Shockoe Bottom Brewery sponsors a car racing team to speed up marketing

The Richbrau Brewing-sponsored Ginetta car will compete this year at Virginia International Raceway. (Photos courtesy of Richbrau Brewing)

A Richmond brewery is preparing 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 for a stock car racing team in the newly formed North American Ginetta Challenge.

Ginetta is a car manufacturer based in the UK, where it has also run a racing series for 26 years. Earlier this year, it announced it would bring the series to North America with 14 races through October at Virginia International Raceway near Danville.

matthew mullet

Richbrau co-owner Matthew Mullett said he learned about the races from a handful of car enthusiasts who 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 owner (of the race car) knew these guys were big Richbrau fans, and said, ‘Hey, if you want to get in touch, if you want to sponsor the car, I need to get this over with,'” Mullet said.

At first, Mullett said he was worried about sponsoring a race car.

“We were very honest with them,” he said. “We told them we would have to be able to activate it locally and have it work for us from a marketing standpoint.”

In the end, Richbrau ended up covering part of the cost of wrapping the Ginetta G56, which is powered by Ford’s 270-horsepower V6 engine, with the old Richbrau logo. In 2016, Mullett, Brian McCauley and Hank Schmidt purchased the trademarks for 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 driver of the car and won the first North American Ginetta Challenge race event last month at VIR. The next races, also on VIR, are scheduled for May 13-15, and Mullett said they are working to get the races broadcast at the brewery.

Richbrau was motivated to sign the deal in part because he is preparing to start distributing his beer. Since its opening in 2019, Richbrau has been selling its beer exclusively from its tavern. But Mullett said they recently signed with Richmond Distributing Co. and plan to start distributing beer to some local restaurants and bottle shops in the next two to three months.

Richbrau Brewing opened in Shockoe Bottom in 2019.

The first beers to hit shelves will be Richbrau’s namesake lager and Psychic Horse, their hazy IPA. It will start by distributing cans only, with plans to eventually add kegs. Mullett said having Richbrau-branded cans will be like having “little marketing soldiers” at local restaurant tables.

“When someone orders a beer at the bar and puts it down, the only person who knows what they’re ordering is you,” Mullett said. “It would be great if anyone who ordered a Richbrau beer was given a beer and a glass, filled it up and placed the can next to it. We are going to try to give our cans some visibility.”

In preparation for the distribution push, Mullett said they added three 15-barrel fermenters last summer. The brewery also released 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 they 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.

The brewery also recently purchased and renovated a 1965 beer truck, which it is renting for events starting at $800 for four hours.

For the brewery’s three-year anniversary party in July, Mullett said he hopes they can have the Ginetta car on site. As far as he knows, Mullett said, they are the only non-racing sponsor to have a car in the North American Ginetta Challenge.

“A lot of these things start out as conversations where, initially, when you’re in it, you say, ‘I just don’t see this as going anywhere,'” Mullett said. “But the more you talk to people about different opportunities, the more you realize that it might fit the bill.”