Wrestling and Craft Brewers: A Tag Team Match for the Ages

On a steamy Friday night in Brooklyn, beer lovers gathered to try cold IPAs from dozens of breweries and let off steam screaming. In mo...


On a steamy Friday night in Brooklyn, beer lovers gathered to try cold IPAs from dozens of breweries and let off steam screaming. In most settings, harsh cries are discouraged. But to Other half-breweries Held this month at ZeroSpace, a sprawling event venue in Gowanus, Green City Championship Beer Festival, smashing beer while chilling was precisely the entertainment purpose of the event: the professional wrestling.

Every 30 minutes during the four-hour festival, which also took place on Saturday, an audience holding misty beers gathered around a wrestling ring to cheer and jeer. Spandex-clad wrestlers with stage names like Manbun Jesus, Rex Lawless and Casanova Valentine performed body slams and jump ropes, pushing viewers and sometimes inflicting performative injuries with arm twists and traffic barrels.

The percussion of bodies bouncing on the carpet echoed steadily through the crowd, causing hop-fueled roars that grew louder and louder as the evening dragged on.

“Being a little more lubricated and loose makes things even better,” said Mike Bruckenthal, 30, who lives in Brooklyn and works in sales.

Craft beer and wrestling are increasingly playing as a team. Brooklyn’s high-energy event is one of many across the country, and is just one of the ways brewers and wrestlers are joining forces to piggyback and amp up each other’s popularity.

“Wrestling has become part of beer culture,” said Shane O’Neill, owner of New York Wrestling Connectionwhich made it possible to organize the entertainment for the evening.

Historically, the two worlds lacked such a close connection. “Growing up watching wrestling, I didn’t see a lot of intoxication in the shows,” said longtime wrestling journalist Keith Elliot Greenberg, who wrote for World Wrestling Entertainment magazines for 22 years. from 1985. “Wrestling was intoxicating on its own. If you went to wrestle and couldn’t get a beer, you still left buzzing.

Professional wrestling leagues were also reluctant to partner with beer “because they were marketing to kids,” added Mr. Greenberg, the author of the forthcoming book “Follow the Buzzards: Pro Wrestling in the Age of Covid-19”. Instead, the ads featured wrestling personalities like Macho Man Randy Savage. slamming into Slim Jim jerkywhile AndrĂ© the Giant Peddled Honeycomb Cereals.

Yet some modern wrestlers cultivated fanbases in the late 1990s and early 2000s by treating beer drinking as spectacle and performative subversion. Sandman James Fullington smashed beer cans over his head and Stone Cold Steve Austin used two-fisted domestic lagers, spilling foam everywhere.

Fans applauded the beer-spilling performances, but beer companies were less enamored with Mr. Austin’s edgy personality. “We pitched at a mark,” Mr Austin said, but “they wouldn’t hit us with a 10-foot pole.”

However, cultural attitudes have changed. Many craft breweries welcome patrons of all ages, and wrestlers have transcended the top ropes to become entertainment superstars. They are now joining other celebrities in creating liquor brands, like Dwayne Johnson. Teremana Tequila and Cape Cagna wine from World Wrestling Entertainment star Leah Van Dale, who goes by the name Carmella.

Making a beer seemed almost destined for Mr. Austin, who retired from wrestling in 2003. While living in Los Angeles, Mr. Austin began exploring craft beers and a mutual friend introduced him to the president of El Segundo Brewery, Rob Croxall. They hit it off and teamed up to design the lemony, pleasantly bitter taste. Broken Skull IPA The beer debuted in 2015, and in March El Segundo added Broken Skull American Lager.

“We weren’t able to meet absolute demand,” Croxall said.

Like following certain groups or sports teams, embracing a specific beer “can help a wrestler complete their personality,” said Nick Reely, vice president of marketing for Pabst Brewerymakers of Pabst Blue Ribbon lager.

Pabst partners with events with Game-changing fighta popular promoter who hosts wrestling matches and sponsors wrestler Matt Cardona’s podcast,”The major figure in the fight.” Mr. Cardona drinks PBR during ring entries, hits his opponents with 12-pack PBRs and filmed a PBR commercial with other wrestlers. “It’s part of our community and part of our brand,” he said.

Wrestling promoters find success in events held at beer halls, which often offer ample space — a boxing ring and its surrounding railings alone can require 400 square feet — and enthusiastic fans. “We get these crowds that just want to go wild,” said Nelio Cuomo Costa, executive director of Coastal Championship Wrestlingwhich produces the monthly Bash at the Brew matches at Unbranded brewing in Hialeah, Florida.

Matches can attract some 700 fans, many of whom drink Triple Chokeslam IPA, an unbranded collaboration, as the action unfolds amid brewing vats and kegs that double as props. “We accept being inside a brewery,” said Mr. Costa, who has since added Saturday Night Slam events to Miami Brewery in Homestead, Florida, and is looking for a third brewery.

“Breweries love it because people are going to drink a lot,” Mr Costa said.

Bringing out new beers was once enough for breweries to entice customers to line up for four-packs, but “a great beer on its own is no longer enough,” said Chris Rippe, owner of Bierstadt Lagerhaus in Denver. “There must be an experience.”

Bierstadt began offering wrestling in 2016 and now hosts monthly Rocky Mountain Pro Wrestling matches in its parking lot. (Winter events take place indoors.) “The loudest nights in Bierstadt are always wrestling nights,” Mr. Rippe said, adding that sales can be up 20% from an average Friday night. .

For breweries, wrestling can also solve the children’s puzzle. Taprooms may be kid-friendly, but what’s an 8-year-old to do while dad drinks a double IPA?

To Southern Star Brewery in Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles north of Houston, matches of Texas Star Wrestling and all feminine Mission Pro Fight can attract up to 300 people, including quite a few families.

Southern Star general manager Keith Amador said, “To see little girls screaming and screaming with their dads or their sons with their dads yelling at wrestlers, it’s so cool.”

In the beginning, the wrestler from Brooklyn Casanova Valentine had trouble attracting friends to his performances on Long Island, so he began wrestling ringless “deathmatches” in New York bars and clubs. “I brought wrestling to them,” said Mr. Valentine, who prefers to use his stage name rather than his birth name, Christian Salvatore Taranto.

Other Half hired Mr. Valentine in 2017 (“I’m a big guy, and they just need a big guy who can lift stuff sometimes,” he said), and he quickly saw an opportunity to mix his passion with his work. Wouldn’t an Oktoberfest be more exciting with wrestling?

“Beer festivals can be boring if you stand in line and grab a beer and then move on to the next line,” said Andrew Burman, chief operating officer of Other Half.

Since the inaugural Green City Festival in 2018, Mr. Valentine has worked with New York Wrestling Connection to schedule wrestling at Other Half’s festivals, including Pastrytown, its celebration of rich brews and culinary inspiration, such as sour beers and stouts.

“People are ready to have fun,” Mr. Burman said. “You check your reality at the door.”

Wrestlers also open breweries. veteran wrestler Tony Deppenwho performed at the Green City event, started brewing at home with friends in 2017, and found an enthusiastic following for the resulting stouts and IPAs Last July, Mr. Deppen and his brothers Tyler and Conlan Budwash opened Pilger Ruh Brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Wrestling fans regularly stop by before attending events.

“It’s a good cross-promotion,” Mr. Deppen said.

Randy and Suzanne Tyson opened DDT, a wrestling-themed bar in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, in early 2020 to capitalize on the “wrestling revival that isn’t necessarily an avenue of entertainment for kids,” Mr. Tyson, a lifelong wrestling fan. “We really wanted to be part of wrestling tourism in New York.”

European wrestling fans visit regularly, and loyal regulars arrive from Staten Island, the Bronx and Queens to crush Broken Skull IPA and catch marquee matches on TV. “I can’t even advertise anymore because we’re so busy,” Mr Tyson said.

Televised wrestling may be a draw, but it’s hard to watch live wrestlers perform stacks and rattle rings while onlookers laugh and cheer.

Returning to Green City’s final game on Friday, Casanova Valentine held off his opponent in a deadly brawl with a trash can, ladder and other construction equipment. Fittingly, he celebrated by climbing the ropes and downing a beer, soaking up the throaty approval of the drinking crowd.

“It’s like going to the movies, but it’s an actual performance and you can drink,” Cardona said. “What’s better than that?”



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