Beer on the hallowed grounds of Ohio Stadium? Seems like a fantasy world many Buckeye fans have imagined for decades; selling alcohol on the sacrosanct campus of Ohio State University, until this upcoming season, has always been generally prohibited. In the wake of many established universities changing their tune and allowing for sales, it was inevitable—given the level of revenue involved and a noticeable decrease in alcohol-fueled debauchery—that OSU would follow suit. Last year the powers-that-be initiated a test run, providing adult beverages in the Huntington Club and corporate suites. Obviously it went well, as one of this season’s headlines rejoices the fact that there will be beer.
But among the macro-titans—like Coors Light and Budweiser—that will likely dominate concessions, one local brewery will have the spotlight. Stadium-wide you’ll be able to enjoy Land-Grant’s Stiff-Arm IPA. For Walt Keys and Adam Benner, the duo who founded Land-Grant, the pairing was beyond simple kismet; it was something they have strived for since starting the brewery (ironically, first named Oval Brewing) as a pipe-dream in a tiny west-Chicago apartment.
“Linking sports has always been a conscious decision,” says Keys. “Even when Adam was making home-brewed beers in his basement we would throw out hypothetical names with a sports aspect. That collegiate look and feel is something we’ve always gravitated towards.”
With a roster that includes Balk Bock, Goon Strong Pale Ale, Screwball Midsummer Wheat, Greenskeeper Session IPA, and Gold Pants Lager, the fusion of craft beer and athletics has been ingrained in Land-Grant’s brand from the start. Their tap room doubles as a rec room. Pennants, scoreboards, common tables, and large-screen televisions tuned to major events push the confines toward camaraderie and a gameday spirit. Once their reputation was established the local sports community began to take notice, culminating in last year’s pairing with the Columbus Crew, who wanted a beer created just for home matches at Mapfre Stadium. In response, Glory American Wheat was born. But this wasn’t just another beer to add to the brewery’s growing menu.
“We wanted our partnerships to come from a real, authentic place,” says Keys. “We didn’t just slap a logo on Glory and tell the Crew this was their beer. There was a lot that went into making that specifically how they wanted it, even testing different recipes to suit their tastes.”
The trend has continued. In July, Keys and Benner, along with brewmaster Jamie Feihel, launched One Goal, One Rye’d Rye Pale Ale, in tandem with Pelotonia, with a portion of the sales going back to the charity. An Anticipation Double IPA premiered in August as an ode to summer’s wane and the start of football season.
“We’d never do these collaborations just to make money,” adds Benner. “If you don’t have the full backing you’re just going to half-ass it. But I think people can see that we’ve put all of our energy into making these a big part of what we do and it’s appreciated.”
Before the OSU deal took shape, Keys and Benner were in the beginning stages of introducing Land-Grant outside of the region with larger production and distribution, but providing 100,000 thirsty fans with Stiff Arm at any given home game has become priority. There’s little time to do much else. Expanding will have to wait for now—at least until after an oft-forecasted National Championship.
“We’re still kind of in awe this is happening. But ever since we heard they were selling beer at the Shoe, we knew we would be a natural fit,” says Keys. “Adam and I are both alumni, both huge sports fans, and we’ve got a beer called Stiff-Arm with a football player on a red can, so it was kind of perfect.”
But don’t expect the two to get starry eyed in executive suites or 50-yard seats. Other than getting the name out to a much larger public, there are few perks in the merger. Admittedly, Keys and Benner still only get the one ticket allowed to alumni.
“Being able to drink a beer that I helped create at Ohio Stadium, even if it’s only at the Bowling Green game, will be pretty surreal,” says Benner. “That’s more than enough.” •