New Jersey

Busted Bracket beer 2.023: How the Jersey City brewer quickly created an IPA honoring FDU, Princeton

Brian Kulbacki – the creator of the famous Busted Bracket beer honoring Saint Peter’s University Cinderella NCAA tournament a year ago – started receiving texts and calls towards the end of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s game with Purdue Friday night.

“Are you going to do anything if they win?” he was asked several times.

No, he thought.

It had been a tough week for his business, Departed Soles Brewing Co. in Jersey City, and Kulbacki really wanted to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with a few beers of his own.

But, when FDU upset the stunner – and his phone really started to explode – he thought about it a second time.

Kulbacki, who posted a digital image of a can for Princeton University’s big upset against Arizona on Thursday night, began pondering his next move.

Then he got a call from his local press friend Minuteman, the one who had helped him create the labels on the fly a year ago.

“Let me know when you send the artwork,” her pal said.

With that, Kulbacki went 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 was using a year ago.

A Tangerine India Pale Ale (5.6%) that was to be called Jersey Avenue Juice? It’s cool ? – became Busted Bracket 2.023, with the phrase: Don’t Mess with NJ

The back of the can says this: drop tangerine flavors on your palate like New Jersey drops Ws on your rack.

The artwork was shipped around 1 a.m. Saturday morning. The tags were picked up at 11 a.m. And a team of people worked to place them on the cans.

“It was a labor of love – and a lot of paper cutting,” Kulbacki said.

Busted Bracket 2.023 was ready to sell at noon.


The timing of it all was perfect.

Kulbacki said he was changing his beer selections to more spring-like blends.

“All last week we had been doing a beer purge winter clearance sale,” he said. “We planned to turn our draft lines into more elastic beers today. And we had planned for the Tangerine IPA to be released today as well.

But …

FDU succeeds in the upheaval.

“The real labels for this beer didn’t arrive until very late yesterday,” he said. “So we were only able to prepare a few of the cases for sale. I had a lot of this beer in undecorated cans in our fridge. It all sort of happened in a very serendipitous way. 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 coincides with the establishment’s mission: to give back to the community.

Kulbacki said the beer releases are meant to honor schools and the state. He said he sets the beer price ($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 have to support everyone who supports us.”

That’s why Departed Soles has worked with Saint Peter’s over the past year, reviving the beer with their 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 to my mental health that my phone was exploding with people asking me if we’re going to do this,” he said. “It made me grateful to be in the position we find ourselves in.”


Kulbacki said he never intended to be the beer of the Cinderellas of March Madness. And, while last year made sense, given its location – the Saint Peter campus is a short walk from its brewery – he admits this year’s surprise winners aren’t.

He jokes that he grew up near Princeton and went to football camps at FDU. It’s the hook.

“We’re not exactly geographically located for them,” he said.

Princeton celebrates their upset victory.

He hopes both schools can continue their surprise runs in Sweet 16. (Princeton plays again Saturday night; FDU plays Sunday night.)

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “If they win, we will create other labels. We have cans that we can adapt.

And he hopes both schools will appreciate his efforts.

“There are a lot of legal nuances to putting a label on beer cans, so we’re a bit limited in what we can do,” he said. “We could probably get in trouble, but we’re just trying to have fun, support the community.”

The first word is that FDU is all in.

When told about a Busted Bracket beer featuring his school, President Michael Alvatroni was thrilled.

“Tell him we’re happy to partner with him,” he said.

Kulbacki is eager to do the same. The beer, he said, is meant to celebrate Jersey. First Saint Peter. Now Princeton and FDU.

“I don’t want to give the impression that we were riding in their wake,” Kulbacki said. “I just think their accomplishments are worth celebrating.”


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