Should results this coming weekend go their way, Essendon Football Club and its fans can look forward to finals footy – a swift bounce back from the despair of last season and the trials that preceded it. And, for fans with a taste for craft beer, there's more good news: the club has its own beer.
Following the announcement in April that Colonial Brewing Co would be the first craft brewery in the country to sponsor an AFL team, the brewery’s partnership with Essendon has moved a step further. Earlier today, players were on hand at the Port Melbourne brewery to help pack cases of Bombers Beer, Colonial's flagship Kolsch inside cans wrapped top to bottom red and black and with the football club’s insignia from the early 90s filling the back.
The Essendon beer follows a string of other partnerships between small breweries and sports teams across the country, including Melbourne’s Stomping Ground’s recent hook up with Melbourne City FC.
The beer is also the latest in an growing list of firsts for the Margaret River and Port Melbourne operation. Having been the first brewery in Australia to release 360-degree open top cans, this winter also saw Colonial release Australia’s strongest beer in a can to date.
Head brewer Ash Hazell (pictured below right with Zach Merrett and Matt Leuenberger) says today's release is an exciting development for the brewery.
“The idea with a style like this is that it's crafty enough to appeal to people who love really well-made craft beer and also appeal to those who enjoy having a few tinnies when watching the footy,” says Ash of the decision to turn their Kolsch into the Bombers Beer.
And, while he admits he's far from the country’s most devoted AFL fan, as a brewer there’s a clear excitement in his voice when he talks about what this beer means, particularly when it comes to starting new conversations around craft beer and the potential to attract new drinkers.
“The excitement for me is getting real beer, by locally-owned, independent craft breweries, into the hands of people who normally just drink the mainstream swill and show them that there’s other stuff out there,” says Ash.
“[If] this exercise gets that idea into people’s minds a little bit then it’s a win for our entire industry and that’s where I get excited.”
Ash sees these boundary-pushing releases, whether it’s a beer covered in Essendon colours or a 11.7 percent ABV imperial stout as an important way for breweries to stand out. He thinks beers like this can cut through to mainstream beer drinkers, while also standing out from the myriad craft breweries now operating in Australia.
Essendon vice captain Zach Merrett was among the players helping Ash and the team on the packaging line on canning day, a job which he says he “probably enjoyed a little too much.” He felt the release was a big win for the club’s fans, hoping most would enjoy it while watching them play.
“I think most people will enjoy it as soon as they get their hands on the beer,” says Zach. “Though I can see a few supporters buying a case and holding onto a few as memorabilia – I’m certainly thinking about doing something like that."
Zach was also impressed with how good the can looks covered in the team colours, as well as being able to see how it all came together on canning day.
“Obviously, seeing the end product is one thing but it’s also great to see what goes on in a brewery like this,” he says. “Colonial and Essendon have put a lot of hard work into it and the cans look great.”
With the club having roughly 60,000 members, both Colonial and Essendon expect the beer to sell out quickly. If you'd like to get your hands on some, put your order in via the brewery's website here.
About the author: Will Ziebell is a history graduate who finds the greatest use for his degree is telling anecdotes to anyone who will listen. Often they involve beer, especially when hosting Melbourne Brewery Tours. He can be found on Instagram and Twitter.