As one of the largest craft breweries in the country, Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing continues to seek ways to further its community reach.
Now, to do that even more effectively, it has turned to sports.
The nearly 30-year-old brewery has released year-round beers in partnership with Colorado State University and North Carolina State University, called Old Aggie and Old Tuffy premium lagers, respectively. New Belgium also owns San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewing, which is brewing Dubs Golden Ale for the Golden State Warriors.
In a beer market that’s increasingly tightening and leaving little room for the more than 7,500 breweries in the U.S. to grow, New Belgium believes connecting with collegiate fan bases could be a key to sustaining growth.
“We’re trying to connect with the community more directly,” said Tyler Peters, New Belgium brand manager. “Beer and sports, the tailgating aspect, bringing the community together with social events made sense to us.”
The Fort Collins-based brewery started with Colorado State, the university based in its hometown, which has a large number of alumni working within the New Belgium brewery. The Old Aggie beer was originally released in 2017, as an extension of the New Belgium Porch, a premium seating option within Colorado State’s Canvas Stadium. New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan donated $1 million to the CSU fermentation sciences program in 2015 and the brewery donated $4 million to the stadium’s construction.
With that beer now in full swing and selling well, the brewery is exploring what other universities might make sense to partner in a similar manner.
New Belgium also has a brewing facility in Asheville, North Carolina, so the extension to a school in the state made sense, especially one with a strong fermentation sciences program like N.C. State. The N.C. State collaboration launched this fall and has been among the brewery’s top sellers. Peters said both schools have large alumni bases near their schools and rabid fans.
With every case sold of Old Aggie and Old Tuffy – which feature retro-style imagery of the schools’ mascots thanks to the brewery working closely with both universities on imagery and color scheme – a royalty heads to the schools to support student initiatives, athletics, responsible drinking programs, and educational programming.
The beers have the opportunity to build a sustainable revenue stream for both the brewery and the schools – at a time when both breweries and public education are struggling at some level. Outside monetary value, New Belgium also offers a strong pipeline for internships. The same benefits were originally extended to Colorado State when the partnership started.
N.C. State recently began beer and wine sales at PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium and according to an article in the Technician, and more than 50% of beer sales at Carter-Finley have been Old Tuffy. It’s also sold in more than 1,800 retail locations across North Carolina. The beer is distributed on draft, as well as 12- and 19.2-ounce cans.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” N.C. State Director of Trademarks and Brand Protection Gregg Zarnstorff told the Technician. “For the students, who get hands-on experience, who work in real-life situations and problem-solving; to New Belgium, who gets insight from a different perspective that they typically wouldn’t get.”
While the Colorado State fanbase is strong, New Belgium Community Ambassador Mike Craft said after 20 years in Colorado he didn’t realize the power of school fanbases in the south. Now based in Asheville, Craft said the company had to do rush orders of Old Tuffy merchandise as they were running out.
Both beers are light lagers to better appeal to a wider audience, particularly in the settings New Belgium is seeking to resonate with.
Peters said while the beers have a strong emphasis on football season, they are year-round releases and the brewery is doing a lot to build brands around the beers.
While the two beers have a local connection to the schools, there’s potential New Belgium could expand its collegiate, or professional, team partnerships. Magnolia started brewing its beer for the Warriors this season and is spread throughout Chase Center and across the Bay Area. (Note: New Belgium was recently acquired by a subsidiary owned by Japan’s Kirin Holdings.)
The Dubs Golden Ale is on-tap at two Magnolia Bistro locations on the concourse levels at Chase Center, along with 30 other locations throughout the arena and at the two San Francisco-area brewery locations.
Any new partnerships, however, will be well-vetted, Craft said.
“My sense is, if [more partnerships] were to be an option we’d make sure it’s the right partners,” Craft said. “CSU runs super deep, a lot of us went to Colorado State. I don’t think we’re looking to do it quick. We want to do it right. It’s a partnership and we’ve learned things with these partnerships and we’ll continue to learn things.”