Brian Kulbacki — the creator of the famed Busted Bracket beer honoring Saint Peter’s University‘s Cinderella NCAA Tournament run a year ago — started getting texts and calls toward the end of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s game with Purdue on Friday night.
“Are you going to do something if they win?” he was asked repeatedly.
“No,” he thought.
It had been a tough week for his business, Departed Soles Brewing Co. in Jersey City, and Kulbacki really just wanted to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with a few beers of his own.
But, when FDU pulled the stunning upset — and his phone really started to blow up — he gave it a second thought.
Kulbacki, who had released a digital image of a can for Princeton University’s big upset over Arizona on Thursday night, started pondering his next move.
Then, he got a call from his friend at the local Minuteman Press, the one who had helped him create the labels on the fly a year ago.
“Let me know when you send the artwork,” his buddy said.
Read more from ROI-NJ:
- Taking advantage of opportunity: That’s what FDU is about — on court and in classroom
- Revenue, enrollment, spirit: At Saint Peter’s, impact of Cinderella tournament run still is being felt
- Busted Bracket beer: The cool story behind Jersey City brewery that created it to honor Saint Peter’s on its run to Sweet 16
With that, Kulbacki raced home and started his Photoshop magic. He found a tiger with a basketball — and a blue knight with a basketball. It was enough to replace the images he used a year ago.
A Tangerine India Pale Ale (5.6%) that was to be called Jersey Avenue Juice — how cool is that? — became Busted Bracket 2.023, complete with the phrase: Don’t Mess with N.J.
The back of the can says this: Dropping tangerine flavors on your palate like New Jersey is dropping W’s on your bracket.
The artwork was shipped around 1 a.m. Saturday morning. The labels were picked up at 11. And a team of folks worked to place them on the cans.
“It was a labor of love — and a lot of paper cuts,” Kulbacki said.
Busted Bracket 2.023 was ready to be sold at noon.
The timing of all this was perfect.
Kulbacki said he had been in the process of changing over his beer selections to more springtime blends.
“All last week, we had done a winter beer-purging clearance sale,” he said. “We had planned to turn over our draft lines to more springy beers today. And we had the Tangerine IPA scheduled to be released today, too.”
“The actual labels for that beer didn’t arrive till very late yesterday,” he said. “So, we were only able to get a few of the cases ready to sell. I had a lot of this beer in undecorated cans sitting in our fridge. It all kind of worked out very serendipitously. It was kismet.”
Then there’s this: Kulbacki, who named Departed Soles after his best friend, Chris Ward, who died in a car accident, said the launch coincided with the establishment’s mission: To give back to the community.
Kulbacki said the beer releases are meant to honor the schools and the state. He said he prices the beer ($10 for a two-pack) at a rate that will just cover his costs.
“I’ve always said, craft beer is about community,” he said. “We’ve got to support everybody that supports us.”
It’s why Departed Soles worked with Saint Peter’s over the past year, relaunching the beer with its help and encouragement.
“We want them to know the love is still there,” he said.
The connection goes both ways.
“I was having a bad week — and it really meant a lot to me emotionally and for my mental health to have my phone blowing up with people asking if we’re going to do this,” he said. “It made me grateful to be in the position that we’re in.”
Kulbacki said he never intended to be the beer of the Cinderellas of March Madness. And, while last year made sense, considering his location — the Saint Peter’s campus is a short walk from his brewery — he admits this year’s surprise winners are not.
He jokes that he grew up near Princeton and went to soccer camps at FDU. That’s the hook.
“We’re not exactly conveniently geographically located to them,” he said.
He hopes both schools can continue their surprise runs into Sweet 16. (Princeton won another upset Saturday night to advance there; but FDU was beaten Sunday night.)
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “If they win, we’ll get some more labels made up. We’ve got cans we can adapt.”
And he hopes both schools will appreciate his efforts.
“There’s a lot of legal nuances to putting a label on beer cans, so we’re kind of limited in what we can do,” he said. “We probably could get in some sort of trouble for it, but we’re just trying to have some fun, support the community.”
The early word is that FDU is all in.
When told of a Busted Bracket beer featuring his school, President Michael Alvatroni was delighted.
“Tell him we’re happy to partner with him,” he said.
Kulbacki is eager to do the same. The beer, he said, is about celebrating Jersey. First Saint Peter’s. Now Princeton and FDU.
“I don’t want to give the impression that we were riding their coattails,” Kulbacki said. “I just think their accomplishments deserve to be celebrated.”