Whether you’re in King’s Landing, standing watch at the Wall or across the narrow sea, in the world Game of Thrones, a bottle of booze isn’t far away. And while many prefer the charms of Dornish wine, the biggest buzz for HBO has come from its partnership with the craft beer makers at Brewery Ommegang.
To mark the start of Game of Thrones’ fifth season next spring, the network and brewery will unveil the partnership’s fifth beer–Three-Eyed Raven Dark Saison Ale. While you’ll have to wait to sample the brew while you’re enjoying the onscreen action, HBO has provided a preview by way of debuting the beer’s name and label artwork.
The first beer, released in spring 2013, was Iron Throne Blonde Ale and sold out nationwide in a matter of weeks. Each successive brew has seen the same success–Take the Black Stout in fall 2013, Fire and Blood Red Ale in spring 2014, and Valar Morghulis Dubbel Ale, out now. The first three beers in the series completely sold out and, according to HBO, Valar Morghulis is well on its way despite being brewed at nearly four times the volume of Iron Throne.
Any fan of the show will see the network’s partnership with a craft brewer to create beers served in corked bottles as a perfect fit for its settings and oft-intoxicated characters. And the label artwork is straight out of the fantasy fanboy style book, equally striking on the side of a beer bottle or your van.
But this wasn’t a typical licensing deal for HBO. The network’s vice president of global licensing Josh Goodstadt says the idea actually came from the producers. And while it would’ve been easy to just license a private label brew with mass distribution, Goodstadt says a craft brewery was the better fit. “There’s a nice crossover between Game of Thrones fans who are passionate and sophisticated, and craft beer drinkers who are passionate and sophisticated,” says Goodstadt. “We wanted an authentic craft beer maker and that’s part of the process in working with Ommegang. We might’ve been open to the idea of rebranding one of their existing beers, but we both were very excited at the idea of creating something brand new.”
For the brewery, it meant adapting their usual creative process to the themes of the Seven Kingdoms. Ommegang’s director of marketing Bill Wetmore says that for each beer the brewers were genuinely inspired by themes, key plot points and characters on the show. Valar Morghulis it was a dubbel for the double-sided coin. Taking the Black Stout just makes sense. Fire and Blood had de-seeded chilis in it to give off some dragon heat. “We start off talking to HBO about what the main themes and narratives being progressed on the show, which ones do we think will continue to resonate with and be important to fans, then try to narrow down the possibilities,” says Wetmore. “After we arrive at one, we’ll sit as a brewing team and talk about how we can reflect that in a beer, through ingredients and style of the beer.”
Those conversations can get awkward when certain plot points aren’t what they seem. Like when Wetmore first saw a mention of something called the Red Wedding. “When I suggested it sounded like a great name for a beer, the people at HBO just said, ‘Yeeeaah, I don’t think we want to go there.’ They didn’t tell me why, but when I saw the episode, it was pretty clear.”
For the new beer, Three-Eyed Raven, the brewers focused on the mysterious animal of Bran’s dreams and visions and its dual nature. “It’s a raven, but then it becomes something else,” says Wetmore. “So we tried to reflect some duality in the beer. A saison isn’t typically dark, but it’s a style you can do a lot with in terms of flavor, so our brewers put a new spin on it and made it a dark ale. We really wanted to reflect that duality of the show theme in the beer itself.”
Craft brewers have thrived on creativity and giving beer drinkers new and interesting options. Wetmore says this partnership has fit well into the craft beer ethos. “It’s kept our brewers hungry and excited,” says Wetmore. “The other thing is, we’re a super premium beer and we wanted the beer in this partnership to be a product we would be just as confident marketing as a standalone Ommegang beer. It had to maintain that quality, and it wouldn’t be anything pandering or dumbed down just to reach a broader audience.”
For HBO, Goodstadt says the beer partnership is a unique project. And considering you can buy a replica Iron Throne, Jon Snow’s sword or a Targaryen toque, that’s saying something. “The food and beverage category is a big one for licensed merchandise, but it’s not one that we typically get in to,” says Goodstadt. “This enabled us to do it in a meaningful, premium way that ties in perfectly to the brand. It’s not like we’re putting out Game of Thrones toothpaste.”