For many people, fall signifies the start of football season. This year, fans of the pigskin in Minnesota have not only the team to be excited about (or disappointed by), but a new stadium as well.
Yet, while the new Vikings stadium is getting all sorts of press, the Xcel Energy Center is quietly undergoing a major renovation. Not the least of which includes new food and a new alcohol sponsor.
After a strong 2013–2014 season, the Minnesota Wild and Xcel Energy Center decided they needed to strengthen their fan experience.
They start by offering them a strong drink.
Enter Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Club.
Jack Daniel’s Whiskey struck a deal with the ‘X’ and re-branded the Headwaters Bar & Restaurant, located on the club level, to be one of the whiskey company’s Old No. 7 Clubs.
“Everything about their fan base and our fan base had so many similarities, it just made sense to partner,” said Donald Friedrick, Minnesota stat manager for Jack Daniel’s.
Friedrick said that while there may be many Old No. 7 locations, each one differs based on where they are located. The location at the Xcel is all about the Wild.
Enter their signature cocktail, Wild For Jack.
The mixture includes Jack Daniel’s, Peach Schnapps, Sprite, raspberry puree, fresh mint and a squeeze of lemon.
The mint and lemon level out the sweetness of the raspberry, so the drink is almost mojito-like. The fruit flavors, both in the real fruit and Peach Schnapps, mellow out the smokiness of the whiskey, making it light enough for those who may not always enjoy whiskey drinks.
And like the Wild, the smoothness and subtle-ness of the whiskey is just enough to make you forget its strength.
Friedrick said the bar will include many drinks inspired by both Minnesota and the hockey team.
One of the partnerships Jack Daniel’s is also taking advantage of is Xcel’s deal with Coca-Cola.
“One of the top drinks is Jack and Coke,” Friedrick said. “So you have the synergies of the Wild, Jack and Coke rolled up into one.”
When asked how drinks will enhance the fan experience at the arena Friedrick said, “It just enhances the whole experience. Our whole belief is we want to enhance life.”
But the arena’s use of Jack Daniel’s doesn’t stop there.
It pours over into the food offered at the new eatery.
Levy Restaurant’s Executive Chef Jason Steidle is one of a group of chefs working at the Old No. 7 Club.
Steidle said while the new restaurant will offer many of the same types of dishes seen at Headwaters, there will also be new dishes to showcase the whiskey.
After all, what would a new season be without new food?
Some of the first dishes to be whiskey-fied include carrots, pizza and cake.
Steidle and his team started simple with a charred whiskey carrot. They reduced the whiskey, added brown sugar and charred the carrots in the sauce.
It’s served with a creamy goat cheese.
For the main course on the whiskey menu, they’re offering JD Chicken Flatbread Pizza — a flatbread covered in pieces of chicken, cilantro, jalapeno, cheddar cheese and smothered in a Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce.
The spiciness of the jalapeno mixed with the sharp cheese and sweet barbecue sauce offers the perfect balance. Add in the crunchy flatbread and cilantro and it’s the perfect combination of texture and flavor.
Finally, the meal is finished with a Tennessee Whiskey cake with a whiskey crème sauce.
“We have to keep up with the team,” Steidle said. “They play their game and we play ours … Sure, they are coming here to see the team, but we don’t want them to leave feeling, ‘Great game, food was really terrible.'”
Steidle said Old No. 7 Club will have a rotating menu, with about eight different menus featured throughout the regular season. Each menu will feature three to four dishes made with Jack Daniel’s.
Steidle’s must try?
“I’m not big into sweets, but the Tennesee Whiskey Cake,” he said.
For fans of the traditional menu, worry not. Steidle said they are still doing Minnesota flavors.
“We’re still doing our food. We’re still using Bushel Boy tomatoes, Honeycrisp Apples,” Steidle said. “And we’re still doing walleye.”
Of course, highlighting Minnesota flavors and naming alcoholic beverages after Wild players was not the only, or real, reason for the renovation.
In 2013, ESPN Magazine rated the Xcel Energy Center as No. 4 for overall fan experience in all major sports facilities, not just the NHL.
After a great season, and a top vote by ESPN Magazine, eyes were turned toward St. Paul and some of the leaders decided it may be time to upgrade the 15-year-old technology.
The project to bring a new HD LED center video board, and other HD elements, to the arena was born.
The Minnesota Wild owner, Craig Leipold, spoke about the technology project, but said the most important thing was that all the elements came together to offer the best experience possible.
“We’ve always thought we had the best arena in the world. Now, we will have the best arena in the world,” Leipold said.
Of course, for many, food and drink is not the crux of a true fan experience. But, it certainly can make even the worst game enjoyable.
The Minnesota Wild start the 2014-2015 season Thursday at the Xcel against the Colorado Avalanche. All the new food and drinks will be available.