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Beer, Wine & Spirits

Goal! Brewers score with soccer partnerships

With the World Cup now in its knockout stage, soccer fever is in full swing in the United States.

But as many are discovering a passion for the "pitch," Major League Soccer fans already know which beverage is being served on the World Cup bandwagon: craft beer.

"The connection between beer and soccer is centuries old. All over Europe, breweries are partnered with their local town's team," said Brady Walen, brand manager at Widmer Brothers Brewing.

Source: Widmer Brothers Brewing

Widmer Brothers is part of a group of brewers including fellow Craft Brew Alliance partner Redhook Brewery in Seattle, as well as DC Brau Brewing in Washington, D.C., Saint Arnold Brewing in Houston, and Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City that have partnered with their local Major League Soccer teams.

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In craft-beer-crazed Oregon—which according to the Oregon Brewers Guild, led the U.S. in terms of percentage of dollars spent on craft beer last year—the partnership between Widmer and the local soccer team was a no-brainer. The team averages nearly 21,000 fans per game.

"Being in Portland, where craft beer already has a deep connection with local soccer fans, being the official craft beer of the Portland Timbers was extremely appealing," said Walen.

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Widmer has created Green & Gold, a Kolsch-style ale brewed in collaboration with the Timbers Army, the Portland Timbers supporters' club. The beer is available year round in draft and bottles and is also sold in Providence Park, the Timbers' home stadium.

Source: Redhook Brewery

"Not only are you speaking to 20,000-plus people in stadium, you're also connecting with them in local bars and restaurants," said Walen. "It's also very beneficial for our off-premise sales, as people will buy beer at the grocery store to bring home with them to watch the game."

Meanwhile, up in Seattle, Redhook Brewery has developed two beers with the Emerald City Supporters, the largest supporters' club for MLS's Seattle Sounders, ECS No Equal Amber in 2013 and ECS No Equal Blonde in 2014.

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"We wanted to create beers that stayed true to the tradition of beers often enjoyed in pubs in other world footballing nations," said Karmen Olson, brand manager of Redhook Brewery. "That means lots of flavor, but an alcohol by volume that's modest enough that fans can enjoy a few and carry on with their day after the match."

Like Widmer's Whalen, Olson sees Redhook's role in Seattle's sports community as similar to what might be found in Europe.

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"Whereas (in England) fans of Newcastle drink Newcastle Brown Ale or Fulham supporters drink Fuller's since the brewery and stadium are about 2 1/2 miles apart, in Seattle we want Redhook to be the go-to beer for Sounders' fans," said Olson.

Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing is also no stranger to getting behind its local sports teams. In 2012, the brewery became one of the first craft brewers to become an official beer sponsor of a Major League Baseball team, when it struck a deal with the hometown Royals.

"As the largest craft brewery in the area, the visibility at the Royals' Kauffman Stadium was critical to gaining a loyal fan base locally and extending our reach beyond K.C.," said Jeremy Ragonese, Boulevard's director of Marketing. "With Sporting Kansas City, the relationship was built on a strong desire to enhance our local appeal through co-marketing."

Boulevard and Sporting KC built their partnership around the slogan "Hometown Team, Hometown Beer," and while Sporting KC may not have as large a regional following in the Midwest as the Royals, the team has managed to grab the attention of the Kansas City-area in a short time, winning an MLS championship last year.

To commemorate the team's 2013 MLS championship, Boulevard brewed a limited-release Saison-style ale, the aptly named Sporting Kansas City Championship Ale.

Ragonese said it's the ability to create this type of bond with Sporting KC fans that has allowed Boulevard to further embed itself as "Kansas City's hometown brewery."

"Sporting KC has catapulted to such a revered brand in the market in a relatively short timeframe," he said. "The partnership has only brought a deeper emotional connection with our hometown."

—By CNBC's Tom Rotunno.