Wednesday, August 9, 2006
It's become easier to find a decent brew at the recently refurbished RFK Stadium.
The citrusy, bitter Redhook IPA proved to be a great thirst-quencher at a late July day game between the Nationals and the San Francisco Giants. This India pale ale was pouring at a Capital Pub kiosk on the 300 level, alongside such other selections as Redhook ESB, Widmer Hefeweizen and the Japanese import Kirin Ichiban . Nearby, another stand hawked Samuel Adams Summer Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
RFK even offered a brand that I've seen nowhere else in Washington: Home Run Ale , dispensed at the former Foggy Bottom bar on the ground level behind home plate. This sweet, grainy, copper-colored ale was selling at $5.50 for a 16-ounce cup, a buck less than the other craft beer selections. Home Run Ale comes from Leinenkugel's 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee, where it's officially known as "Special Ale." The brewery sells it to accounts across its 26-state marketing area, which can then slap their own moniker on the tap marker to create their own house brand.
Although the beer selection gets much sparser as you climb toward the cheap seats, I did spot a Foursquare Grill at the 500 level serving the coriander-and-orange-flavored Blue Moon Belgian White ale and the Mexican amber lager Dos Equis .
And yet, the selection at RFK is most noteworthy for what's not there. You'll look in vain for a single regional brand. Even the ubiquitous Yuengling Lager fails to command a single tap at the stadium.
Moreover, most of the better domestic beers are connected to the large national breweries. Leinenkugel is owned by Miller. Anheuser-Busch holds a minority stake in Redhook and Widmer. Blue Moon is brewed by Coors, and Bare Knuckle Stout , an ersatz Guinness, is an Anheuser-Busch product.
It's not that local breweries have shown no interest in getting their beers into RFK. "We've tried, but have been singularly unsuccessful," laments Jerry Bailey, president of Old Dominion Brewing in Ashburn. Bailey says he left three phone messages asking his D.C. distributor to push his beers to Aramark, the company that handles concessions at RFK. "We never got an answer back."
Hugh Sisson, chief executive and president of Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore, says his sales rep has been trying to get Clipper City beers into RFK for the past two years, "but we haven't been able to get our foot in the door."
Sisson sells his Clipper City Gold Ale at Baltimore's Camden Yards, where it's available at several microbrewery kiosks and a few taps at the club level. Clipper City has been quenching Orioles fans' thirsts for 10 years, Sisson adds. "If Aramark wasn't selling beer and making money [at Camden Yards], we wouldn't be here. I can't imagine the demand [for craft beer] at RFK is any less."
Dave Freireich, senior public relations manager for Aramark in Philadelphia, says his company is "always open to working with small breweries, if they can provide us with the quantities required." He says fans at RFK can drop off requests or suggestions at the Guest Services office behind Section 309.
Elsewhere, craft beer is becoming as much a part of ballpark cuisine as peanuts and Cracker Jack. Seattle's Safeco Field, for instance, carries more than 70 draft and bottled beer selections. Closer to home, the Philadelphia Phillies' stadium, Citizens Bank Park, serves up beers from such local breweries as Philadelphia's Yards Brewing, Victory Brewing in Downingtown, Pa., and Flying Fish Brewing in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Even minor league teams can offer major league beer. The Bowie Baysox, a Class AA affiliate of the Orioles, hold monthly beer dinners at the Diamond View restaurant overlooking the playing field in Prince George's Stadium. Their last event of the season, Spaten Soxtoberfest, will take place Aug. 30 and will feature beers from Munich's Spaten Brewery and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Call 301-464-4883 for more information.
Greg Kitsock is editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and senior editor of American Brewer magazine. He writes about beer once a month for Food and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.