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SweetWater, Turner Field, and Craft Beer Negativity

SweetWater Beer Island

Over the weekend, a local Atlanta bar Diesel Filling Station’s outdoor sign read “We Proudly Don’t Serve SweetWater. Go Braves.” This action brought to the surface a highly discussed issue with a recent announcement by Georgia’s largest craft brewery.

Right before the start of the baseball season, SweetWater Brewery (Atlanta, GA) announced a partnership with the Atlanta Braves. Not only is the brewery an official sponsor of the team, but they also have sponsored a “beer island” in the entrance plaza- perfect timing with their two best-selling beers launching in cans.

A win for craft beer right? You’d think so. Especially when the “island” was previously Coors branded. That was until a local Atlanta newspaper published an article stating the SweetWater threw out other local breweries.

The more I thought about it, the more this didn’t seem likely. It’s simply not a good move for a craft brewery to do so.

So, I made calls. Did some research. And guess what? None of this is as nefarious as you’ve been lead to believe.

First, let’s look at what SweetWater did do. They did partner with the Atlanta Braves, which comes with a hefty price tag. In return for that sponsorship money, they bought the right to brand the island in the plaza. That’s fair. That’s business. SweetWater thought it was a good move to not only support the team, but introduce game goers to their cans.

What SweetWater didn’t do- demand, ask, or request the other craft brands be kicked out of the stadium. After conversations with SweetWater, the simple answer is – “We don’t have that power.”

This prompted me to approach Aramark, the national food service agent that oversees the vendors and restaurants in the plaza, about the beer selections at Turner Field. While the individual asked not to be named, he tells me (Beer Street Journal) that there has been no directive to drop other [local] craft brands, but that for this season, Aramark is scaling back the number of SKUs carried in the park and there is no ban on local craft beer.

Furthermore, Aramark is making a concerted effort to eliminate all glass bottles from Turner Field. Last season, beer in the craft beer island was poured from glass into cups. However, glass still made it’s way into the stands. In addition, the 16oz format (especially for cans) is preferred by the company, citing pricing structure.

The newly branded island (as of opening day) sold Sweetwater IPA and 420 Pale in 16oz cans along side Sierra Nevada tallboy cans, Blue Moon, and Redd’s Apple Ale.

But wait, there’s more. I’m also told that local brewery Terrapin Beer Co. will soon be back in the park. The distributor is working on finalizing the paperwork and placement.

Ultimately, to say the SweetWater banned, or maliciously forced out local breweries is inaccurate. Being the “Exclusive craft beer sponsor of the Braves” refers to the fact that they are the ONLY craft brewery currently sponsoring the Braves. There is no ban on local breweries. Aramark has the power in this situation.

As for the sign? Diesel’s Justin Haynie tells BSJ that they haven’t sold SweetWater in three years, due to a falling out, and completely unrelated to the above. As for this long-winded piece – hopefully it keeps some negativity out of the craft brewing industry.

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  • BillyH

    Good job, Reid. The negativity has been killing me. I think any of us close to Sweetwater knew that this was probably the case.

  • GJV

    Good to read this, but Sweetwater is no more a “craft” beer than Sam Adams.

    • cack

      Really, then neither is Terrapin since they are partially owned by MillerCoors. I guess Sierra Nevada, brewer of the gold standard in APA is also not a craft brewer as well as about 20 other brewers.

      • Mikerobrew

        As far as I was aware, Terrapin took a loan from MillerCoors to pay for expansion. I don’t think they’re “owned” by those guys, but they’re likely under their thumb for the time being.

        • JC

          MillerCoors exercised their right to convert that note into an equity position which I believe is between 20-25%.

    • Cam

      This is a very dangerous point of view because it implies that as breweries attain a level of success and expand, they essentially no longer qualify as a quality brewery worthy of support. What exactly about Sweetwater disqualifies them from this category? According to the official definition from the Brewer’s Association, they absolutely are a craft brewery, and so is Sam Adams for that matter.

  • Guest

    Wow, nice to hear this side of the story. Glad to see someone is doing their research! Figured that was the case as well.

  • MelissaS

    Wow, nice to hear this side of the story. Glad to see someone is doing their research! Figured that was the case as well.

  • Cam

    Excellent piece. The last thing that the craft beer industry needs is infighting amongst respected breweries.

  • Eric

    I hope you alerted the local paper to your research. Hopefully they’ll issue a correction/retraction.

  • http://mrdink.net/ mrdink

    From a consumer stand-point I’m so glad to have a local/craft brew at Turner. I’ll gladly pay the $ knowing that it’s not watered down Pißwasser.

  • http://www.mostlyharmlessbrewing.com TimD

    Thanks for doing the homework on this and posting it up, I hope all the people on either side of this argument read this so they can know what’s actully going on.

  • Lobelia

    “Being the ‘Exclusive craft beer sponsor of the Braves’ refers to the
    fact that they are the ONLY craft brewery currently sponsoring the
    Braves.”

    That is NOT what the term “exclusive” is understood to mean in the context of sponsorship. If this article is correct in that there has been no exclusivity agreement and yet Sweetwater or the Braves are using the term in that manner, then someone is engaging in false and misleading advertising, which is no doubt contrary to law.

  • boozeshooze

    Diesel Filling Station is a horrible bar. IPA tall boys ftw. Who needs some shitty eye patch ale/gangway ipa anyways?

  • Mike

    Could you explain to me how this is consistent with the couple dozen craft beers Aramark serves at Citizen’s Bank in Philly?

    • Skinnah

      Philly’s farther along in the craft beer scene. Give it time and be patient. A 16oz. SW IPA will help.

  • Neal Munroe

    Diesel sucks and serves shit beer. Period. And to the other comments how is sweetwater not a craft beer? And Sam adams is one of the pioneers of craft beer. Just because you get big enough to meet your demand doesnt mean that you aren’t a craft beer.