Baseball and beer, an American love story. It’s an enduring relationship, one that crosses all demographic boundaries. Throw in ready access to some fifteen breweries pouring 30+ different beers right outside the gates of the best ballpark in America and you have a formula for a classic summer afternoon. Some 42,000 people were making their way into A,T,&T Park for the Giants/Astros game. 2,000 of these fans stopped by the 3rd annual Giants Brewfest, planning to get their pre-game beer on.
In addition to being a terrific place to watch a ball game, the Giants’ home field also offers a better selection of beer than most of the 20 MLB parks I’ve visited. This year they established Anchor (Brewing) Plaza in the centerfield concourse. Throughout the park you can find a nice representation of San Francisco, California and west coast beers that give fans a sense of place. So it seems natural that the Giants would highlight this aspect of the baseball experience.
The Giants annual brewfest started three years ago as an event sponsored by the San Francisco Brewers Guild, a federation of the breweries in San Francisco. It was held in a parking lot across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge. When it was first announced, there was quite a buzz of anticipation amongst craft beer lovers in the Bay Area. The idea of combining a festival of local beers with a day at the ballpark to watch their hometown Major League baseball team was hoped to be a perfect way to spend the day.
Things did not go so well that year. While the beer was appreciated, there were problems with the staging of the event. According to Guild members and a Giants official, the parking lot venue was too crowded and dusty. The lines were very long for beers and they crossed each other, making it very difficult for patrons to move from booth to booth.
Afterwards, Guild members, who are old hands at producing festivals, met with the team to talk about ways to improve the presentation. They were not able to reach agreement so the Guild withdrew its sponsorship. The Giants moved the festival to this year’s location in Seals Plaza adjacent to the ferry dock. Giants catering service, Best Beverage Catering, managed the event this time, which included recruitment of the breweries represented.
This year, many of the breweries were partners with the Giants, meaning that they also pour inside the ballpark. International beer conglomerates Anheuser-Busch/InBev poured Stella Artois, Shock Top and Leffe and Miller/Coors/SAB offered Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. California regional craft brewers were represented by Sierra Nevada (Summerfest and Torpedo IPA) and San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing (Steam, Liberty and Summer).
The lucky patrons who arrived at the 3:00 start time had a pretty fair go of it. They were able to easily make their way between the fifteen brewery stations. Within about an hour, most of the pre-ticketed crowd was stuffed into the fenced-in area
of Seals Plaza. It became harder to navigate from booth to booth but still, a good spirit prevailed. Everyone received a Giant-orange souvenir mug and began working towards drinking the eight samples their entrance card allowed.
Also pouring were Berkeley’s Trumer Pils, Montana’s Black Star Lager, and Oregon’s Widmer. San Francisco brewpub, Social Kitchen and Brewery featured their Beach House Blonde and SKB Pilsner. Monterey was represented by Peter B’s Brewpub which brought an IPA, a Hefeweizen and a Raspberry Wheat made with fresh raspberries.
Despite the crowded conditions, the people I spoke with were generally positive about the event. “What’s not to like, cheap beer and the Giants,” said one enthusiastic fan. Most breweries poured two or three beers. Each of those who offered an India Pale Ale said that it was moving the fastest.
That there were perhaps too many people for the space allotted was not lost on Giants Vice-President of Sponsor and Special Event Support, Danny Dann. When asked if there was anything he would do to improve the event, he said while surveying the scene, “Next year we may cut down the number of attendees from 2,000 to 1,500. We can’t expand the space.” Probably a good idea.
There’s little to question about the Giants’ success at promotions and special events. This was no exception. It worked. With a few tweaks like better brewery signage and more representation of San Francisco’s fine craft breweries Brewfest would help cement the Giants’ reputation for being a great place to go for beer as well as baseball.