Get Your Beer Here: The State of Stadium and Arena Drinking in New York City

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According to a fun analysis by The Washington Post last August, Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners, is also home to the best beer menu in Major League Baseball (MLB). The study, which conjointly exhibits the overall ongoing shift in consumer preference, ranked the ballparks of all 30 teams by three factors: “quality,” the number of beers rated “very good” or better on BeerAdvocate; “locality,” the number of breweries pouring from the same state as the team; and “uniqueness,” the number of breweries available at only that stadium.

Safeco’s “beer program … would make many specialty bars jealous,” wrote The Post’s Dan Steinberg, citing “700 beer handles … three cask engines … and … a hearty list of 22-ounce craft bombers from breweries like Pyramid, Oskar Blues, No-Li and Rogue” as sufficient proof. The sales are reported as strong, too, with “craft-style products crush[ing] those of domestic-style mass market beers, by a ratio of about 4-1.”

A similar situation was observed at Great American Ballpark, which ranked fourth overall. The Cincinnati Reds’ abode, with the most unique beers of any stadium (130), had experienced a 363 percent growth in craft-beer sales at the time of the study—this assisted by last spring’s opening of a 50-draft bar, Brewery District, featuring local breweries like Christian Moerlein, MadTree, and Rivertown. While Bud Light was still its biggest seller, “stadium officials found that rather than taking away from existing beer sales, craft consumers were actually creating a new category,” Steinberg wrote.

But “[n]ot every stadium has embraced this diversity in its fermentables,” he also revealed, likely referring most to the homogeneity at Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built’s beer selection was dubbed the worst by The Post, and glancing at its lineup, proposing The House That Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors Built as its new nickname would not be a farfetched pitch:

Amstel, Becks, Budweiser, Bud Black Crown, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Platinum, Bud Lime-A-Rita, Bud Mango-Rita, Batch 19, Becks, Blue Moon, Blue Moon Seasonal, Coors Light, Corona Light, Dos Equis, Goose Island, Goose Island 312, Goose Island Honkers, Guinness, Guinness Black Lager, Heineken, Heineken Light, Hoegaarden, Kirin Ichiban, Leinenkugel, Magic Hat #9, Michelob Ultra, Miller Lite, Modelo, Newcastle, O’Doul’s, Presidente, Red Bridge, Redds Apple Ale, Shock Top, Shock Top Apple, Shock Top Lemonade, Smithwick’s, Stella Artois and Yuengling.

The macro-dominated state of Yankee Stadium’s menu last season, which included only one beer with a BeerAdvocate rating above 80 (Goose Island’s Honker Ale) and no locally made beers, is nothing new; who could forget the “Craft Beer Destination” debacle of 2013? Brew York‘s Chris O’Leary has openly criticized the Yankees’ disregard of not only craft, but also local, for years. After The Post’s rankings, he wrote “Hopefully, this rating will give them pause to reconsider.”

Since the study, The Bronx Brewery and Gun Hill Brewing have both started to make beer in the Bronx (the latter was the first to brew commercially in the borough in 53 years). Will either be pouring at Yankees Stadium next season?

Before we can know Yankee Stadium’s forthcoming lineup, it’s important to note that the mega-brewery has enjoyed a dominating career in professional sports. While craft-beer sales are growing overall, with the Brewers Association reporting a 17 percent increase in 2013, the menus of stadiums and arenas are still largely awash in Big Boy Brews. Another excerpt from Steinberg provides one explanation: “[M]ajor sponsorship deals between MLB clubs and Anheuser-Busch InBev or MillerCoors mean it’s not always easy for an independent company … to penetrate the market. The bigger brands often dominate in signage and exposure; Nationals Park has a Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk, Arizona has the Coors Light Strike Zone, and Milwaukee and Colorado play in fields named after Miller and Coors.”

In an editorial for CNN in 2012, Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy unhappily echoed this influence with a bullhorn, focusing specifically on his brewery and New York City: “In sports venues like arenas and stadiums, the large brewers monopolize space. They typically have advertising contracts with the venues, and this results in their having a dominant share of the beer taps and other beer placements. If you want a Brooklyn Lager at Yankee Stadium or CitiField or the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, you’d better be prepared to spend some time searching. Brooklyn Brewery is in those venues, but in a very limited way.”

Hindy’s inclusion of the Barclays Center at that time, only three months after its opening, was perhaps an unfair critique. It’s now 2015, though, and other homes of National Basketball Association (NBA) teams are commendably injecting better beers into their portfolios with success. The Charlotte Bobcats’ Time Warner Cable Arena, for example, opened a Craft Beer Garden showcasing nine North Carolina breweries last October. According to SportsBusiness Daily, “Two months into the NBA season, sales are up 39 percent over last season’s old full-service bar.” Since the Brooklyn Nets are co-hosting All-Star Weekend with the New York Knicks starting tomorrow, it’s a good time to visit Barclays’ beer program.


BEERING AT THE BARCLAYS CENTER


I can still remember some things about my first Knicks game. It was 1993. They played the Milwaukee Bucks and the Knicks won. My father and I arrived late, almost at halftime, because I was dry-heaving outside of our apartment, a fairly common ritual anytime I left Queens as a kid. This chubby nine-year-old was more nervous than ever, though; it was my first Knicks game! John Starks!

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I can also remember my father drinking a few beers at the game. It made him happy, and that made me happy. When I attended a recent Brooklyn Nets game, I did the imbibing, perhaps to numb the pain of their 29-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the team’s poor performance, I was satisfied knowing the Barclays Center offers a nice selection of local beers—specifically, beers made in Brooklyn.

The strongest of the borough’s presence belongs to KelSo, which is made at Greenpoint Beer Works, located only a few blocks away from the arena in Clinton Hill. Kelly Taylor and Sonya Giacobbe have sold their brewery’s liquid at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues since Hello Brooklyn was erected in 2012. The first two years, Nut Brown Lager and Pilsner were both offered in cans. Before the start of this NBA season, Barclays asked KelSo for a third, but this was a special request: a beer exclusive to the venue. This birthed SLAM Dunkel, a—yep!—dunkelweizen. The style was chosen by Taylor, quite appropriately, while drinking.

“I was having a beer with a friend of mine, and he said ‘You should make a German dunk-elweizen for Barclays and make the tap handle a basketball.’ It was as simple as that. A moment of ‘Beer Helps’ in action,” says KelSo’s brewmaster.

Its conception may have required minimal effort from Taylor, but SLAM Dunkel, which will pour for the rest of the season, is a progressive milestone for KelSo, and for all the breweries in New York City. It’s a beer made specifically for one of the city’s most major venues, and a great opportunity to reach thousands of new drinkers in one (jump)shot, some of whom may continue to seek locally made brews. That’s an easy score not resulting from a delicate layup, but from A MONSTER ONE-HANDED, BACKBOARD-BREAKING SLAM DUNK!

Barclays dives further into Brooklyn’s beery depths by selling both Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint, though to agree with Hindy’s point, these are harder to find—and in some cases, even unaccessible with regular tickets. Sixpoint’s three offerings (Sweet Action, Bengali, and The Crisp, all in cans), for example, are only sold at some of the arena’s swankier spots, like its luxury suites and its outpost of Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club, while KelSo’s SLAM only pours at 40/40 and the Calvin Klein Courtside Club. The latter is where “only players’ families, VIPs, or paying courtside seat holders get in,” the Daily News said. A courtside ticket can range from $250 to $3,000 per seat per game.

Despite the limited access to most of Barclays best-tasting beers, some solid options can still be found with a regular ticket. At the Anheuser-Busch-branded 1876 Bar, Blue Point Brewing’s Toasted Lager is now offered, and nearby on the ground level, Mosaic Session IPA from “Long Island’s Brewery”—launched by two friends from an old hockey rink in Patchogue, and now owned by the world’s largest brewery—pours at the Honda Club.

It’s a prosperous time in the industry, and also a confusing one. The once-bold line drawn in the maltbox between macro and micro, between craft and chuggable, has likely been erased forever. Whatever your stance on Anheuser-Busch’s acquisition of Blue Point, of Goose Island (also sold at 1876), and of all the breweries likely to follow is, remember that before this started to happen, that draft at Barclays was likely occupied by a Bud Light or a Shock Top. I’ll happily drink a Toasted Lager over those. It still tastes good, whoever owns the brewery.

When I spoke with Marco Fabozzi, Barclays’ director of food and beverage operations, he confirmed my biggest observation from attending the Nets game: Anheuser-Busch produces most of the arena’s 20-ish beers, and the split between craft and not-craft—even if categorizing Blue Point and Goose Island in the former category—is lopsided toward the latter. But that lopsidedness will continue to lessen in the future. “Craft beer sales have been our biggest growth and we hope to grow its portfolio every year, whether it be with seasonal beers or pairing special beers to the food at specific concessions,” Fabozzi says.

Taylor confirms Barclays genuine attempts to inject the venue with dope beer: “When we made SLAM, they actually reached out to us and not the other way around. They’ve always wanted to try to curate local beers and local foods; it’s been their motive from the start. I think those things just take time to grow.”

Taylor is satisfied with KelSo’s relationship with Barclays, noting sales of SLAM are strong. Fabozzi confirmed this, and also mentioned Barclays was even considering the addition of a second proprietary beer next year, this for the relocation of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New York Islanders to Brooklyn. The Islanders actually have a proprietary beer already—Barn Rocker Ale, made by Oyster Bay Brewing on Long Island—to commemorate the team’s final season at Nassau Coliseum. Fabozzi would not confirm if Barn Rocker would continue Barn Rocking at Barclays, or if the brewery would create a new beer, but his eyeballs are definitely focused on “adding a product made on Long Island. It seems like a perfect fit.”

While the Islanders’ won’t start playing in Brooklyn until the NHL’s 2015-16 season, the Nets still have 32 games left. If you attend one, or any other event at Barclays, this is where the tastiest beer lives now:

KelSo Nut Brown Lager Section 104 Portable Bar, Section 128 Portable Bar, Suites
KelSo Pilsner Section 104 Portable Bar, Section 128 Portable Bar, Suites
KelSo SLAM Dunkel 40/40 Club, Calvin Klein Courtside Club
Brooklyn East India Pale Ale Section 104 Portable Bar, Section 128 Portable Bar, Suites
Brooklyn Lager 40/40 Club, Calvin Klein Courtside Club, Mondavi Wine Bar, TicketsNow Club, Suites
Sixpoint Bengali Suites
Sixpoint Sweet Action 40/40 Club, TicketsNow Club, Suites
Sixpoint The Crisp 40/40 Club, TicketsNow Club, Suites
Blue Point Mosaic Session IPA 40/40 Club, Honda Club
Blue Point Toasted Lager 1876 Bar, Honda Club
Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale 1876 Bar, Honda Club
Goose Island IPA 1876 Bar, Honda Club
Bitburger Premium Pils Brooklyn Bangers & Dogs
Köstritzer Schwarzbier Brooklyn Bangers & Dogs

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