Beer and World Cup soccer are an elemental pairing. Rivers of brews are poured for hundreds of millions of spectators around the globe watching broadcasts over a month of matches. The spectacle is big business for global beer brands, but it is also an opportunity for craft breweries to fete the beautiful game.
Held every four years, the 2014 edition of FIFA World Cup is coming home to five-time winners Brazil, starting Thursday, June 12 and culminating with the championship match on Sunday, July 13. Two of Madison's smallest breweries are preparing their celebrations of the tournament, one inspired by experiences as a soccer fan and the next by a connection to the host nation.
Peter Gentry, owner and brewmaster of One Barrel Brewing, has been into soccer since he was a kid. He played with East High School, and later on several teams in the Madison Soccer Association. He's also a fan of international play, following the Premier and Champions leagues every year, along with the quadrennial spectacle of the Cup. "I try to watch as many World Cup matches as I can," he says.
Gentry has actually experienced a pair of World Cup celebrations first-hand in their host nations. The first was in 1998, when he and a "busload of Scotsmen" spent two weeks in the south of France. "We mostly watched games on TV, eating and drinking and having a good time," he recalls. Gentry returned to Europe in 2006 to soak up the World Cup scene in Germany, hanging out in Berlin and Stuttgart. "If you order eine Bier in Berlin, you get a Berliner Weiss," he laughs, noting the light and frothy sour brew that was once ubiquitous in the German capital and is now making a resurgence as a style.
Beer has been a primary concern for Gentry since opening One Barrel in 2012, and so in lieu of a trip to Rio, he's celebrating this year's World Cup by releasing a special brew. It's name is Pelé Pale Ale.
"We brewed a new American pale ale, but it's actually kind of a worldwide pale ale," says Gentry. Designed by head brewer Dan Sherman, it's made with German wheat and both English and Belgian malts (each powerhouse nations in football and contenders in the Cup), base pale malts from Briess here in the U.S. (aspiring to that status) and Cascade hops from New Zealand (which made a spirited showing in 2010, but lost in a qualification playoff against Mexico for this year's tournament). The beer finishes at 40 IBUs and around 5.5% ABV.
The thematic idea behind Pelé Pale Ale is to create a beer that serves as a gateway to craft beer fandom, much like the World Cup helps build the soccer community, explains Sherman.
One Barrel is making four or five batches of Pelé, and will be serving the beer not only in its taproom on Atwood, but at Star Bar on East Wash and Hawk's Bar on State Street as well. It debuts on the opening day of the tournament, Thursday, June 12. "We're hoping to have it around for the entire World Cup, but if it sells really well, it might just last a couple weeks," notes Gentry. "But you probably won't see it again for another four years."
Star Bar, which is collaboratively operated by Gentry and Hawk Sullivan, has served One Barrel beers since opening last year. Pelé, though, marks the first time that one of the brewery's releases will be on tap at Hawk's, a popular soccer hangout owned by Sullivan that's packed shoulder-to-shoulder for big international matches. The business partners originally got to know each other from playing soccer.
Sullivan is looking forward to showcasing Pelé Pale Ale. "It's pretty cool to make a beer specifically for an event like this. That's what makes One Barrel unique," he says.
The beer's name, of course is in homage to Pelé and his importance to the host nation and sport as a whole. "He's probably still the best player ever in the history of soccer, and Brazil is obviously one of the best countries in the game," notes Gentry.
Pepper Stebbins is very familiar with Brazil having made his home there for a dozen years. The co-owner of Next Door Brewing lived in Itacoatiara, a small city on the Amazon River.
"I went down there to work at plywood veneer mill, with the job of recovering logs at bottom of the Amazon," he says, "then I went to a forest management project." This work was with Precious Woods, a sustainable forestry company whose operations in Brazil are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and was recognized by Greenpeace and the Rainforest Alliance.
While living there, Stebbins built a family. "My wife Joana is Brazilian, and our two kids were born there," he says. Moving on from forestry, he and his wife opened a bed-and-breakfast in Itacoatiara and provided tours of the nearby rainforest. Stebbins also spent time angling in Amazonia's waters, catching piranha and other fish. Returning to the U.S. in 2008, he last visited Brazil in November 2012 as a competitor on the National Geographic program King Fishers, seeking to hook peacock bass.
During his time in Brazil, Stebbins would regularly visit two brewpubs, Amazon Beer in the city of Belem near the mouth of the river and Cervejaria Fellice in Manaus, which is located about 170 miles upstream of Itacoatiara, and is one of the World Cup host cities. The U.S. plays a group stage match against Portugal there on Sunday, June 22.
Stebbins is marking the tournament at Next Door with a series of special beer releases and Brazilian-themed menu items, building upon an increased focus at the brewpub of building a soccer fan clientele.
For the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday, June 12, the brewpub will debut Rumble On, which is an Old Sugar Distillery rum barrel-aged version of its Bramble On, a strong wheat beer made with blackberries. The match between Mexico and Cameroon on Friday, June 13 will feature Rey Rye, an imperial Vienna rye ale made in collaboration with Tex Tubb's for Madison Craft Beer Week. Battle of the Bulge, a beer week collaboration between Next Door and Karben4, will take another bow for the match between England and Italy on Saturday, June 14. Finally, Rumble On will make its return on Monday, June 16 for the all-important opening U.S. match against its recent nemesis Ghana. All three beers will be served in very limited quantities, with only five gallons of the Rumble On hitting the tap at each of its appearances.
Stebbins recalls getting immersed in Seleção culture immediately upon arriving in Itacoatiara in late June of 1998. "I moved there during the World Cup, and Brazil got bounced by France," he says. "But four years later, I was there when they beat Germany in the final. That Cup was in Korea, the matches were on super late, and I'd know every time Brazil scored because fireworks went off in the city."
The official beer sponsorship of the World Cup is ubiquitous and lucrative, with InBev brand Budweiser promoting an ambitious campaign in advance of and during the tournament. Watching this month of matches is a marathon, though, and fans of both soccer and craft beer would be wise to shake up their routines and have a taste of where these passions intersect.