WHAT’S IT TAKE to get this city to serve a local beer at its premier annual sporting event?
This Sunday, for the 17th consecutive year, fans at the U.S. Pro Cycling Championship will be refreshing themselves with yet another out-of-town interloper.
The official beer of the bike race is Samuel Adams Summer Pilsner.
I’m not going to slam Sam – it’s better than the Coors or Bud Light or whatever dreck they usually serve in the hospitality tents along the Parkway. But in the name of Joe Ortlieb, why not a hometown beer?
It’s America’s biggest bike race, an event that draws 100,000 or more spectators. The daylong event is an advertising bonanza for sponsors. And even though only those lucky enough to talk their way into the tents get to sample the beer, it’s still an ideal opportunity to promote a homegrown product.
At least, that’s what Bill Covaleski of Downingtown’s Victory Brewing Co. thought.
Covaleski is a big bike fan. Back in the late ’80s, he worked in the pits, feeding riders and hanging out with the racers.
His brewery (along with Amoroso and Cycle Sport) sponsors Tri-State Velo, an area bicycling club that this year will have a team in the women’s Liberty Classic race. Watch for the team in red, white and green jerseys and the Victory logo on their butts.
A couple of months ago, according to Covaleski, the race organizer, Threshold Sports of King of Prussia, asked Victory if it would supply beer in the hospitality tents.
“For a small brewery like Victory, we thought it would a chance to get access to people we wouldn’t have met through other means,” said Covaleski. “We appreciate the loyalty we have from beer fans, but we feel strongly that there’s a wider market out there.
“Being the official beer of the bike race would have meant exposure. ”
Victory would have donated about 700 cases of its All Malt Lager and Whirlwind Wit. In exchange, it would get to hang banners around the 14-mile course.
“Our first inkling that there was a problem came when [Threshold] told us their client was expressing some concern over serving a non-name brand,” said Covaleski, “and they weren’t sure it would satisfy their guests.
“That’s legit, but they didn’t even ask for a sample. ”
The client is First Union National Bank, the banking conglomerate from North Carolina that is the lead sponsor of the race. (Fact: 52 percent of all beer served in North Carolina is Budweiser, according to Market Watch magazine. In Pennsylvania, it’s about 27 percent. )
“We didn’t want to push Victory down the throats of people who only wanted to drink light beer,” Covaleski continued. “So we came up with a proposal that we’d supply two-thirds of the beer, and use something mainstream for the rest.
“Then Threshold got back to us and told us, ‘Forget it. ‘ First Union would rather buy beer than serve Victory. ”
First Union referred my questions to Lisa Fusco, Threshold’s vice president of sales. Fusco denied First Union will buy its own beer.
“Sam Adams will donate the beer in exchange for advertising,” she said.
Further, Fusco said, the decision to go with Sam Adams had nothing to do with First Union’s apparent lack of faith in a Philadelphia-area company.
“Nobody came out and said we don’t want Victory. That is not the case at all,” she said. “It is definitely a boutique product, and we thought it was a great fit, because cycling is boutique-y itself. ”
But, she said, “there were just so many logistical issues. ”
1. “Victory couldn’t provide enough beer for the event,” she said.
That’s just plain nonsense, Covaleski said. “We were willing to do the entire thing.”
2. “Aramark [the event caterer] didn’t want to have to serve beer from kegs,” said Fusco.
That’s true, Covaleski said. That’s why he offered to supply bottles to Aramark, and volunteers to man separate draft stations.
3. “We needed cups,” Fusco said. “Sam Adams is going to provide us thousands and thousands of cups. ”
“Cups? That wasn’t a show-stopper,” Covaleski said. “The bottom line is [Threshold] was angling for the best deal. ”
Fusco acknowledged as much, saying, “I’m running hospitality for 10,000 people. If I can get a sponsor like Sam Adams, I can’t turn that down. ”
“That shows the chauvinism that exists even at that level,” Covaleski said. “Essentially, even though we’re a local company, we’re insignificant in their eyes. ”
Fusco replied, “I’m a local company too. We’re a small company trying to stage the largest cycling race in America. We have to cater to the needs of our sponsors as well.”
I think Threshold does a terrific job with the race. It is one of this city’s jewels, the sort of event that makes me proud to be a Philadelphian.
But this is a lost opportunity. Not just for Victory, and not just for race fans who won’t get to sample a great beer from a local company.
This was a chance for First Union to tell the city it isn’t just a money-grubbing out-of-town banking conglomerate whose only apparent tie to this community is the extortionary fees it charges us for using its ATMs.
“We feel kind of snubbed,” said Covaleski.
Hey, so do I, every time I look at my monthly bank statement.
So, wanna drink some decent beer at this year’s race?
Well, if you don’t plan ahead and buy a case or keg for your picnic, visit one of the conveniently located beer bars near the race course.
Among my favorites at the Manayunk end of the loop are Flat Rock Saloon, 4301 Main St., and Dawson Street Pub, Cresson & Dawson streets.
The Ugly Moose, 443 Shurs Lane, and Red Bell will donate a portion of Sunday’s proceeds to C.O.P.S., a group that aids families of slain police officers. Admission is free.
Near the Art Museum, sneak over to Bridgid’s, 726 N. 24th St.; Bishop’s Collar, 2349 Fairmount Ave.; and London Grill, 2301 Fairmount Ave.
Near Logan Circle, there’s a Dock Street brewpub at 20th & Cherry streets.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Victory Whirlwind Wit.