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.