Words & Deeds

Idaho Vandals branded beer? Yep, maybe. Too bad Broncos fans don’t deserve a BSU beer

Paige Coyle might be a tiny bit biased. After all, not every Boise State graduate is the marketing director at Payette Brewing Co.

But when Coyle imagines an official beer named after her alma mater, the true blue Bronco in her emerges.

“Oh, people would love it,” she says, her voice rising. “I think it would be a big deal.”

Across the country, universities are collaborating with home-state breweries. You might have heard about football fans in Missoula and their Griz Montana Lager. Montana State followed suit this month with Golden Bobcat Pale Ale.

Now the University of Idaho is in early discussions about the possibility of a Vandal beer, which could even have the likeness of mascot Joe Vandal on the can.

“I just had a meeting last week,” says Sue Smalley, the university’s director of trademark and licensing.

That is awesome news. Even if it stings here in beer-crazy Boise, where there’s a brewery around every corner. VinePair, a website about drinking culture, recently named our city one of “The World’s Top 10 Beer Destinations for 2018.”

Nevertheless, Boise State crushes the idea like an empty can.

“There are no discussions with any breweries or beer distributors for Boise State-branded beer, and I am not aware of any planned in the near future,” Rachael Bickerton, director of trademark licensing and enforcement, told the Statesman last year. “It’s just not something that we are interested in pursuing right now.”

When I checked again this week, BSU’s position remained the same. “We’re just not interested at this time,” confirms Greg Hahn, associate vice president for communications and marketing.

I understand Boise State’s stance. After all, you don’t deserve a special beer, Bronco Nation. You need to be punished for showing up to games in dwindling numbers. Maybe this will teach you.

A university-branded beer is all about the fans. It’s a way to stoke school spirit. Maximize the tailgating experience.

It’s also a way to potentially do some good. A portion of Griz Lager sales goes to University of Montana student wellness and transportation programs, plus community outreach.

Nobody is saying Boise State should sell a licensed beer inside Albertsons Stadium. (Actually, that’s a fantastic idea — and reminds me of the last time I wrote a column badgering the university: “Broncos’ alcohol policies put the BS in BSU.”)

But nope. Whatever we do, Bronco Nation, let’s not tap our potential. Let those so-called “nasty, inebriated” Vandals have their special beer. Broncos need to be reminded what it’s like to get their butts kicked by U of I occasionally, anyway.

Ignore the fact that football fans, in particular, have gone nuts for these university-branded beers. When Big Sky Brewing released Griz Lager in 2017, the reception caught brewery co-founder Bjorn Nabozney off guard.

“When we got down to where they do the tailgates outside the university, it was all Griz beers,” he says. “It was shocking.”

Coyle had a similar, eye-opening experience when she visited Fort Collins, Colorado, after New Belgium Brewing released Old Aggie beer last year in conjuction with Colorado State.

“It was all over liquor stores, grocery stores, bars — the signage for this beer took over the town,” Coyle says. “Because it’s a college town.”

Payette Brewing founder Mike Francis says his brewery definitely would be interested in making a Boise State beer. Unfortunately, sticking to its strict alcohol policy, BSU would probably enlist O’Doul’s to brew a Broncos beer, anyway.

Why exactly does BSU refuse to consider licensing its trademarks for a beer? If you want answers, track down university brass — hey, maybe up in Stueckle Sky Center, where fat cats get to hang out sipping cocktails, wine and beer.

Is it possible that Boise State doesn’t enjoy money? That blue stadium turf does suggest an aversion to green.

Nabozney says he’s surprised that there hasn’t been a Broncos beer by now.

“With as large a school as that is in the community, I think if you did it right, just from a fundraising perspective, it could be huge,” he says. “Just some license arrangement, they could make a lot of money.”

Brewed in 2014 by Payette Brewing Co., Vandal 125 Gold Ale was 4.5 percent alcohol by volume with Idaho-grown Galena hops and Idaho-grown pale malt.

Payette brewed a small batch of beer for the University of Idaho in 2014. Vandal 125 Gold Ale was made for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and served at internal university events.

Two or three years ago, the university also issued an RFP — request for proposal — to have a brewery create and sell a U of I beer, Smalley says. A handful of offers came in, but none was deemed worthwhile.

Smalley is confident things would be different now. “I’ve talked to breweries,” she says, “and they would be interested.”

A Vandals beer wouldn’t just have a sports tie-in. It could help promote the University of Idaho’s agricultural side, she says, and the hops, barley and wheat grown by Idaho farmers.

Talk of this official Vandals beer is still in its infancy, she adds. “You have to go through all the vetting,” Smalley explains. “Make sure everybody’s on the same side.”

“I’ve wanted this since I’ve gotten here,” she adds, “and it’s taken so far, eight years, and we don’t have anything.”

Griz Lager, brewed to commemorate Montana’s 125th anniversary, will be phased out in June. University-branded beers don’t have to be permanent arrangements.

Nabozney says the smart way to approach one is seasonally — football seasonally. Griz Lager sales have slowed this winter.

If Boise State took the plunge into beer licensing, it could be for only a few months.

“What have you got to lose?” Nabozney says. “You can support, in some fashion, higher education. You’ve got a customer base that’s on board.

“The beer better not taste like (crap) — kind of important,” he adds, laughing. “It was, and has been, great fun.”

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