Barley + Rye: Atlanta Hawks shine spotlight on local craft beer brewers

The NBA team presents Georgia breweries at Hawktoberfest competition
Monday Night Brewing's winning moment at 2013 Hawktoberfest

Images courtesy of Atlanta Hawks

When the Atlanta Hawks host the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, March 21, game attendees of drinking age are in for a perk. Hawktoberfest, the basketball brand’s take on a Philips Arena craft beer competition, starts at 6 p.m. and goes through the third quarter. For the second year in a row, Hawktoberfest offers fans of professional sports and local craft beer what so often seems like a red herring—the chance to drink the kind of beer you buy for yourself at home, at a major sports venue. And the church said, Amen.

If you want to attend Hawktoberfest, you first must buy a ticket to the game, which, as of this publishing, starts at $19. Once you’re in, show that sexy ID on the second level of the arena to purchase a $20 passport. For ticketholders, it’s all about the eighteen three-ounce beer samples. For the brewers, some nice bragging rights hang in the balance: Attendees can vote for the brewery and beer they like most and the winner receives a tap at the arena.

Up from eight breweries at last year’s inaugural fest, the event will present eleven Georgia breweries and their multiple selections: Blue Tarp, Jailhouse, Jekyll, O’Dempsey’s, Red Hare, SweetWater, Terrapin, Three Taverns, Wild Heaven, Red Brick, and last year’s winner Monday Night Brewing.

I spoke with Peter Sorckoff, vice president of marketing for the Hawks about why Atlanta’s basketball team is so interested in the local craft scene.

It makes sense, but I’m still curious. The Hawks. Craft beer. Why? We really want to be Atlanta’s team, and we identified some passion points in the city. We want to highlight entrepreneurs and small businesses—craft beer is a big business. Beer and sports work really well, so a lot of parallels made sense. We loved the idea of shining a spotlight on local brewers, on Atlanta craft beer that deserves the spotlight. That’s the point of differentiation. This isn’t a beer festival just for the sake of business.

This line-up includes smaller brewers. What were responses like? Last year we went to breweries and asked, ‘Will you be involved?’ They were like, ‘What’s the hitch?’ There isn’t any. Once we proved our mettle and had the first one, they were asking us to be involved this year. I would love for it to grow organically within that community. If it’s done the right way and for the right reasons, people will tell people on our behalf for us. I like seeing the Hawks’s brand represented that way.

Where will the winner’s tap be available? At Red, the new restaurant we put in eighteen months ago. It looks out into the seating bowl, has a lounge feel, and a spectacular bar that stays open after games. It’s a cool profile thing for the brewer. They can say their product is getting poured in the busiest building in the Southeast. This could help somebody springboard their business. And there’s a trophy, too.

So gorgeous. Monday Night Brewing must have been pretty pumped. I think they got a jumpstart on everybody in terms of mobilizing the people who really enjoyed their product. We walked them out to center court.

Winning! Jonathan Baker of Monday Night Brewing

You guys are using the passport approach. The passport idea was meant to encourage people to come down and try a lot of different brews and breweries. We want to help the breweries expose themselves to a more casual craft beer fan.

It’s great to see a major brand aligning itself with local beer businesses—with the support of the NBA? The NBA is pretty good about giving us the latitude to market ourselves. We have other partners that aren’t in the craft space. We wanted to make sure we had everything in alignment.

Between the big beer companies and craft brews, do you think Philips has room for both? I think there is. With something like Hawktoberfest, we get to see what the response is—this is a benefit for us. We keep our finger on the pulse of what our customer wants. If people come to Philips events and tell us that they want that kind of [craft] variety, I think we’d respond to that.