The Rhode Islandbased Narragansett Brewing Company, whose flagship Narragansett Lager used to be available only in New England, has been making major distribution inroads into New York City over the past two years. It flows freely at Littleneck, where it's served at the bar and is also used for steaming clams in the kitchen. The lager is at Hollow Nickel and dozens more bars in Brooklyn and Manhattan. And now Narragansett fans in New York may be noticing something new: Cans of the brew proclaim Narragansett to be the Official Beer of the Clam.
There's backstory here. Narragansett was the official beer of the Boston Red Sox from 1944 through 1975. But the days when a small, regional brewery could afford to sponsor a Major League Baseball team are long gone. Budweiser took over the Red Sox beer sponsorship in 1976, and Narragansett spent the next 30-odd years being the official beer of, well, nothing.
That didn't sit well with brewery CEO Mark Hellendrung, who felt like the company needed something to hang its hat on. So a few years ago, he and his marketing staff had a brainstorming session.
"We were sitting around, drinking beers, and we thought, What is quintessential about New England?" Hellendrung recalls. "We kept coming back to summertime clam bakes and clam chowder. So we said, 'Fuck it, we'll declare ourselves the Official Beer of the Clam.'"
That's exactly what they did. The brewery's "clam cans," complete with a custom-designed logo, appeared in the summers of 2010 and 2011, but not in 2012, so this summer's clam cans are likely the first ones New Yorkers have seen.
Granted, being the self-proclaimed Official Beer of the Clam doesn't really mean anything (well, except maybe for the Narragansett employee who gets stuck dressing up in a giant clam costume), but it's a fun maneuver. And as sponsorships go, it's a pretty sweet deal. "There are no usage fees or royalties," notes Hellendrung. "That fits well within our budget."
All of which sounds great, except for one problem: Narragansett's "Official Beer of the Clam" logo isn't shaped like a clam. It's shaped like a scallop, which may seem like an unforgivable bivalve blunder.
"Well, uh, that is, um, uhhhh — that's basically a fuck-up, to be honest with you," says Hellendrung, who's clearly more candid (and considerably more entertaining) than your average CEO. "We had an agency we were working with, and they came up with the scallop logo. We didn't realize it was a mistake until about six months into the promotion, and we were like, 'Ah, crap, what do we do now?' It was too late to change it, so we decided to stick with it."
Hellendrung gets points for transparency. But surely the shellfish-savvy beer consumers of New England have been outraged by this mollusk mix-up, no?
"Actually, not that many people have noticed," says Hellendrung. "You're one of maybe a dozen people who've pointed it out to us since we launched the campaign in 2010. Anyway, it's a good story."
Indeed. Questionable logo designs and gratuitous alliterations aside, the clam promotion has worked out well for Narragansett. When the folks at Sea Watch, a major supplier of clam-based products for the food-service industry, were recently looking to create a beer-battered clam strip, they partnered with Narragansett for the beer batter. So in at least one respect, the self-proclaimed sponsorship has also become a self-fulfilling prophecy.