Beer and sports have been engrained with one another throughout the last century. Go to any professional sporting venue and you’ll notice the long lines at concession stands between lengthy stoppages of play where fans will pay a good price to sip on some of the finest beer selections.
The craft beer revolution provides more sophisticated choices than ever to match a brew with one’s favorite sport. Harpoon Brewery took that distinction to heart, partnering with the Boston Bruins for one of their recent releases.
Specifically, the Seaport District brewery wanted a local tie-in to this project. Enter Bruins winger and ‘Mayor of Walpole’ Chris Wagner.
“Harpoon has such strong roots in New England,” Harpoon CMO Jon London said. “We’re one of the original craft breweries in New England and we have such close ties to the community. So we were looking to partner with someone who shared our values and had good ties to New England and Chris was a natural. He’s from Walpole, he plays for a great local organization and he loves the beer.”
London and Harpoon, who has an independent partnership with the Bruins separate from their latest project with Wagner, thought of producing a sports-themed beer for the local hockey community. This particular process came rather quickly.
Harpoon put the wheels in motion on the project in October. They had a few notable local names to choose from, including Weymouth native Charlie Coyle and Charlestown’s own Matt Grzelcyk.
Wagner volunteered to partner up with Harpoon for this project in early-December. The dynamic duo tapped the first keg at a launch party a mere two months later. Liquor stores around the area received their first shipments of ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’ shortly after.
“They wanted a local kid, and I got the nod,” Wagner said. “I didn’t know much about [the brewing process], but I’ve learned a lot since we started.”
Wagner indeed learned some details about brewing beer. But he also had a tremendous amount of input in the decision making.
The initial process for Wagner and Harpoon centered around the specifics. Harpoon’s anchor beer, their India Pale Ale (IPA), delivers a hop-filled experience for the hoppy ale lovers.
But Harpoon doesn’t only dabble in IPA’s. Their distinct variety of aromas and flavors go beyond the hoppy-taste experience. Wagner, himself wanted a lighter beer for a simpler, yet easy-tasting product.
After finalizing the recipe, veteran brewer and Newton native Ethan Elston went to work filling the ingredients for a Black and Gold-en ale.
“We were kind of bouncing ideas around on how we could make this Bruins themed,” Elston said. “He specifically wanted something that was lower in alcohol volume where he can have a few [drinks] and still function.”
The golden ale takes precedent over the other half of the Bruins’ color scheme in this project. Aside from the label on the cans, the black coloring doesn’t show up upon pouring it into a glass.
Yet, a certain unique ingredient provides a one of a kind distinction for the other half of the Black and Gold inspired ale.
“So basically we decided to make the golden ale and add the black honey as our black ingredient,” Elston added. “It doesn’t affect the color, but it’s still in there.”
Simple and not overly hoppy, ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’ has been quite the hit for Harpoon. The initial sales have exceeded any of London’s expectations. Including a local charity like the Corey Griffin Foundation — established after Corey’s tragic death in 2014 — makes the business endeavor even more special.
Wagner’s close relationship with the Griffin family remains strong. So it was a no brainer for the Walpole native and Harpoon to partner up with the Griffin Foundation.
“I played with [Corey’s] brother growing up, and his dad was the coach of my team, I knew Corey for a couple of years and we all stayed tight,” Wagner said. “I was also an ambassador for [the Griffin Foundaiton] so it’s a pretty easy connection to make. They’re all great guys and it’s awesome to do this for a great cause.”
If you haven’t tried ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’ yet, well, you’re in luck. You can stock up Harpoon and Wagner’s product at a liquor store, select restaurants, the Harpoon Beer Hall and even purchase one on draught and in cans at TD Garden until the end of Boston’s upcoming postseason run.
“The plan is to keep riding this until the season ends,” London said. “Hopefully people can still buy this in early June.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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