The University of Louisville is interested in partnering with a brewery to add new revenue. | Photo by Felix, Flickr Creative Commons

The University of Louisville is interested in getting into the craft beer business. Sort of.

As part of exploring new revenue streams, the university has issued a nationwide request for proposals for a craft brewery partner to brew and distribute a UofL-branded beer. Submissions are due by May 2.

Mark J. Watkins, senior associate vice president for operations, decided to get creative, noting that the idea was inspired by a similar partnership between Colorado State University and New Belgium Brewing Co.

Those entities, both based in Boulder, teamed up to brew a beer called Old Aggie, a light-drinking lager. The brewery and university had a previous relationship — in 2015, a New Belgium Brewing co-founder, Kim Jordan, donated a $1 million grant to Colorado State’s Fermentation Science and Technology program. A year later, New Belgium donated more than $4 million to help fund CSU’s new stadium.

Old Aggie lager is the product of a collaboration between Colorado State University and New Belgium Brewing. It inspired UofL to consider a similar partnership. | Courtesy of New Belgium Brewing

“It became a new revenue stream for them,” Watkins told Insider Louisville. He reached out to both the university and the brewery to get more information, then pitched the concept to UofL’s senior administrators.

One risk, he said, is to make sure such an effort does not appear to target underage students, which is a key reason the university seeks craft beer’s older demographic.

In addition, such a partnership would not be a recruiting tool, but rather a new revenue stream not tied to tuition and fees, thus potentially lessening the financial burden on students.

The focus will be reaching the more than 140,000 UofL alumni across the U.S.; a map showing the distribution of these graduates shows an expected concentration in Kentucky and Indiana, but there are pockets of alumni across the Midwest and beyond, including a few dense pockets in the Southwest.

By branding the beer using retro University of Louisville logos, those alumni may not only want to buy the beer, but just seeing the logo will help keep the university top of mind in general. He said there are four or five logos that would be recognizable to alumni, and a possibility could be to roll out a new one annually to keep the brand fresh.

“We could touch parts of the country we haven’t touched before,” Watkins said.

The caveat, of course, is finding a brewery with nationwide distribution. According to the RFP, the brewery would have to license the logos, and the agreement would not be in any way tied to the athletics program — unlike the Old Aggie beer — although the brewery partner could explore pouring rights separately. The most important aspect, however, is the distribution.

This density map shows where more than 140,000 alumni are located across the U.S. | Courtesy of University of Louisville

“If you don’t have access to a large distribution chain,” he said, “it will make it difficult to meet the minimum requirements. It could be a game-stopper.”

Watkins also said the university would want to have control over the style of beer and the branding. A potential partner would be chosen based on experience, financial stability and financial commitment, according to the RFP.

Asked about whether the university would consider partnering with a local brewery, Watkins said it would depend — Against the Grain Brewery and Goodwood Brewing are doing the most distribution as Louisville-based breweries. But if they find a local partner who wants to grow, which would mean increasing distribution and possibly infrastructure, anything is possible.

“We wouldn’t know what that looks like unless they put their name into the hat,” Watkins said.

He added that he would like for the university to receive at least three bids.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for any craft beer company that is trying to increase their visibility,” Watkins said. “I’m hopeful.”

Proposals can be submitted by contacting Terry Cutler at [email protected]

Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]