Nick Purdy wants to make a quick clarification up front. With all due respect to Atlanta’s NFL franchise, his brewery did not make an unusually inexpensive beer just for the Falcons.
“It is specifically not tied in any way, shape, or form to the National Football League, Major League Soccer, Atlanta United, or the Atlanta Falcons,” the Wild Heaven Beer president tells GBH. “This is very, very specifically a project done in coordination with Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which happens to house some really amazing entertainment properties.”
The $1.6 billion, 2-million-square-foot venue, which includes the world’s largest halo board and one of only a few retractable roofs in the NFL, opened in August 2017 to no shortage of fanfare and scandal. Since that time, the stadium has stocked the Avondale Estates, Georgia-based brewery’s business-altering Emergency Drinking Beer (since the stadium opened), as well as its Bestie Pub Ale (since Atlanta United’s 2018 season kicked off). But it was a chat with a Mercedes-Benz Stadium executive that introduced the idea for a new beer.
“He’s like, ‘Would you guys ever be interested in making us, like, a house beer?’” Purdy says. “And the answer to that question, of course, is, ‘Let’s talk about that.’”
Purdy says ATL Pale Ale, a 5% ABV beer that will be sold for $5, is a part of the stadium’s “fan-first pricing” initiative—which is a trend that’s catching on with other teams as well. The beer’s price, which will match that of the macro options on tap at the stadium, ESPN noted in late August, “is roughly half of what [the four major North American sports] charge for craft beer on draft.” The program as a whole seems to be working, too. In addition to the other sports franchises following suit, ESPN says that even though “food prices—which included water, hot dogs, pretzels and unlimited Coca-Cola for $2 each—were 50 percent lower than at the Georgia Dome, fans spent 16 percent more.”
“They’re telling a story that’s powerful and no one has really done before,” Purdy says of the stadium’s bold pricing moves. “We’re just coming in and helping tell that story.”
Purdy estimates there will be 20 taps around the stadium that sell ATL Pale Ale and tallboy cans will eventually be stocked, too. The full list of placement details haven’t quite been finalized yet.
So, what makes this beer different from the other craft options in the stadium? In addition to the other Wild Heaven selections, Mercedes-Benz has stocked local beers from Athens’ Creature Comforts and Terrapin, and Atlanta’s Monday Night. Mostly, the difference is price. While other craft selections land in the $7-$9 range, ATL Pale Ale will be priced $5 for 12-ounce pours and $7 for 20-ounce pours.
“It was always meant to be less expensive than other craft beer in the stadium,” Purdy says. “Eventually, it landed where [we said], ‘Well, let’s actually see if we can make this the same price as the domestic light Lagers.”
Purdy says Wild Heaven saw the Pale Ale category as the best opportunity to shine in a venue with the size and demographics of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We need to make a beer that’s approachable and easy enough for the non-craft drinker,” he says. “How do you do that, and at the same time deliver enough mouthfeel and flavor for the craft drinker? That’s threading the needle, big time.”
The beer makes its debut this Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Falcons’ home opener against the Carolina Panthers. ATL Pale Ale will be served at Falcons games, Atlanta United games, and concerts. While there’s no contract for how long the beer will be available at the venue, Purdy says he hopes that it sells well, proves itself, and has a long shelf life at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Putting a new brand in a huge venue isn’t something that’s easy to plan for, especially for a smaller brewery. (Wild Heaven made 6,802 BBLs in 2017, according to the Brewers Association.) But Purdy notes that his business has outsourced Emergency Drinking Beer to Florida’s Brew Hub contract operation, opening up valuable tank real estate that could be used should ATL Pale Ale take off in a major way. And should it take off in an even more major way? Well, they could brew that beer at Brew Hub as well.
“So far, that relationship has been spectacular,” Purdy says of the Wild Heaven’s partnership with Brew Hub. “They don’t make Toppling Goliath’s Pseudo Sue anymore and they don’t make Cigar City’s Jai Alai anymore, but having known that they’ve successfully made those beers really gave us a comfort level.”
For now, Purdy is optimistic that, at the very least, Wild Heaven will be making “a lot” of ATL Pale Ale. And considering the cultural wave Georgia’s capital has been riding lately, staking claim to a beer named “ATL” certainly doesn’t hurt a new beer brand. Perhaps that, along with the potential growth and marketing opportunities for his small business, is enough—for now.
“[Mercedes-Benz Stadium] is already an iconic, global brand,” Purdy says. “In the first few months of being open, it’s hosted the National Championship of college football, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Jay Z, and the best American soccer team that’s ever been… We’re honored that they would trust us with something like this.”
—Austin L. Ray