Purdue's Official Beer Is Already Creating a Buzz
Last week, I posed the question "Why are so many colleges getting officially licensed beers?" At least eight such beers are currently on the market, a half dozen of which are new this year, and all of which allowed a brewery sanctioned use of a schools name or mascot—beers like New Mexico State University's Pistol Pete's 1888 Ale and Tulane University's Green Wave Beer. One of the latest of the bunch comes from Purdue University: The Indiana school's Boiler Gold-American Golden Ale was announced and released this month – and the excitement surrounding it has offered up another answer to my original question: demand.
You don't have to be an economics student at Purdue to understand the importance of supply and demand. For generations, the potential supply of official college beers could be viewed as artificially restricted: Schools—extremely cognizant of the issues surround underage drinking and college students—were understandably apprehensive about wrapping their school colors around a beer can. But now that a few well-known colleges have broken the stigma behind university-branded beers, a massive demand appears to be bubbling up from under the surface.
In a piece for Lafayette, Indiana's Journal & Courier, Dave Bangert described just how successful Boiler Gold's launch has been, both in public interest and actual sales. At the brew's debut during the Boilermaker's first home football game, lines were so long some fans were choosing the beer over the game. "We missed the opening kickoff due to large, slow-moving lines," said one attendee from Indianapolis. "At one point, I overheard a worker say, 'We didn't expect this many people.'" Turns out that fan was lucky he got to try it at all: A university spokesman said that all 150 cases of 16-ounce cans sold out, some before the game even started. "From all I could tell Friday night, we could have sold a lot more if we'd brought more," Chris Johnson, owner of the brewery behind the beer, People's Brewing Company, told Bangert. "Everybody seems to want it. … That's a good problem to have." Meanwhile, at the on-campus 1869 Tap Room, Boiler Gold has outsold all other beers combined.
The university is probably happy with these results. Having a popular branded beer has multiple benefits. As Brian Farkas, Head of the Department of Food Science at Purdue University, told me last week, proceeds from these sales are going back to the university for agricultural research, including to help the brewing industry. But beyond any financial benefit, Boiler Gold keeps alumni actively engaged as well. "We're getting calls from fans coming to Homecoming (asking), 'Can we fly with six-packs of this?'" Johnson was quoted as saying. "The answer is, it's not going to be available for you to take home, yet."
But it will be soon: Johnson said his brewing company already has another 80-barrel batch in the works, double the size of the previous supply. That should be enough beer to start getting cans into local liquor stores next month. However another question lingers: Does an actual long-term interest in official school beers exist or is the current demand built out of the obvious novelty factor? Looks like we're about to find out.