It's 90 percent beer, 10 percent baseball in Durham

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Steve Booth, a volunteer with the Exchange Club of Greater Durham, pours a glass of Hoppyum IPA by Foothills Brewing on Friday, April 20, 2018 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.


By Patrick Mason

Monday, May 21, 2018

It’s a Friday night, and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park is filling up fast.

A fireworks display is scheduled after the final out is recorded, and a strong crowd is on hand to watch the historic Bulls baseball team under a cloudless sky.

The setting might resemble something out of a movie scene, or maybe you’ve seen something like this in one of those commercialized domestic beer advertisements that suggests a smooth lager and baseball are a perfect match.

The thing is, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park — or DBAP — challenges this idea. After all, the craft brew scene reigns supreme around here.

The liquid in plastic cups looks a little darker, and the flavors more bold. The craft beer atmosphere is vibrant around the stadium, with breweries and local bars all within a short walk from the iconic stadium.

And that atmosphere, the one that celebrates the microbrews, doesn’t change much once inside. The concourse is dotted with beer stands, and concession windows welcome those searching for a wide range of craft beers. Those enjoying a few drinks on a nice afternoon at the various locations outside the ballpark don’t have to switch gears once they walk through the turnstile.

“This place has changed within the past three years in terms of having craft beers,” said Steve Booth, a volunteer worker at one of the craft beer stands. “This place was filled with the standard canned beer, and that was all we sold. I’d be grabbing beers out of tubs of ice, and now we have this great selection all up and down, and you can find anything you want.”

Booth has been pouring and selling beers at the stadium for almost 20 years and has noticed a shift in thinking that has revolutionized the liquid options.

“It’s really a great place to explore your microbrew tastes,” Booth said. “They’ve put so many more stands here, they didn't want people to stand in line. So that’s why you’ll see options all over the place.”

At least 18 locations sell some version of craft beer at the park. The traditional Budweiser and Miller options are still available, but that isn’t the main focus. Not here. Not at the only minor league baseball stadium in the country to have a craft brewery located inside its walls. 

Bull Durham Beer Co. began brewing its beer inside the stadium in 2015, and that kicked off an arms race of sorts as other breweries made their way to DBAP. And it’s that vast beer selection that makes DBAP a unique place to catch a game.

Just ask Chris Byrum and Elyse Huwe, who each ordered a Foothills brew from the 3rd Base Beer Garden.

The small stand located on the main concourse is a regular stop for the pair of beer enthusiasts, who make their way to the ballpark several times throughout the season. Both Byrum and Huwe enjoy drinking craft beer and have expanded their palates as the booming trend of craft breweries picked up steam.

The Durham residents often find themselves spending an evening at the various craft beer options that have popped up around town in recent years but have started to make Durham Bulls games a part of their rotation.

The beer selection is just too good to pass up, Byrum said.

“I come here to the stadium a lot because it’s basically a bar with the beers I like,” Byrum said. “We can hang out and enjoy ourselves with a game in the background.”

As such, one of their favorite locations to hang out on a nice night happens to be DBAP. Huwe used to work on the American Tobacco Campus, where she and her coworkers would expand their beer profile after hours. That taste drew her to the Bulls games, which is unlike any other expereince.

“We’re big Hurricanes fans, but it’s still limited in terms of craft beer,” Huwe said. “Beers are usually like $12, and you don’t really want to pay that for a Bud Light or something.

“This is one of our favorite beers,” Huwe continued, referring to her Hoppyum she held in her right hand.

The beer gardens along the first base and third base foul lines on the concourse sell a variety of Foothills and Brueprint beers, while craft beer stops along either foul line on the main concourse offer beers from a number of craft breweries, including Sweetwater, Carolina Brewery options, Bull City offerings, Shocktop and White Street beers. Goose Island and Deep River also swell in the stadium 

“Anywhere I usually go I try to find a craft stand,” Byrum said. “They do a good job here. It’s nice to see the beers here that people won’t normally see at the store or at a bar. That’s why I like coming to these games because you get a better experience.”

Added Huwe: “It’s a good place to get a feel of the local flavor.”