Sports Arenas: Enemy of the Beer Geek

Complaint #526 about the beer landscape in Toronto: sports venues offer terrible beer. Anyone attending an event at the Skydome or Air Canada Centre will notice that the quality of the beer in their hand is just about the same as that of the home team (which, in case you don’t follow the Leafs/Raptors/Jays, is usually pretty deplorable). Bud, Blue, Canadian, Rickard’s… not exactly beers willing to make me part with a couple of fivers. Apparently there is one stand in the Skydome that sells Steam Whistle, which is pretty sad when you consider that the brewery exists across the street (and that Steam Whistle is the saving grace). I’ve never been able to find it, which is telling. I also can’t comment on the beers at BMO Field, but my sources tell me the situation is just as bleak there. But is this normal? Do sports fans just have to accept bad, overpriced beer at stadiums?

This past weekend I traveled to Detroit with some friends for a sports weekend. We hit up three games in three days, all of which were played in different venues. My hope was that I could find a decent drink in one of these stadiums, or else it could be a very long weekend. Detroit is not exactly a craft beer hotspot, but it should be noted that Michigan does have a number of well-respected breweries, though not many with strong distribution throughout the States. The results were pretty much what I expected.

Joe Louis Arena: Home to the Detroit Red Wings, Joe Louis is one of the older arenas in the NHL, dating back to 1979. The taps probably haven’t changed that much since is opened, heavily featuring Bud, Bud Light and Blue ($8). Built before the age of fancy stadium bars and lounges, the best I could do was a Jack and coke ($6.50). Luckily the Red Wings have been one of the most consistent teams for over a decade, meaning that their fans don’t need to get drunk every night in order to watch the team.

The Palace of Auburn Hills: Located well outside metro Detroit, the Palace is the arena for Pistons games and Taylor Swift concerts. The beer scene was dismal, but I was intrigued by a tap handle for Shock Top, even though I figured it would be another Anheuser-Busch product (it was, along with the gluten-free Redbridge that I almost accidentally bought). The Shock Top ($8) wasn’t a great Belgian wit (pretty much like getting a Rickard’s White), but it was that or going to the Canadian Club zone. An afternoon baseball game would have been a much better occasion for the beer, but the Palace was marginally better than Joe Louis because of it (the Raptors 25 point comeback didn’t hurt either).

Ford Field: The Lions/Packers showdown at Ford Field was the big draw of the weekend for us and this was the one game I really wanted to enjoy with a good beer. At first it was all the same – Bud, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, Coors Light, barf. But then we neared our section and hit the motherload – a tiny hole in the wall with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Smithwick’s, Harp and a decent selection of Michigan bottles. There was also a kiosk that was selling only Atwater Dirty Blonde. The Sierra Nevada ($10) came in a smaller sized cup compared to all the other $8 beers, but it was exactly what I wanted. It even poured with a perfect head. I almost tried the Kid Rock Badass Lager, but couldn’t part with my money in such a ridiculous fashion. Ford Field was definitely the winner of the weekend.

Only one of the three arenas had respectable beer (craft beer or otherwise) and only in select tiny areas. People will continue to complain about the beer selection at our sports venues, but this is not a phenomena that only strikes Toronto. Obviously the craft beer I came across was more expensive than the light beer options, but I was more than willing to pay the price. Hopefully better beer options will become available at our stadiums and arenas, but I’d also like to see the Leafs in the playoffs and we all know that’s not going to happen.

There wasn’t a lot of time for exploring the city, but here are some recommendations in case you’re ever in Detroit:

  • Slows BBQ is the place to eat and drink – the photo above is their tap list. The wait can be long (40 minutes at noon on Saturday), but the food and beers are worth the wait. The Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and Founders Breakfast Stout were excellent surprises on draft.
  • Foran’s Grand Trunk Pub is great for Michigan beers – Shorts, Bells, Jolly Pumpkin, Atwater, Detroit Beer Co and more. Service was a bit slow and not always knowledgeable about beer, but the bar had a nice atmosphere.
  • Merchant’s Fine Wine was the closest beer store to downtown Detroit and the selection was worth the 20-25 minute drive. Tonnes of beer, spanning Michigan, the States and all over Europe. An overly friendly employee even gave a five-minute tour detailing all of the Michigan breweries.
  • Jacoby’s German Biergarten didn’t have the best beer list, but enough taps and bottles that I didn’t have to try any repeats. They also pour a massive bourbon for $6.
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One response to “Sports Arenas: Enemy of the Beer Geek

  1. Scotiabank Place in Ottawa has Creemore available so I’m surprised that the ACC doesn’t offer it.

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