A Hoppy Partnership: Brewery Sponsors In Ultrarunning

A discussion about trail and ultrarunners who have beer sponsors.

By on November 27, 2014 | Comments

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Matt Flaherty, who is sponsored by Quaff ON! Brewing Company, among several other sponsors.]

Last December in San Francisco, the day after The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships, I was on a short run with Adam Chase, the Salomon U.S. Team Manager. We were headed from our houseboat lodgings to the San Francisco Running Company for an informational meeting about the new Ultra-Trail World Tour. We were reflecting about the growth of ultra and trail running, and Adam was identifying different eras or stages in the sport’s history. One of these eras, the one we are in now, Adam calls the “Post-Sage Era.”

This is of course in reference to Sage Canaday, who has been one of the best and most consistent mountain, ultra, and trail runners—a “MUT runner,” to quote the title of Sage’s new film—in the world the last three years. Adam’s classification wasn’t merely a nod to Sage’s racing prowess, but also to Sage’s success in marketing himself and the way that has changed the landscape of the sport. Through his top performances and utilizing a wide variety of social and traditional media outlets, Sage has put together a good living as a runner, something only a few runners can say.

Among the more envy-inducing sponsorships that Sage has acquired is his partnership with Avery Brewing Company in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado. From the obligatory “What is your favorite beer?” question on UltraRunnerPodcast interviews to the AJW’s Taproom column on iRunFar, few would dispute that the ultrarunning community is nuts about craft beer. Many ultramarathon races feature post-race parties with free local craft beer, but an individual runner with a brewery sponsor was something new. Not only was I curious about how Sage’s relationship with Avery began, but I wondered if I too could partner with a brewery.

I emailed Sage to pick his brain, and then I set out to find a brewing company that shared my values and passions and might also share its beer with me. By March of this year, I had teamed up with Quaff ON! Brewing Company, located in Nashville, Indiana near my Bloomington home. In May I found myself sharing post-race brews with Brian Tinder and Ian Torrence at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile in Wisconsin and chatting about the adiUltra Team’s new partnership with New Belgium Brewing Company. I also learned that Rob Krar had picked up a sponsor in Wanderlust Brewing Company in Flagstaff. I decided to chat with each of these athletes as well as their brewery points of contact to learn a bit more about their relationships—how they began and why the breweries are sponsoring these athletes.

Avery Brewing Company
Sage set his sites on Avery Brewing Company early in his days in Boulder, and he made his initial connection through an athlete he was coaching. As a big fan of the Boulder craft beer scene, Sage thought a sponsorship could be a mutually beneficial relationship. A beer geek at heart, he excitedly reports, “It’s been really awesome and a dream come true. Avery has been really supportive.” That support includes providing Sage with great beer to enjoy after bouts of training as well as beers to share post-race when he travels. Avery has also worked with Sage on local events like a recent shoe demo at Boulder Running Company, where runners could log a test run in Hokas (Sage’s shoe sponsor) and follow up that run with free Avery beer.

Sage sees the partnership as a natural fit since many of Avery’s employees are active endurance athletes who share his passion for the outdoors. According to Avery Marketing Manager Joe Osborne, “We have a crew of about 100 employees who are all cut from the Colorado mountain lifestyle. It really goes back to our roots, and who we naturally are. Our Production Manager Matt ‘Truck’ Thrall is really into trail running, and has knocked out a few 50 milers, for instance.” This made partnering with a passionate athlete of Sage’s caliber an easy choice. Joe continues, “I guess you could say that his energy bar and supplement sponsors take care of him during the race, and we take care of him after!”

Sage concludes, “A lot of the MUT running culture loves beer and there are many fond memories and stories shared post-race (or post-epic long run) over a cold brew or two. It’s a social thing; It’s about a celebration of the outdoor lifestyle and having good taste.”

Sage’s favorite Avery brew: “I have a special place in my heart for double IPAs, so right now it’s the Maharaja. Bold, smooth with a huge depth of flavor and kick!”

New Belgium Brewing Company
The seeds of the adiUltra Team and New Belgium Brewing Company partnership were planted a few years ago in Flagstaff, Arizona. Grant Dunstan, the local New Belgium “Beer Ranger,” met Ian Torrence when Grant’s wife became the photographer for the now defunct Team USA Arizona. Grant started going on trail runs with Ian, as well as current adiUltra team member Brian Tinder, and the group would often enjoy post-run pints together. Grant says he can’t recall who came up with the idea, but that “sometime during one of the several pints and trail runs we shared, we started kicking around the idea of partnering New Belgium Brewing and the adiUltra Team. Over the years, I’ve had the great fortune of working with some pretty cool events in our area like the Flagstaff Marathon, Soulstice Mountain Trail Run, and Gaspin’ in the Aspen. Working with everyone from adiUltra has just added to the list of great people that we at New Belgium Brewing get to partner with.”

To Brian Tinder, beer drinking and ultrarunning go hand in hand. He notes that in trail running, “Cracking open a cold beer is an acceptable form of recovery.” He adds, “I may not always make the podium, but I will do my best to bring the life to the party.” Those who know Brian will not disagree. His goal of bringing the life to the party is even easier now that New Belgium supplies him and his teammates with beer to share after their races. When at home in Flagstaff, Brian and his teammates like to keep the good vibes going, having recently staged a beer mile with New Belgium brews.

Brian Tinder’s favorite New Belgium brew: “My favorite New Belgium beer is 1554. It is my go-to beer for any occasion.”

Wanderlust Brewing Company
For Nathan Friedman, the founder of Wanderlust Brewing Company in Flagstaff, Arizona and a former mountain-bike endurance racer himself (24-hour and 100-plus-mile races), outdoor and athletic lifestyles are ingrained in the Wanderlust culture. Nathan notes, “We’ve been involved in sponsoring several local events with Team Run Flagstaff, so that brought me into the circle of runners here. It’s really important to me to make sure Wanderlust is part of the community here in Flagstaff, and the folks who make this their home have a great passion for the outdoors. I try to support that passion as much as I can through my business.”

Citing Rob Krar as one of those passionate folks, Nathan calls their partnership a natural fit. Not only has Rob frequented the Wanderlust taproom since it opened, but Nathan occasionally skis with Rob and his wife and runs into them on the trails around Flagstaff. Nathan describes Rob as “an amazing athlete, a great guy, and exactly the kind of person I love to see representing Wanderlust. He’s always been a fan of my beer, and bringing him on as an ambassador for what we do and how we do it was a no-brainer. His performances have been nothing short of amazing, and we’re really happy [at Wanderlust] to be a part of the ultra community.”

Asked how beer drinking fits into his active lifestyle, Rob opines, “Life is too short to not enjoy yourself! Since my return to competitive running I have said it a thousand times—it is all about balance. I aim to find that sweet spot between working hard and relaxing and enjoying life. A nice cold one with friends new and old after a race or long day in the mountains is the quintessential example of this lifestyle choice.” Rob also sees parallels in how he and Nathan pursue their crafts. Both are eschewing secure and respected jobs to pursue their personal passions, trying to make careers of these passions. Rob says, “I have a great deal of respect for Nathan taking the risks needed to make it happen. Not to mention that Nathan loves the mountains and pursuing big days as much as I do!”

Rob Krar’s favorite Wanderlust brew: “My favorite staple on tap is the 928 Farmhouse Ale. It is amazing! Seasonally, the Fall Dunkelweizen with caramel wheat and traditional German hefeweizen yeast is what I reach for while the leaves are changing colors.”

Quaff ON! Brewing Company
Quaff ON! Brewing Company traces its roots to the Big Woods Brewpub in Nashville, Indiana. As part-owner, Jeff McCabe explains, “QUAFF ON! became our toast for every occasion [at Big Woods] and the word first seen in the Canterbury Tales really caught on. When it came time to build our production/distribution brewery, QUAFF ON! was the perfect [naming] choice to link the old and the new.” QUAFFNATION and QUAFFWORTHY became part of his team’s lexicon as they sought to build a culture of like-minded individuals who embrace a lifestyle of fun, family, and friendship. Jeff sees the Quaff ON! Racing Team as central in this purpose.

The racing team began with the Dances With Dirt Gnaw Bone 55 Mile Trail Relay in the heart of southern Indiana. The team was formed to compete in this event three years ago, and the race has become a staple on the team’s calendar. The brewery also sponsors the beer garden at the event. With around 20 current members, the Quaff ON! Racing Team consists mostly of trail runners who race around Southern Indiana. However, Danny Webb, the team captain has a goal to run the Hood to Coast Relay in Oregon soon. The team also participated in a Relay For Life event earlier this year, setting a unique goal for itself: to run as far as possible in 24 hours via a relay around a track. The team raised $2,000 for Relay For Life and completed 268.5 miles. (Early in the day, team members were running mile repeats, eventually switching to 800s and 400s).

Since I joined the Quaff ON! Racing Team earlier this year, the team and brand has continued to grow. A Quaff ON! Bloomington taproom and restaurant has opened, allowing us to create the Bloomington Beer Runners, a fun-run group that meets for an easy run and beers on Thursday nights. The sponsorship has helped me to engage more in my local running community as well as with other runners farther afield. I’ve met new training partners at home, but also happily share my Quaff ON! beer supplies with other racers when I travel. In the end, I think that’s what a good sponsorship should be centered around—engaging positively in one’s community. I can hardly think of a better way than over a hoppy post-run brew.

My favorite Quaff ON! brew: I most often find myself reaching for Yellow Dwarf, a hoppy wheat that I think is the perfect post-run beer.

[Editor’s Note, March 12, 2015: The following addition is about Gina Lucrezi’s sponsorship with Upslope Brewing Company. We believe she’s the first female runner with a beer sponsor.]

Upslope Brewing Company
In a recent article on iRunFar, guest author Vanessa Runs discussed gender inequality in endurance sports. There is no real doubt that women have fewer opportunities in sport almost across the board, and ultrarunning is no exception. This can be a sensitive and somewhat divisive topic, and there plenty of arguments promulgated (mostly by males) to justify some of these inequalities.

Sponsorship is just one of many arenas where female ultrarunners often find themselves at a disadvantage. When I wrote the first portion of this article about brewery sponsorships in ultrarunning a few months ago, I was keenly aware that the four brewery-sponsored athletes I wrote about were male. They were the only ones I could find at the time (and I have since found out about two more male brewery-sponsored athletes). Then last month I heard that Gina Lucrezi, of the Trail Sisters column fame, had acquired Boulder, Colorado’s Upslope Brewing Company as a sponsor. I was excited for Gina and curious to find out more about the newest member of her support crew.

Gina’s match with Upslope was born of overlapping passions and a local connection. As a Boulder resident who lives close to the Upslope tap room (“amazingly (too) close,” Gina says), she found herself recovering from most of her Saturday long runs over a few Upslope brews. As a former marketing manager herself, Gina saw an opportunity. She explains, “Since Upslope is my beer of choice, I started chatting with the staff about the product and asked if they had an athlete team. Then I asked for the marketing manager’s information. It never hurts to ask, right?”

Upslope Marketing Manager Katie Hill characterizes Upslope as a brewery created with active, outdoor enthusiasts in mind. A relatively young brewery at six years old, Upslope offers its beers exclusively in cans, making it easier for athletes to take them into the mountains. Hill says, “From the beginning, Matt Cutter, our founder, wanted to create beers that would perfectly complement the outdoor activities he enjoyed.” Upslope sponsors a few local climbers and cyclists, but until Gina, it had not partnered with a runner. Gina’s story and mountain-sports passion fit the Upslope mold, “and the rest is history,” concludes Hill, “well, history in the making!”

Elaborating on what it means to work with Gina, Hill notes, “Gina is actually the first independent female athlete that we work with (though we have a partnership with Team ten20 Cycling); we’re super stoked to have her on board. This can certainly be a male-dominated industry, so it’s always great when we find awesome, motivated women who not only kick ass themselves, but who enjoy kick-ass beer to celebrate after really getting after it!” Gina has a similar outlook, observing, “beer has been traditionally presented as a guy’s guy drink, but I know a ton of equally bad-ass women who enjoy beer as much as men. In general, it is something both sexes love, so why can’t both be represented and provided with support?”

Gina Lucrezi’s favorite Upslope brew: “Upslope makes great seasonal brews, but their India Pale Ale is always my go-to.”

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Matt is so right that beer is perhaps as much a part of our running culture as–uh–running is. Do you bring beers for post-run trailhead cheers-ing? Do you find yourself meeting up at a brewery or bar with friends post-run?
  • What is your go-to post-run beer? Why does that particular beer hit the spot for you?
Guest Writer
Guest Writer is a contributor to iRunFar.com.