This weekend, parade-goers along the Bardstown Road/Baxter Avenue corridor will see only one beer company advertised at the 37th Annual Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) St. Patrick’s Parade , and it’s not Guinness…or New Albanian Brewing Company  (NABC)…or even Kentucky Ale .
The tale emerged Tuesday afternoon on (where else?) Facebook. NewAlbanian BrewingCompany wrote, “According to our man on the streets, we've been booted from the 2010 St. Patrick's Parade. Here's what he reports: ‘After being given permission to participate from the primary St. Patrick's Parade sponsor (BBC ), we (NABC) were ejected by the parade organizers…and that the only way they [could] keep Kentucky Ale out was to keep us out, too.” This led to a small uproar, with the post being quoted across the site, often with promises by their re-posters to skip the parade this year. (The original post has since been deleted.)
What’s the problem between Kentucky Ale and the Bluegrass Brewing Company? How did NABC apparently wind up a casualty of this apparent feud? And does this mean that the only cold ones available will be from BBC?
“New Albanian Brewing Company has no interest in being involved with the perpetuation of the ‘Troubles,’” says NABC co-owner Roger Baylor. “It has nothing to do with us—we just wandered into the middle of it. If I’d known there was that much politics involved, I wouldn’t have told John [Campbell, NABC’s rep] to go ahead with that. We’ve been a sponsor the last couple of years and I don’t remember it being an issue, but BBC is now the main sponsor. It’s cool.” Baylor added that his focus now is sponsoring the Celtic Festival, which will be held on the riverfront in New Albany this June.
Campbell clarifies NABC’s role in the parade. “We’re just participants,” he says. “We’ve had a float—a fire engine—in the parade. We hang our banners on it and wave and ride and have fun.” On Wednesday, however, Campbell—who posted the news on the Facebook page—found out that this wouldn’t quite be the case this year. It’s fuzzy what transpired, but it seems that when the owner of the truck went to pay the fee to AOH to enter the float, he (the owner) was told that no other beer companies other than BBC would be allowed to ride with their company colors flying—and angry words flew. When Campbell subsequently spoke with AOH, an organizer told him that “he can’t let us in the parade because of the fact that BBC is a primary sponsor.”
Not as prominently mentioned in all this is Lexington-based Kentucky Ale, which plays a bigger role than fans of the Louisville-area breweries may realize. “Simply put, the BBC has an exclusivity clause in the contract for the parade,” says Jeremy Markle, Louisville rep for Kentucky Ale. “The reason we really want to be in the parade—why we were invited to the parade, actually—is that Pearce Lyons is Irish Person of the Year.” Although the Louth-born Lyons is being honored for bringing the FEI World Equestrian Games to Kentucky (its first outing beyond Europe), he is also president and founder of Alltech, which also owns Lexington Brewing and Distilling—that is, Kentucky Ale. Markle says that even Lyons isn’t allowed to promote his own beer brand, but suspects some personal competition at work. “I think Scott [Roussell, the managing director] from BBC just doesn’t want us in the parade; he doesn’t want to be friends with us.” Which is a shame, he says: “It’s so great that we have so many local options here, and we should be working together to raise all our boats. We want to see the craft beer movement succeed.”
BBC’s rep Phil Dearner disagrees about the root of the controversy. “Our opinion goes as far as our sponsorship. We sponsor the parade, and the AOH makes the decision. What happened with NABC got raw because a third party (the fire truck’s owner) went to get the license and the third party was harsh, very harsh, to the person who was taking the forms. So then that was [told] to Mark [Wakefield, AOH president], and that’s when Mark called John and said that’s not the way to act. Then John got on Facebook and said they’d been kicked out of the parade.
“I see these Facebook postings and they make us all laugh,” he says. “On a daily basis we talk about these issues and we sell equipment to each other and our families are friends and so it’s comical to us. As breweries, we’re just trying to survive. The AOH, they’re taking care of the people who have taken care of them for the last five years.”
Dearner’s supervisor, Scott Roussell, says, “This is making a mountain out of a molehill. NABC were not turned away; they were told they could not promote their beer on their fire truck.” He says that what with the Alltel-Kentucky Ale connection, new president Wakefield simply wished to be fair. Roussell adds that sponsorship doesn’t mean exclusivity when it comes to beer sales—or the company the local brewers keep. “You can still buy Bud, Miller Lite, Coors, Guinness at the parade…but there’s only one official beer of the St. Patrick’s Day parade.” He also stresses that the local breweries are friends, and if there’s any rivalry, it’s them against the big names. “It’s not a ‘line in the sand’ kind of thing. If one of us grows, we all grow.”
Mark Wakefield sees the parade-sponsor relationship as most important in this undertaking. “BBC has been a sponsor of ours for five years, and when were in parade discussions, Scott Roussell asked us if we could not have Kentucky Ale, which is Pearce Lyons’ company, represented. I didn’t want Pearce or any of his people to see anybody else in the parade being competitive with the BBC. And to be consistent with that, to not anger the Irishman of the Year, we had to be consistent across the board. To stay true to my sponsor, I couldn’t have any other beer represented if I specifically asked my Irishman of the Year to exclude his. It wouldn’t have been fair.”
Beyond the initial shock, John Campbell at NABC understands the reasoning. “BBC and Kentucky Ale are friends of ours, and we don’t have any hard feelings against them or the Hibernians. We want to be in the parade. If they open it up to us next year, we’ll be there.”
Thanks to Robin Garr  for the tip.
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Photo: Flickr/k4dordy