Penn Staters can prepare to toast the Nittany Lions with the likeness of its most revered coach. This August, Duquesne Beer will introduce the Paterno Legacy Series, a new line of brews that kicks off with a Vienna-style lager emblazoned with Joe Paterno’s likeness.
Joe Paterno, who died from cancer in 2012, was the winningest Division I football coach in history. His legacy was somewhat tarnished by association with the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, which occurred during his tenure, but his reputation remains mostly positive, especially among Penn State alumni.
The beer is a collaboration between brewer and attorney Mark Dudash, who in 2008 bought the trademark for the historic Duquesne Brewing Company and revived it as a new brand, and Jay Paterno, JoePa’s son and former assistant coach at Penn State.
Dudash himself did not go to Penn State, but was looking to create a new beer featuring a sports figure that would resonate with a large audience. Inspiration came from his own college football coach (at Duquesne University), who also happened to be director of sales for Pittsburgh Brewing when Dudash worked there, and would tell stories about the special series of Iron City Beer on which he’d featured the Steelers.
Dudash realized that Joe Paterno’s image could resonate with a wide audience, one that extended into areas where Duquesne Beer is not currently distributed, chief among them Philadelphia. He reached out to Jay Paterno around a year ago.
“A lot of different people come to us and ask to use [my father’s] image,” Paterno told Billy Penn. “We set a pretty high bar for what we want to get involved in.”
Dudash’s beer idea won the Paterno family’s support for several reasons. One, it’ll be brewed in Pennsylvania, and support union jobs. Duquesne brews its beers at City Brewing Co. in Latrobe, which happens to be the hometown of Sue Paterno, Joe’s widow. In fact, the couple was married there.
Second, there will be a philanthropic component to the project. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to a charity (or charities) of Sue Paterno’s choice, a practice started when JoePa was still alive.
“Anytime you saw his image — whether it was on a t-shirt, coffee mugs, hats, whatever — some proceeds always went to charity,” Jay Paterno said. Sue Paterno makes the call on where the money goes, and has directed it to a variety of philanthropies over the years, from the Special Olympics to the Penn State library to food banks and educational programs. Recently, she has donated over a quarter of a million dollars to programs aimed at preventing child sexual abuse.
Branded “Duquesne Lager, the Paterno Legacy Series,” the beer will be available in time for football season — aka mid to late August — and will be released in 12-oz. cans (perfect for tailgating) in both 12- and 24-packs. If there’s enough demand, Dudash says, the beer will also be made available on draft.
He’s still looking to sign wholesalers for Philly, where Duquesne beers (which include a pilsner and a light pilsner) have not yet been available. However, the Paterno Legacy Series, which will see additional releases in the future, will be marketed separately from his other beers.
“My daughter lives near Philadelphia now,” Dudash said. “She tells me there’s a ton of Penn State people there.”
The label featuring Joe Paterno’s likeness has not yet been finalized — “I’m being really finicky with it,” said Jay, describing the challenge of choosing the exact right shade of red. The partners plan to introduce the final artwork at a press conference in State College at some point in early July.
What’s on the inside of the can is just as important to the makers as what’s on the outside. Paterno and Dudash wanted something “drinkable — not an over-the-top craft style but not cheap.” They chose the beer style and recipe together, after doing several taste-tests, settling on a Vienna lager because they felt it would appeal to the widest range of people, from old to young, and that it’s refreshing enough to drink at tailgate and gameday parties.
It’s designed to be the kind of beer JoePa himself would pop open after coming home from practice on a hot summer day, although his son says he probably wouldn’t like seeing his own image while kicking back.
“He would say, ‘I’m not sure having my picture on the can is a plus!’”
Photo of Joe Paterno via Penn State on Flickr