Craft beer has been notoriously hard to come by when it comes to live sporting events. In fact, America’s pastimes of football and baseball have been largely dominated, both commercially and culturally, by the fizzy yellow over-marketed stuff. And to an extent, I’m ok with it. Session beer is the name of the game when it comes to, well, games. Watching at home or in a pub is one thing, but if you’re actually there, or tailgating the game beforehand, or both, you’re definitely not concerned with proper glassware, complex flavors, or anything of that sort. No, you’re interested in knocking back a couple with some good friends, maybe get a buzz, and to enjoy the cultural phenomenon that is a live sporting event, and you don’t want to have to stop drinking because you’re getting fatigued after the 2nd offering.
I understand. But it begins to become a glaring, painful reminder when it is observed in the world of Rugby. You see, Rugby is awesome. It’s this crazy sport played in most other parts of the world, where dudes don’t wear pads and forward passes aren’t allowed. And like craft beer, it takes a little bit of an acquired palate, and no matter how cool you think it is, and no matter how many articles are written claiming it’s growing at an amazing pace, it’s completely a niche interest in the US. Go ahead and ask 10 random friends and coworkers if they’ve ever seen rugby, or tasted a beer from (insert your favorite local brewery here).
Very, very few might answer yes to both. But like I said earlier, sporting events are all about the almighty session beer. And even when craft breweries get one right, it’s rarely distributed with any real zest. I know much of this as a huge Rugby fan (World Cup kick off on Sept. 9th on NBC!!!) and as a local player (Denver Harlequins, above), which is proudly sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon. Which is drunk excessively via a donated keg at every match, and at our home pub and primary sponsor–The Irish Rover–who gives out free pints of the stuff after every match. Popular alternatives include: Bud Light, and Guinness (or Murphy’s, depending on preference). Said pub also has BridgePort’s IPA on tap, but nobody on the team has ever heard of or tried it.
In parts of the world where Rugby is much more popular (i.e. everywhere), the same is unfortunately true. Beer is a historic and near-integral part of the Rugby culture worldwide, which lends to the true stereotype that we’re a bunch of big brutes who drink a lot of beer. But quality is usually very far from quantity. In the UK, teams and whole tournaments are sponsored by Guinness, Magners Cider, Blackthorn Cider, Greene King IPA, Brains SA, et. al. Same goes for other international powerhouses like South Africa and New Zealand, but their beers are much more obscure.
So anyway, here in the States, watching live rugby you pretty much have the same options as you would watching baseball. And rugby watchers apparently love beer as much as college people. The only difference is that there is this mysterious affinity towards Guinness, probably stemming from Guinness’ aggressive rugby based promotions (just google image search “Guinness Rugby). While attending the USA v Canada match in Denver last weekend, I could spot that about half of the cans and clear cups wore that proud golden harp in front of a black background. The other half was a mash-up of Red Stripe, Bud Light, Corona, with only 2 Fat Tire cans spotted the whole night. In a town boasting 2 of the larger distributing breweries in the country, the capitol of the state calling itself ‘The Nappa Valley of Beer’, it was just shamefully sparse. It’s pretty safe to assume that rugby’s beer selections are roughly the same around the nation, though some craft beers are beginning to get into sports stadiums more and more.
But like I said, it’s not a total surprise. Sports venues carry what sells the best, and it’s best to stick to the sessionable big sellers (i.e. all of them). And frankly, I can be proud that Guinness is beating out what paltry offerings are made in the rugby world. It’s not “craft”, but close enough, really. And as long as a pint of Dales Pale is going for $7 at football stadiums, Guinness might be the best that beer geeks can hope for.
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