The two-legged Beer, Footy & Food Festival set for Henson Park might have fallen foul of the latest COVID outbreak, but is one of the most high profile examples of the growing links between footy and craft beer in New South Wales. Ben Hopkins spoke to some of those involved on both sides of the touchline.
If you’re from New South Wales, there's little that feels quite as right as sitting on a hill and cheering hard for your footy club. Well, perhaps doing just that, only with a beer in your hand.
For a long time, partaking in this sacred pastime meant you, as a punter, were resigned to drinking whatever beer was being poured at the game, which was usually limited to a selection of mainstream lagers and mid-strengths. Oh, how the times have changed.
While we’ve been reporting on sporting partnerships in the craft beer world for a few years, it seems like now more than ever craft beer has really infiltrated the sporting experience, with a greater number of fans, and even players, saying: “I want something better than this, so give me something better than this.”
Perhaps no venue better personifies this shift than Henson Park, home to the Newtown Jets. The Jets, established in 1908 as a foundation club of the New South Wales Rugby Football League, and a current member of the NSW Cup, have long been associated with craft beer, first partnering with Young Henrys in 2016 before joining forces with Philter in 2020.
Being connected to the iconic club is not something Stef Constantoulas, Philter co-founder and lifelong fan of the Jets, takes lightly. Speaking with The Crafty Pint, the brewery co-founder says it still gives him chills to see punters drinking cans of Philter on the hill at Henson Park.
“As a fan, it’s a dream come true,” he says. “Being associated with the Jets has been amazing, mainly because we’re creating a community connection with them and their fans.”
Taking the partnership one step further in 2021, the Jets and Philter joined forces to create a new beer, specifically brewed to be enjoyed while cheering on the sidelines: Henson Park Draught. Rather than slapping the Jets’ logo on one of their existing beers, the team at Philter worked closely on creating what Stef calls “a beer drinker’s beer”.
“They wanted a footy beer, which we worked out to be something between a pale ale and a lager… a beer that anyone can enjoy,” he says.
“It’s by no means just for craft beer drinkers, it’s a lightly hopped, perfect beer for a sunny day sitting on the hill, and everyone has been loving it since launch.”
Henson Park Draught is in good company when it comes to official tie-ins: Mismatch recently canned their Adelaide Crows’ mid-strength; Colonial put the end of their partnership with Essendon to one side and partnered with North Melbourne; Stone & Wood’s Green Coast Lager is now the official beer of the Wallabies; Gage Roads have struck a number of deals, including pouring rights at Perth’s Optus Stadium; and there are many other examples too.
Once COVID restrictions ease and crowds return to live sport, Philter will be one of two dozen brewers pouring at the country’s biggest melding of footy and craft beer, the Beer Footy & Food Festival, returns to Henson Park. Long-time Cronulla Sharks and current Warriors halfback Chad Townsend is among those getting in on the act too.
He’s one of four founders of Cronulla Beer Co, with business partner Adam Goodes (no, not that Adam Goodes) telling The Crafty Pint he believes more NRL players could look at getting involved in beer as a career after they hang up the boots.
“It’s not uncommon for athletes to think about what they’re going to do after rugby league ends for them,” he says.
“For some, their minds go towards what they’re interested in, and, for many, that’s beer.
“Beer and the Australian sporting culture go hand in hand, and now, with social media, athletes can tell their own stories through what they brew and have other people judge the product for themselves.”
Chad echoes many of Adam’s points, adding how pleased he is with the goals the young brewing company has kicked so far.
“To build our business and our brand from the ground up has been a great journey,” he says. “We aren't even one year old yet but we feel as though we have had some incredible success and we have big plans for the future.”
Having grown up playing rugby alongside Chad, Adam says they were keen to create something that wasn’t just a “rugby beer”.
“We didn’t want to be known as the Cronulla Sharks brewery, or the brewery that just makes beers for rugby players, we wanted to be as inclusive as possible,” he says.
Despite their relative youth, Cronulla Beer Co have been making waves, landing a beer at 52nd in the 2020 GABS Hottest 100, before partnering with Dan Murphy’s to create Celebration XPA, commemorating the liquor giant’s 250th store opening in 2021.
Looking around NSW, the relationship between craft beer and footy is only growing stronger too. Scotty Morgan is one of the most experienced brewers, judges and consultants in Australia, and while at Rocks Brewing observed a growing number of brands with connections to the NRL coming in to contract brew over the past couple of years.
“Obviously, we’ve had the guys at Cronulla come through, but it’s not going to stop there,” he says.
“Roosters players, Penrith players, there’s quite a few that have got their eyes on getting involved with beer going forward.
"On the smaller scale, it's been great to work with the Glebe Dirty Reds and their project, Glebe Brewing Co. It's been a great way for them to help raise funds for the club and help immortalise club legend Frank Burge on the Immortal Pale Ale."
Elsewhere, the Parramatta Leagues Club has been pushing its own craft for the past two years in the form of Jacks Brewery.
Looking at events like the Beer Footy & Food Festival, Scotty believes the sport has never been so connected at a grassroots level to craft beer, and suggests it’s only going to get stronger from here on.
“Having the festival at a place like Henson and seeing everyone embrace it is amazing," he says.
“The more diversity we can have in terms of what people can enjoy while they watch a game of footy, the better.”