A Richmond brewery is gearing up to get into the distribution game with a high-octane sponsorship deal.
Shockoe Bottom-based Richbrau Brewing recently signed a deal to be the title sponsor of an auto racing team in the newly created North American Ginetta Challenge.
Ginetta is a car manufacturer based out of the United Kingdom, where it has also run a race series for 26 years. Earlier this year it announced it was bringing the series to North America with 14 races running through October at Virginia International Raceway near Danville.
Richbrau co-owner Matthew Mullett said he became aware of the races thanks to a handful of car enthusiasts that have become regulars at the brewery at 5 S. 20th St. in Shockoe Bottom.
“I’m not sure where the idea started. I think the (race car) owner knew that these guys were big Richbrau fans, and was like, ‘Hey if you want to put us in touch, if they want to sponsor the car, I need to get this thing wrapped,’” Mullett said.
At first, Mullett said he was apprehensive about the idea of sponsoring a race car.
“We were very up front with them,” he said. “We told them we’d need to be able to activate it locally and have it work for us from a marketing standpoint.”
In the end, Richbrau wound up covering part of the cost to wrap the Ginetta G56 – which is powered by a Ford-sourced, 270-horsepower V6 engine – with Richbrau’s vintage logo. In 2016 Mullett, Brian McCauley and Hank Schmidt bought the trademarks to the brand that has roots in Richmond dating back to the 1930s.
Mullett said they spent four figures to sponsor the race car. Christian Shield is the car’s driver and won the North American Ginetta Challenge’s first race event last month at VIR. The next races, also at VIR, are scheduled for May 13-15, and Mullett said they’re working on getting the races streaming at the brewery.
Richbrau was motivated to ink the deal in part because it’s preparing to begin distributing its beer. Since opening in 2019, Richbrau’s been selling its beer exclusively out of its taproom. But Mullett said they recently signed with Richmond Distributing Co. and plan to begin distributing beer to some local restaurants and bottle shops in the next two to three months.
The first beers to hit shelves will be Richbrau’s namesake lager and Psychic Horse, its hazy IPA. It’s starting by only distributing cans, with plans to eventually add kegs. Mullett said having cans with Richbrau’s branding on them will be like having “little marketing soldiers” on the tables of local restaurants.
“When someone orders a beer at the bar and the person sets it down, the only person who knows what it is ordered it,” Mullett said. “It’d be great if anyone who ordered a Richbrau beer was given a beer and glass, filled it up and set the can next to it. We’re going to try to get our cans some visibility.”
In preparation for the distribution push, Mullett said they added three 15-barrel fermenters last summer. The brewery also rolled out another Richbrau-branded vehicle that’s a bit older than the Ginetta race car: a 1965 Chevy C50 beer truck. Once owned by Northern Neck Distribution, Mullett said they bought the truck last spring and outfitted it to be a mobile draft beer truck. The company has been renting it out for events like corporate happy hours and private parties.
For the brewery’s three-year anniversary party this July, Mullett said he’s hoping they’ll be able to have the Ginetta car on-site. As far as he’s aware, Mullett said, they’re the only non-autosport-related sponsor with a car in the North American Ginetta Challenge.
“A lot of these things start out as conversations that, initially when you’re in them, you’re like ‘I just don’t see this as something that will go anywhere,’” Mullett said. “But the more you talk to people about different opportunities, the more you realize there might be a fit.”