Beer, Seattle Seahawks and Santa?

Local resident Neal Nilsen has become known as the Seahawks Santa over the last four years. Nilsen turned his love for the Seahawks into a locally-brewed beer, 12 Man Pale Ale, which is served at Federal Way’s Jersey’s Sports Bar.  - Courtesy photo
Local resident Neal Nilsen has become known as the Seahawks Santa over the last four years. Nilsen turned his love for the Seahawks into a locally-brewed beer, 12 Man Pale Ale, which is served at Federal Way’s Jersey’s Sports Bar.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Neal Nilsen loves the Seattle Seahawks.

All you have to do is look around Jersey’s Sports Bar in Federal Way, which is owned by Nilsen’s brother, Barry, and wife, Donna. The bar and grill off of 21st Avenue Southwest is a packed house on Sundays when the Seahawks play. The place has 15 high-definition televisions and actually raises a 12th-man flag before every Seattle game.

But that wasn’t enough for Nilsen. He wanted to give Seahawks fans who made their way to Jersey’s Sports Bar a little more team pride.

So he came up with the idea of giving Seattle fans a beer that they could drink while watching their team play. That’s when 12 Man Pale Ale came to fruition.

“I got the idea for having something in the bar to have for a fan of the Seahawks,” Nilsen said. “We came up with this crazy idea and ran with it.”

The name for the beer comes from the name for the Seahawks’ fans. The franchise retired the number 12 in 1984 and currently has the tradition of a former player, coach, fan or Seattle dignitary raising the 12th-man flag before every home game at CenturyLink Field.

Nilsen moved to the Federal Way area nine years ago from New Jersey with his wife. That’s when he became a Seahawks fan and opened Jersey’s.

“The fanbase is just phenomenal,” Nilsen said. “It’s so huge. I just fell in love with the Seahawks.”

Nilsen and 12 Man Pale Ale got a huge boost when former Seahawks kicker Norm Johnson got involved in the project. Nilsen met Johnson at a charity function for the victims of Hurricane Sandy at Jersey’s. The October 2012 storm basically wiped out the town of Keyport, N.J., where Nilsen grew up.

Nilsen and Johnson trademarked the name, 12 Man Pale Ale, and have the beer brewed at a local brewery. According to the Facebook page for the beer, it “leaves a fresh taste in your mouth and doesn’t fill you up, but rather refreshes you with every swallow.”

“The next thing I know is other bars want to buy it,” Nilsen said. “Norm has been a big asset and a help in selling the brand. I leave the beer stuff in the hands of Norm. He is kind of a beer connoisseur.”

The 12 Man Pale Ale is currently only served at Jersey’s, but that is set to change Saturday. Nilsen and Johnson are hosting a kickoff at the Hawks Nest Sports Bar and Grill in Seattle on Saturday before the Seahawks host the Denver Broncos in preseason action. They are hoping to distribute 12 Man Pale Ale to bars across the state in the future.

Nilsen has not only taken his love for the Seahawks into the beer business, but he’s more well-known as being Santa Claus. For the past several years, Nilsen, who sports a long white beard, has worked as a professional Santa. And in the recent past, he has played Santa at CenturyLink Field, throwing out candy canes and posing for photos. Instead of the normal red suit, Nilsen sports a blue suede getup.

“They kind of let me do what I want to do,” Nilsen said of the Seahawks. “It’s just a blast.”

Nilsen has been featured on several NFL pre-game shows and “Prime Time” Deion Sanders even asked for a photo.

Nilsen is hoping to use some of the proceeds from the sale of the beer to help charities in the area. Jersey’s is a big proponent of doing benefits and donating money to disabled veterans and the Fisher House charities.

Fisher House Foundation is best known for the network of comfort homes built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers nationwide and in Europe. Fisher Houses are beautiful homes, donated to the military and Department of Veterans Affairs. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful time - during the hospitalization for a combat injury, illness or disease. The Fisher House has locations in Seattle and at Fort Lewis.

“It’s really a gateway for doing charity work,” Nilsen said.

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