ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. >> One is a special recipe designed to appease even the most snobby of craft beer drinkers. The other is billed as a mellow ale with hints of caramel and the breezy aroma of New Mexico’s high desert.
Officials at New Mexico’s two largest public universities are unveiling custom-made brews just ahead of their first round of fundraisers as the fall sports season kicks off.
New Mexico State and the University of New Mexico are now among the handful of U.S. colleges and universities to have licensing agreements for branded beers, a move aimed at boosting marketing exposure for the schools and generating more revenue at a time when fundraising has become more challenging for higher education institutions nationwide and lawmakers look to trim their budgets.
“This is a very recent innovation, if you will,” said NMSU President Garrey Carruthers, noting that school officials are unsure of how much money it will bring in for Aggie athletics.
To be unveiled at Bosque Brewing Co.’s taproom in Las Cruces today, NMSU’s “Pistol Pete’s 1888 Ale” pays homage to the Aggies’ popular gun-slinging mascot and recognizes the year the university was founded.
The beer will be available first on draft at Bosque’s taprooms and at university sports and fundraising events. By early next year, it will be ready for statewide distribution — packaged in special cans that are expected to feature the school’s colors and fight song. Designs are awaiting regulatory approval.
For rival Lobo fans, their beer will be available at breweries in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and at select Lobo athletic events. Plans also call for eventual distribution to grocery and liquor stores statewide.
“This venture allows us to take our brand into an entirely new product category, and responsibly and respectfully create a unique touchpoint for fans both in-game and with great businesses throughout the state of New Mexico,” said Brad Hutchins, a deputy athletic director at UNM.
It has taken months of planning by both universities and their brewery partners. At NMSU, marketing students even got to vet some of the proposed names for that school’s beer.
“We recruit very heavily in New Mexico so it’s just another way of identifying the university,” said Carruthers, explaining that great care was used in making the decision to license the beer given that alcohol can be a sensitive issue on college campuses.
More universities have been turning to alcohol sales at sporting events and the popularity of college-affiliated beers is beginning to take off.
In Louisiana, university leaders embarked on similar branding deals to help fill budget gaps as lawmakers have stripped hundreds of millions of dollars in state financing from their campuses. LSU’s officially licensed beer is Tin Roof Brewing Company’s Bayou Bengal Lager. The University of Louisiana-Lafayette has a partnership with Bayou Teche Brewing for Ragin’ Cajuns Genuine Louisiana Ale.
Earlier this summer, Tulane partnered with a New Orleans brewer to produce Green Wave Beer, which will be packaged in cans featuring the school’s logo. It’s expected to be flowing from taps at the stadium in time for the upcoming season opener. Plans also call for distribution in the New Orleans area this fall.
The Louisiana beers did spur some debate among lawmakers in that state, but a proposal to prohibit colleges and universities from authorizing an official alcoholic beverage affiliated with school branding was shelved.
Colorado State has teamed up with Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing — known for Fat Tire and many more craft beers — to deliver the official Old Aggie Superior Lager in time for the football season. A portion of the sales will be donated to CSU’s fermentation science and technology program, the athletic department and alcohol awareness programs.
At NMSU, officials also see the new beer as a chance to boost interest in the university’s agricultural and chemical engineering programs that relate to the burgeoning craft beer industry, one of the state’s economic bright spots.
“There are opportunities for employment and education so I think this touches a lot of bases,” said NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia.