What goes well with duck? Apparently beer! The Madison Mallards' attendance figures keep growing every year, and beer may be one factor in that success.
In 2007, the Ducks broke 200,000 in total attendance for the first time since the team formed in 2001. Last Monday, opening night, over 5,200 fans came to see the game with the Rochester Honkers. Club-style seating along the right-field line and outfield, a spot known as the Duck Blind, has been expanded; this year 200 additional seats have been added, increasing this special reserved area by 20%.
As with many ballparks these days, everything down to the individual seats seems to have naming rights, and the Blind is no exception. Since 2003, its official name has been the Great Dane Duck Blind, after Madison's thriving brewpub. Nevertheless, unlike at Wisconsin's big league stadium, Milwaukee's Miller Park, there are an astounding number of different beer brands offered to the cry of "Beer here."
"There's not another ballpark in the country where you find this many kinds of beers being served," says Mallards general manager Vern Stenman. "We try not to have too many of the same style."
For those who appreciate the tradition of baseball and beer, the opportunities at Warner Park (a.k.a. the Duck Pond) are plentiful, with two dozen kinds of beer. If you are a beer fan with a baseball problem, you need to be careful or you'll miss what happens on the field in the time it takes to check out the beer line-up.
Mallards fan Melissa Wood, of Madison, was taking in opening night from the Great Dane Duck Blind with a few friends. She'd sampled three different kinds of beer that evening, her favorite being Totally Naked, a clean-tasting, crisp golden lager from New Glarus Brewing: "I think this is a great thing the Mallards have going."
For one ticket price ($25-$35), the Duck Blind offers baseball fans a good deal for taking in a game with all-you-can-eat-and-drink. "We looked around the league, and other teams were doing something similar, only with one kind of beer and bad ballpark food," says Stenman. "We decided to take that formula and make it work with good beer and a range of food."
Fans seated in the Duck Blind also have daily food specials to choose from that are different from those found at mainstream ballparks, including tacos on Thursday nights, gumbo on Fridays, and lasagna on Saturdays. And that's in addition to brats, burgers, brew fries and chicken sliders.
Stenman says that the club looks at craft and quality beers "rather than how much cheap beer we can pour," adding that any ballpark must also address how to reduce overconsumption. One strategy is servers who encourage tasting different beer styles in small samples, not in full glasses. With so many beers to choose from, and a buffet approach to the taps, a server will gladly offer just a few ounces to try. "The Big League Brown and Tyranena Amber Alt are popular, but you'll always find Bud Light drinkers, you can't change them," said one of the servers who offered a sample of the Tyranena to try.
Madison has a population with a strong interest in local craft beer, Stenman notes. Six of the 26 beers found on opening night were Madison-area beers. "We've worked with distributors and always have more beers offered to us than we can possibly tap. We have only so many places to pour beer throughout the stadium, and we only have so much cooler space."
The selection of beers that make it to the taps is set by Stenman at the beginning of the year, and won't change much over the summer.
Great Dane beers top the list with four brews, two of which are made just for the park by the brewpub's Hilldale location. The team's namesake beer, Mallard's Ale, is a light golden cream ale, while Big League Brown is a copper-colored malty ale. The park's biggest seller is the macro-brew Bud Light, with Great Dane's Crop Circle Wheat at number two. Mallard's Ale comes in third. This season, dark beer fans will see the addition of Guinness served along the left-field bleachers at its own serving stand.
The beers served at the Duck Pond this season are: Bass, Beck's, Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Lime, Duck Pond Green ("Bud Select"), Blue Moon, Esser's Best, Harp Lager, Smithwicks, Goose Island Honker's Ale, Goose Island 312, Great Dane Big League Brown (also known as Great Dane Billiards Brown), Great Dane Crop Circle Wheat, Great Dane Mallard's Ale, Great Dane Old Glory American Pale Ale, Guinness, Labatt Blue, Michelob Golden Draft Light, Michelob Golden Honey Lager, Michelob Ultra, New Glarus Totally Naked, Old Style, Rolling Rock, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Tyranena Headless Man Amber Alt.
With all these selections, there is a lot of beer sold at the Pond. "On a hot midsummer night at a Mallards game, we'll go through 100 barrels of beer," says Stenman.
On opening night, it was rather chilly -- with temperatures dropping into the 50s along with a brisk wind -- so beer sales were nowhere close to that mark. However, the Mallards served up a thrilling 7-6 win over the Honkers that you could say was "tapped-off" with a two-run home run in the ninth inning by first baseman Harold Riggins.