The Orioles plan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record on Sept. 1. In the meantime, fans can start experiencing the buzz next week, when Heavy Seas Beer’s newest release will begin showing up in local retailers. The Baltimore-based brewery — which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year — is making only 4,000 cases of “Fielder’s Choice” lager, a 5 percent abv commemorative brew with Ripken-themed packaging.
A bit less than 10 percent of the output is going to Camden Yards in late August. The rest will show up in retail outlets — mostly in the Baltimore area, but also in the Washington market and in Delaware — and at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium.
The project emerged out of conversations between Heavy Seas and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, whose mission is to help at-risk youth in local communities. The groups originally discussed an annual partnership, before settling on a summer beer that would commemorate both 20th anniversaries. Heavy Seas is donating $2 per case to the foundation.
The beer is only being sold in 16-ounce cans, which is the easiest way to highlight the striking packaging, and is also the preferred size for stadium concessionaires.
As for the beer itself, it’s similar to the “McHenry Old Baltimore Style” brew that Heavy Seas used to make, according to the company’s founder, Hugh Sisson.
“This was designed as just a good drinkin’, not-very-strong beer,” Sisson said. “We just wanted to make a great baseball beer, and that’s exactly what we did.”
The marketing concept came from the Ripken Foundation, and was then prepared by Heavy Seas’s normal designer. Of course, the company had to dance around various licensing challenges. There are no MLB insignias on the packaging; the company has Ripken’s permission to use his name, and the Maryland Stadium Authority’s permission to use the famous 2131 graphic.
The beer is meant to pay homage to “the easy-drinking lagers of Baltimore’s past,” according to a press release. Marketing materials describe the beer as having “a medium-bodied, clean malt backbone, with subtle notes of biscuit and fresh baked bread,” featuring “imported German Hallertau Mittlefrue and Czech Saaz hops to lend a soft, gentle, balanced flavor.”
I already know at least one Cal Ripken fan who would like to put an unopened can of Fielder’s Choice in his Ripken shrine, a fact I jokingly mentioned to Sisson. This wasn’t the first time he had heard that suggestion.
“I actually think there’s a whole lot of this beer that’s not going to be consumed,” he said. “That actually sort of saddens me, because the beer is really, really good.”