an easy drinking lager on tap for them.”
A number of breweries across the country have partnered with their local clubs. Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing, for instance, announced a partnership with Real Salt Lake earlier this year – something that, among other things, has led to an increased amount of Uinta’s beers being available at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL’s home ground.
Among the most in-depth overlaps of brewery and club in American soccer right now is the relationship between Columbus’s Land-Grant Brewing Company and their local MLS team, Columbus Crew SC, which began in 2015.
As Creative Director Walt Keys recalled, it began with the brewery contacting the club about having their beer available at Mapfre Stadium. That led to Land-Grant working with the club’s supporters to create a thematically-resonant brew. “We brewed six test batches of beer, three of them gold, three of them black in style,” Keys told me. (The Crew’s colors are – you guessed it – gold and black.) The supporters then voted on their preferred style.
“They chose the hoppy American wheat, and then we brewed four versions of that, and distilled that down into the version we’re making, which is an American wheat with a lot of Citra hops to it,” Keys said. The result: the Glory American Wheat Ale. Land-Grant recently debuted a second Crew-themed beer, For Columbus Black Lager, inspired by one of the other styles offered in the initial testing. “It’s a deceptively light beer, with just a little bit of roast in it,” said Keys.
Earlier this month, Land-Grant unveiled a line of collaborations with similarly-minded breweries. Dubbed the Supporter Series, the beers will be made in collaboration with other breweries with a fondness for their local teams. So far, two have been announced: Matchday Pale Ale, a collaboration with Dallas’s Peticolas Brewing Company, will debut in conjunction with a Crew/FC Dallas match; and Stoppage Time Hoppy Saison, which blends the Glory American Wheat with Boulevard Brewing Company’s Sporting Saison and will coincide with Columbus’s game against Sporting Kansas City.
At the risk of dramatically oversimplifying things, soccer and beer have a intrinsically interwoven relationship. Supporters gather in bars to watch their local team’s away games; supporters of overseas teams occasionally find themselves in bars in the early morning, waiting to cheer on their favorite sides. And now supporters get to be involved in brewing the beer they drink.
For fans of good soccer and good beer, it’s a situation where everyone wins.