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The Inside Story of Local Beer at Nationals Stadium

On Saturday, the Washington Nationals began to sell beer from DC Brau, 3 Stars, Mad Fox, and Port City at a stand behind Section 139 called District Drafts. This was the culmination of months of hard work by the team, the stadium management, and Bill Butcher, founder of Port City Brewing Company. Bill graciously agreed to an interview via email.

Did you reach out to the Nats, or did they reach out to you, and when was this? Early in the season, or prior to that? I'm wondering if you can walk us through the timeline. 

The process started back in February. I contacted The Nationals for a meeting to discuss the possibility of carrying our beer in the stadium. They were open to the idea, and we met initially in mid-March. We had a very positive meeting to discuss the emerging local beer scene, our distribution, and the possibilities of local DC beer at Nats Park. I left samples for them to try, and we got great feedback on the quality of the beer. They also were very interested in the fact that we fly a Nationals flag outside our brewery on home game days, and we show all the games on our flat screen in our Tasting Room. A few weeks after our meeting, the Nationals VP that I met with requested a tour of our brewery on a Saturday afternoon. We also shared ideas on other cross promotions we could run during the season. The idea grew to become the Local Craft Beer Cart, “District Drafts.” I was impressed that they were so interested in starting a local craft beer program this season. There has obviously been great interest from the DC Beer community as well.

Photo via Instagram user jamiansell.

Who was involved in the conversation? The Nats, the concessions group (Levy Restaurants)? Other factors or actors to consider?

Yes. There were many other factors that needed to be worked out, such as how the local craft beer will be represented, draft or bottle, where in the stadium it will be served and other factors. Once the team decided on the direction that they wanted to go, then they needed to get the concessionaire involved to work out the details with the wholesalers. It’s not as simple as presenting to a local bar, restaurant or retailer since there were other parties involved. What’s more, these things are normally worked out in the off season, so this added another layer of complexity. What I thought was really cool was that the organization was committed to getting this done before the end of this season, when the easier thing for them to do would be to put it off until next year.

Did the Nats mention anything to you about fan-driven efforts to get local beer into the stadium?

The Nats made very clear to me that they are committed to having local food and drink vendors represented in the stadium. This is largely driven by fan support, and the team has demonstrated in many ways that they listen to their fans. They have changed many of their policies as a direct result of fan input. I think Ben’s Chili Bowl is a great example of their commitment to local vendors at Nats Park. It was great to see that they were also committed to supporting our young and expanding local craft beer scene as well.

It seemed that Levy had partnered with Reyes Premium Distributors to bring some craft beer into the stadium, including Dogfish, Heavy Seas, and Flying Dog. Was the partnership with Premium something that had to be dealt with in order to have Port City, DC Brau, and 3 Stars in the stadium? What role, if any, did Premium play in this?

This is an arrangement that The Nationals wanted to happen, and they worked diligently with Levy and our wholesaler to execute on the idea. They are showing their commitment to the local craft beer scene by installing this “District Drafts” local beer cart. They have invested real money to build and install this cart and get it up and running in the middle of the season. I think it’s fantastic!!

Are there any plans to expand beyond Section 139, where the beers are currently being sold?

We are looking at other ways to promote our beer at the stadium and for our company to promote the Nationals. We are involved in other promotions, such as a Ladies’ Night party that we sponsored before a game last month, and a couple of other fun ideas. I plan to meet with the team in the off season to look at next year. We will need to see how it goes and make a plan for the future. I look at this as the start of a long term relationship with the team. We are committed to making it work this year!

How much control, or lack thereof do you have over pricing structure? Was there any discussion between breweries about beer pricing or was it handled solely between the Nats & Levy?

We do not set the pricing. The pricing is always determined solely by the licensee.

Do you have any concerns about line cleaning practices at the stadium? Do you get the sense that the folks at the park understand the level of stewardship that is expected with craft beer?

We work closely with our wholesalers to ensure that our beer lines are well taken care of wherever our beer is sold. Our wholesaler has a dedicated crew of draft technicians that clean our beer lines on a regular basis, and make sure that our beer tastes the way it should! Part of our agreement with our distributor is that they clean our draft lines every two weeks at a minimum. They have a full time crew of dedicated draft technicians that handle this task. It is the only way to ensure that the beer tastes the way it should. We are all committed to this standard.

What volume do you expect to run through at the stadium? Where will Nats Park rank as an account in terms of volume?

This is a great question! This is a new situation for us, and we simply don’t know where Nats Park will rank as an account this year. As a young brewery, we are often surprised at the volume that a new account can generate. This is a new situation for the Nationals, for the concessionaire, and for our distributor. The amount of beer that flows through Nats Park on an annual basis is staggering! One thing I know is that we are totally committed to making this succeed, and we have ensured our wholesaler and the team that we will not run out of beer. We are watching the sales very closely, and I’m sure that Mad Fox, DC Brau and 3 Stars will be as well. Fortunately, we have a 30 barrel system and we recently expanded our fermentation capacity, so we are confident that we can meet the demand at the stadium for this District Drafts beer cart. We feel that we were ready for our call up to the big leagues!

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