Colorado may be the “Napa Valley of craft beer,” but our three major sports venues have always been more like the Death Valley of craft beer: Although you can find a can or a cup of something from a local independent brewer if you look hard enough at Mile High Stadium or Coors Field or the Pepsi Center, half the game might be over before you get back to your seat.
Coors Field is the only Major League Baseball stadium in the country with an actual brewery on site — Blue Moon Brewing at the Sandlot — but craft-beer purists might argue that the brewery is owned by MillerCoors and doesn’t truly represent the local brewing scene. Still, the park has changed things up recently, adding an Oskar Blues outlet and a Colorado beer bar on the third-level party deck and expanding its craft-beer offerings elsewhere.
And this year, Mile High (which will soon change its name from Sports Authority Field to… something else) has begun offering its own “craft” beer made by longtime locals Breckenridge Brewery. (Read more below about why “craft” is in parentheses.)
The brewery, along with the Denver Broncos and stadium concessionaire Centerplate, unveiled the brew, United in Orange, last week. It will be offered throughout Mile High and in a Breckenridge-branded bar in the south stands. A pale ale made with citrus-y Mandarina hops, orange juice and orange peel — to highlight the Broncos predominant color — the 5.3 percent ABV beer will only be available on game days at Mile High and at Breckenridge’s brewpubs in Littleton and Breckenridge.
“They came to us with the idea…and we collaborated on the style,” says Breckenridge Brewery’s Terry Usry. “We wanted something that everyone would be happy with; we were looking for something that was sessionable and had a unique flavor to it. So the connection of the oranges as an ingredient to the team colors really helped it come together well.”
The move is definitely an upgrade for the stadium, which is partnered with Anheuser Busch InBev, meaning the predominant beers are Budweiser varieties and other AB brands. Breckenridge, on the other hand, was a local stalwart of the independent craft brewing scene for 25 years. That changed late last year when AB InBev bought Breckenridge — one of eight craft breweries that the conglomerate has sucked up in the past five years.
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As a result, Breckenridge is no longer considered to be a “craft” brewery by the Boulder-based Brewers Association, the nonprofit trade group representing the craft-beer industry. It has also lost its voting power in the Colorado Brewers Guild, which represents craft breweries locally.
But it was that AB InBev connection that helped pave the way for United in Orange. "A collaboration beer with the Broncos is something we've wanted to do for a long time. This is a huge sports town, and we’ve got a bunch of avid fans here at the brewery," Breckenridge said in a statement. "The local Anheuser-Busch team has a longstanding relationship with the Broncos organization, and our partnership with A-B certainly helped put all of the pieces in place. We hope other Broncos fans will enjoy United in Orange on game days."
The brewery has already made 100 barrels of United in Orange, which equates to about 200 kegs, and it plans to make a second hundred-barrel batch soon, Usry says.
Eventually, there will be a signature souvenir cup that goes with the beer, as well, though Usry wasn’t sure when that will come out. And finally, Breckenridge will also be pouring two of its flagships, Avalanche Ale and Vanilla Porter, at various spots in the stadium. United in Orange will be available this Saturday, when the Broncos play a pre-season home game against the Los Angeles Rams.