America’s obsession with craft brewing has spawned a juggernaut industry that shows no signs of slowing. Craft brewing generated $26 billion in sales in 2017, accounting for nearly a quarter of the domestic beer market. Despite the seemingly limitless growth the craft brewing industry has sustained, beer makers (and drinkers) are still staunchly local and loyal, and the close-knit, community spirit that defines the industry is a perfect match for American rugby.
Since its creation more than a decade ago, Glendale’s Infinity Park has been the epicenter of rugby in the United States, establishing its rugby programming during that time as a friend and champion of local businesses. For the inaugural season of professional rugby in the U.S., the Glendale Raptors have featured local brewers at each home game, and will also host the annual Bruises and Brews beer festival in August – taking place over two days this year for the first time in the event’s history. As Major League Rugby’s exciting first season winds to a close, rugby fans and beer enthusiasts can look forward to the two-day festival – a perfect pairing with the annual RugbyTown 7s tournament. Hearing from two featured brewers demonstrates what makes the hard-hitting sport and cold, local suds such good bedfellows.
A Colorado native, Dave Meira of Boggy Draw Brewery started brewing beer in 1989. The warm, woodsy ambience of his Sheridan taproom is almost as welcoming as the rich, smooth flavor of his Groundhog Mountain Milk Stout. Built by Meira himself, a carpenter by trade, the outdoor-themed bar is named for an area in southwest Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, a place where he grew up hunting. The featured brewer at the Raptors home opener, a victory over Austin Elite Rugby, Meira’s passion for rugby is plainly equal to his passion for beer. Opened in July 2015, Boggy’s somewhat sparse décor includes a number of rugby balls and jerseys. With 16 beers typically on tap, Meira is slowly working toward expansion, though his bread and butter remains the Sheridan taproom.
Playing rugby himself in the late 80s, Meira admits today’s professional league is another animal altogether: “It was a different game back then,” he chuckles. “Today’s game is a lot faster and a lot more fluid. Back then if you could still stand up you kept playing.” When his son was in high school, Meira learned of the rugby programming at Infinity Park and both got involved. While his son played, Meira volunteered as an assistant coach. Asked about the comparison between the sport and brewing, he notes that the two share a common mentality: “Rugby is very fraternal, and the brewing scene at our level is like that too. They’re both close-knit communities.” That fraternity ensures Colorado brewers and American rugby will continue to grow together.
Just south of Mile High Stadium, Strange Craft Beer Company was born from disaster. Owner Tim Myers had been home brewing for eight years when the Great Recession cost him his IT job. Rather than wade through unpromising employment prospects, he took the plunge and founded Strange: the first nanobrewery in Denver. Asked about the distinction, Myers explains that craft brewers are typically described in terms of size: “There are multinationals, regional brewers, packaging breweries, brewpubs, and more,” he says. “Smaller brewers are microbreweries: we’re the next size down. We celebrate our smallness, focusing on selling pints across the bar in our tasting room.” Myers experimented with nearly 65 beer recipes last year – the most in Strange’s history.
Photo by Justin Purdy
The featured brewer for the Raptors May 13 win over San Diego Legion, Strange Craft embodies how craft brewing is facilitating the burgeoning American rugby scene. Myers explains: “I always think of rugby as an English sport, and it seems like any time I’ve gone to a rugby event there has been Bass or Harp or Guinness on tap,” he says. “Those were the original craft beers in the 1970s and 80s in the U.S. If you wanted something different tasting, that’s what you drank. I think that plays really well with bringing rugby to America. That craft beer heritage and the U.S. brewing scene work well toward Americanizing rugby.”
Myers’ sentiment succinctly explains Glendale’s brewer-friendly mentality. Pairing the athletic spectacle of the niche sport and its uniquely community-centric ethos, with the creativity, camaraderie, and local-focus of craft brewing is a no brainer. Embracing the grassroots nature of rugby, Colorado’s craft brewers are finding themselves on the ground floor of a rapidly growing sport, and enjoying the successful inaugural season of Major League Rugby in the process. As craft brewing continues to grow, so too will Glendale’s presence as the center of American rugby. Drop by Infinity Park to check out the professional rugby action – and have a pint while you’re at it.