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RS Ale shows harmony of craft beer and soccer

Photo courtesy Uinta Brewing.

SALT LAKE CITY — When a wholesaler brought up “RS Ale” as a potential name for Uinta Brewing Company’s soon-to-be released beer in partnership with Real Salt Lake, the pun made people in meetings laugh. But the more it was mentioned, the more people started to realize how good of a play, albeit a simple one, it was on RSL. And when it was presented to the public, it’s the name that received an overwhelming amount of support.

As soon as Uinta Brewing signed a sponsorship deal with Real Salt Lake in 2017, company leaders immediately discussed creating a specialty ale for not only the organization and its players, but for fans and the local community.

Creating a beer is no simple process. Ideally, Uinta Brewing Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Ragonese likes nine months to create a perfect beer before it’s released to the public. RS Ale was released in late February 2018 as the club’s first official craft beer. The beer is not only featured at Rio Tinto Stadium, but across more than 150 locations, and it can be found wherever Uinta Brewing beers are sold.

Though IPAs tend to scare people off because they are often bitter, RS Ale isn’t as bitter as one might expect. Shawn Smith, research and development manager at Uinta Brewing, says the bitterness is there, but what beer drinkers will notice more is aroma and overall flavor. An American IPA, RS Ale is “generously dry hopped with Mosaic and Citra.” It also includes notes of fresh pine and mango and papaya flavoring.

“It’s light in color because people tend to gravitate to those lighter beers — they seem less intimidating,” Smith said. “It’s approachable and it’s for everyone. It says IPA, but all that really means is that it has a bunch of hop, flavor [and] aroma. Great on a hot day, and it’s easy drinking in general.”

Creating RS Ale

Uinta Brewing is a local brewing company in Salt Lake City, Utah, and part of its mantra has always been to seek adventure while supporting the local community. That exact element paired nicely with the ideals of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.

Photo courtesy of Uinta Brewing.

The end goal was to transcend the organizations themselves and make something everyone — craft beer and soccer fans alike — could enjoy. RSL has a loyal fan base in Utah, and Ragonese wanted to create a beer that would resonate with them.

“It was more about the alignment of the brand identity and the focus on our local consumer, and the fact that we are all fans of the team and we wanted to share in that experience,” Ragonese said. “We saw it as the consumers helping to drive that support and being a major factor, participating and seeing it as a hometown team, hometown brand, kind of alignment.”

Figuring out what exactly that beer was going to be was the hard part, but it was also the best part of the process.

When deciding what type of beer to pair with RSL, brewers at Uinta took a look at what beers already were offered at Rio Tinto Stadium. They wanted to present something unique that fans weren’t seeing a lot, so they settled on an IPA. According to Smith and Ragonese, IPAs are the most popular style of beer among craft beer drinkers, so creating something new and different in a category with a lot of competition can be tricky.

They sampled other local IPAs to help them create something that would not only stand out, but taste great — and at a lower alcohol percentage. Utah liquor law stipulates beer sold in grocery stores can be no more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or 4 percent by volume. Beer sold at a state liquor store is not as strictly regulated and may have higher alcohol percentages. Once all those logistics were taken care of, Uinta Brewing was ready to go to the public.

With the color palette set thanks to the three colors of Real Salt Lake — red, cobalt blue and real gold — Uinta Brewing wanted to make sure it looked like this specialty beer belonged in the RSL family, while still representing everything Uinta Brewing stands for. After feedback from the club, Uinta Brewing added the mountain range behind the shape of the stadium “because it’s just such an iconic kind of shape from the wave of the roofline,” according to Ragonese.

“We wanted to make sure consumers could connect the dots pretty easily, and by seeing it, it was an immediate recognition,” Ragonese said. “But you got that it was a Uinta Brewing beer because it’s our trademark bottle, the compass bottle and other aspects. So it was a complimentary design, I think, of taking two identities and working them together.”

Ultimately, though, the fans made the beer what it is today.

Uinta Brewing presented three different names and designs for fans to vote on, and RS Ale was far and away the clear winner. Uinta Brewing even held a taste-testing with RSL supporter group Salt City United as the company really wanted to touch base with the types of fans who would buy the beer once it was on the market.

“Fan bases tend to be young adults that are particularly interested in supporting local [businesses],” Ragonese said. “An IPA happens to be the No. 1 style within craft beer, and it continues to grow gangbusters, and it aligns well with that particular drinking population who we saw as kind of the core MLS fan base.”

Getting the players involved

RSL defender Justen Glad turned 21 in February, so his beer palette isn’t as refined as other craft beer drinkers’. However, he knows what he likes and what he dislikes — and RS Ale is something he enjoys drinking.

Glad and teammate Jordan Allen had the opportunity to tour the Uinta Brewing facility and experience a day in the life of a brewer. They observed some of the fermentation process, met a lot of the staff and, of course, got to sample a wide variety of beers.

Now when Glad is is grocery shopping, he feels a sense of pride when he sees RS Ale on the shelves, and he adds it to his cart from time to time.

“It was cool to see the process and all the different stations they had, fermentation, putting in the hops and what not, it was sweet,” Glad said.

One of the reasons Glad enjoys RS Ale is its easy-drinking vibe, confirming what Smith said about people gravitating toward a lighter beer. He also thinks the beer itself creates a bigger brand for both Uinta Brewing and RSL.

MLS-themed brews aren’t novel

RS Ale isn’t the first of its kind.

Land-Grant Brewing Company in Ohio released an American wheat ale named Glory, which is branded as the “Columbus SC Crew Support Beer.”

Land-Grant’s website details how the final product was a result of two taproom tastings by Columbus fans. Land-Grant even had a limited release of beer named For Columbus, a black lager that finished a close second to Glory when fans taste-tested the brews.

Land-Grant also partnered with other brewing companies to debut a Supporter Serieswhich includes Matchday American Pale Ale, released in partnership with Texas-based Peticolas Brewing, and Stoppage Time Hoppy Saison with Boulevard Brewing, based in Kansas City.

Three Magnets Brewery in Seattle released a beer named #EBFG, a popular hashtag among Sounders supporters that stands for Eternal Blue, Forever Green.

Resonating with fans

IPAs, the most popular beer category on the market, offered fierce competition for RS Ale at the North American Beer Awards — making the silver it took home no easy feat. The award represented the dedication Uinta Brewing put into creating something worthwhile.

Photo courtesy Uinta Brewing.

Though their favorite beers change depending on the weather or even a meal, both Ragonese and Smith rank RS Ale among their top five favorite Uinta Brewing beers.

“It’s definitely one of my go-to’s,” Smith said.

That also seems to be the case for fans.

Beer Bar, a local bar in Downtown Salt Lake City, offers RS Ale as it hosts many RSL viewing parties, with four projectors to air games. Duncan Burrell, one of the owners, thinks RS Ale adds to the game-day experience.

“It’s awesome, fans love it,” Burrell said.

Overall, this partnership is one Ragonese is proud of because he thinks it is the perfect example of a team and a brewery coming together to represent the larger soccer and craft beer communities.  

“Uinta and RSL are a perfect combination, and that combination can culminate in a perfect beer, a great beer,” Ragonese said.

So, what started out as a bit of an inside joke ended up a success. The newest addition to the Uinta Brewing family of beers is also helping to create a new family of IPA-loving soccer fans.

“If you bring beer and soccer together, that’s two things that everyone loves and two things that go together well … and no one is going to say no to that,” Glad said. “It’s great for the city.”

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