I love the fall. The leaves are just begining to think about turning in New England, the weather in the Northwest is as perfect as it gets, the pears and apples are ripening in the orchards, blah blah blah, who am I kidding? The fall means two things to Aleheads: football and beer. The fall seasonals are some of my favorite brews (mmm, pumpkin beer), Oktoberfest gatherings everywhere celebrate the fermented wonders of the world, and to top it off what better excuse is there to knock back a few brews than a football game? Not that we’ve ever needed an excuse…
Football and beer. Whether in a bar or in your own living room, watching 22 giant guys guys rumble over the fate of a bladder of air wrapped in a pigskin* just doesn’t feel right without a beer in hand. Of course the pinnacle of this combination ironically hardly involves football at all. It takes place in the parking lot outside of the stadium. That’s right, I’m talking about the tailgate. Brats, burgers, nachos, and most importantly, giant coolers filled to the brim with ice-cold beers. Of course, only the most insane hophead would advocate bringing a cooler full of imperial IPAs to a football game. That’s just the wrong beer for the wrong situation. And so, football fans, I give you yet another of Beerford’s Conundra: What is the best beer to bring to a tailgate party?
*Editor’s Note: It’s leather, Beerford…they haven’t used pig bladders in centuries.**
**Author’s Note: Indeed, but who ever says, “tossin’ around the ol’ bullskin”?***
***Editor’s Note: No one, but I’ve certainly heard you talk about “tossin’ around the ol’ foreskin” every now and then.
As usual, any American beer is fair game. I’d probably even accept Canadian beers for this one (they do have the CFL, after all), but no promises that you won’t be mocked, taunted, and generally driven from the field in shame like the Nebraska Cornhuskers mortifying 70-10 rout by Texas Tech in 2004.
BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS
On the surface, this is actually quite a challenging Conundrum. Tailgates are usually not the realm of high-quality, high-gravity fare so already you’re pitching outside the wheelhouse of most Aleheads. The beers of choice at a tailgate are generally the usual suspects…your Buds, Millers, Coors, maybe some Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada if you’re lucky. Quality is far less important than quantity before a game since the goal is to get good and drunk on the stuff from home so you don’t have to drop 8 bucks on a beer in the stadium (assuming you even have tickets and aren’t just there for the parking lot party). There’s also the huuuuuuuuge variety of tailgating atmospheres to consider. As I write this, the Tide are gearing up to play the Nittany Lions just down the road from me in Tuscaloosa. It’s mid-September in ‘Bama and the heat index is about 95 degrees. Contrast that with the tailgates I grew up attending…in the freezing cold, snow-covered parking lots of Foxboro Stadium as we awaited another blowout loss by the Patriots (these were the days before Brady and Belichick, when wins were hard to come by). Beerford is asking us to come up with a beer appropriate for all occasions…steaming hot SEC games, ass-cold AFC East games…and everything in between. You want a beer that’s as tasty in Gainesville as it is in Green Bay? We’ve got our work cut out for us.
So let’s get down to brass tacks. We need a beer with a reasonable ABV…anything higher than 7% and you’re asking for trouble. The goal is to be able to pound a sixer and still be able to remember at least a few plays from the game. That eliminates any real high-gravity option. You also want something you can drink all day without tiring of the flavor, so a basic, easy-drinkin’ session beer is in order. But it can’t be bland, watery or boring since we still want to enjoy our tailgate brew. Plus, it has to pair well with the standard assortment of parking lot fare…burgers, brats, chips, dips, etc.
I racked my brain on this one (a fairly painful procedure) before realizing that the answer was so obvious…so readily apparent…that even the most contrarian of Aleheads would have to begrudgingly accept my choice: Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale. It’s perfect. At 6.5% it’s strong enough to get you nice and toasted before the game, but not so over-the-top that you’ll pass out before kick-off. It’s got a bold hop profile to refresh you in hot weather and a wonderful, sweet malt bill to stick to your ribs in a frigid parking lot. It pairs well with basically any food…but particularly well with grilled meats. It’s got a cool red, white, and blue label which is ideal for tailgating (the most American of traditions). And most importantly…it comes in a can. Let’s face it, you’re not pouring beer into a tulip glass or snifter at a tailgate. You need something you can pound, crush, and toss in the trashbag for easy disposal (or recycling bin if you’re socially aware). I can promise you that if I was at a tailgate and opened up the cooler to see 100 frosty cans of Dale’s…I’d be a happy man. Beat that, Aleheads.
BARON SUDSY VON BRUE
In his halcyon undergraduate days, your Baron did not attend what could rightly be considered a football school. The Middlebury Panthers were, back then, known and praised for many spectacular feats on snow and ice, but victories on the pigskin pitch went largely unnoticed by the greater college community. Far from the pomp and circumstance of Division I spectacle, our halftime shows emphasized the choreography of northern pines swaying in the breeze against an azure backdrop of Vermont sky. In place of a marching band, fans enjoyed the crunchy goodness of a an impromptu hacky sack circle or a few choice layout grabs by the Ultimate team. Future Baltimore Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka was nary a twinkle in our eyes. No matter. Halftime was, after all, the perfect time to escape for a growler of Otter Creek Copper Ale in the parking lot. Crisp, earthy, and brewed just down the road from Youngman Field, this outstanding brew is neither overly rich or, at 5.4% ABV, overly boozy: A perfect session beer for an autumn afternoon amidst the barbies packed with free range sizzle.
It was, however, with great enthusiasm that your humble correspondent also came to know and love the glories of Big Ten football as a juris doctor candidate at Northwestern. Say what you might about the Wildcats’ record, but kindly smile when you say it. We may not have won a bowl game since the ‘48 Rose Bowl, but we’ve been bowl eligible for six of the past seven seasons, have graduated a number of unbelievable players in recent years, and, under Pat Fitzgerald’s outstanding leadership, advanced to two of the most exciting overtime thrillers in recent memory – The 2008 Alamo Bowl and 2010 Outback Bowl. The new fireworks are pretty cool too. At Ryan Field I’d want nothing in my hand other than a frosty bottle of Goose Island Honker’s Ale. At 4.2% ABV, this chewy, citrusy standard-bearer for Chicago’s favorite craft brewery is the perfect companion to a few piping hot brats and, God willing, a solid spanking of the Fighting Illini on November 20. It’s still early in the season, but QB Dan Persa looks very effective with two Ws under his belt. I’ll be jingling my keys with the best of ‘em and praying for the purple clock in any event.
Ummm… Dale’s? Yeah, that sounds pretty good.
DR. RIPPED VAN DRINKALE III
Dale’s Pale Ale really does knock it out of the park. For the rest of this exercise I’ll simply be listing what I’d have if the case of Dale’s fell off the back of the truck on the way from Colorado, because honestly, that would be my perfect choice for any tailgate and find no argument against that logic. So, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get going with my second choice.
Tailgates for me mean getting good and toasty in six beers or less. My reason? I hate porta-johns. I hate standing in line, I hate the useless conversation with drunk tailgaters, I hate the inevitable 300 lb mook that stumbles out of the door just before it’s my turn (With a huge smile for a job well done in there). If I can limit myself to six beers during my 2 hours of tailgating, I know I can make it into the stadium to evacuate my 72 ounces of beverage in the appropriate shoulder-to-shoulder trough. With that in mind, I need something between roughly 6% and 9% ABV that will lift my spirits, but keep me in the right physical state so that I don’t piss all over myself.
For my money, a sixer of Victory Hop Devil sets a fiery base that will make it easier to endure crowds and overpriced beers for the next 3 hours. At 6.7% ABV, you’ve got an IPA that’s powerful and flavorful yet subdued enough that you could drink a few out of the bottle if need be (I prefer a red plastic solo cup for my tailgates, but that’s just me). In scorching weather you’ll appreciate the creamy, citrus, and tropical aspects. In the bitter cold, it’s got just enough heat to power through. The Hop Devil isn’t a light beer by any stretch, but it’s light enough that I won’t feel like death after I’ve put down four brats and a pound of steaktips before noon. If only it came in cans…
LORD MASHTUN COPPERPOT
Look. I love Dale’s. But I just don’t associate it with football. Granted, I would drink that beer any day of the week, but I’ve never tailgated anywhere but the northeast. And the football season in the northeast requires something a bit heavier than Dale’s, I’m afraid. Although the cans will certainly stay cold, the thought of such a hoppy brew just doesn’t sit well with my palate, my long johns, or my four layers of socks.
The Alehead braintrust has smartly noted that you probably don’t want something too heavy before the game, nor too alcoholic, nor too pretentious, nor too predictable (Bawstin Lawgah, anyone?). That’s why I’m going with a dark horse: Long Trail’s Hibernator. Because let’s face it: tailgating in the freezing cold is about as close as it gets to hibernating. It’s a scotch ale, built by Vermonters, registers at 5.6% ABV, and has mild notes of caramel, raisins, and spice. It’s not going to overwhelm you with taste, but instead makes a fabulous accompaniment to your brats, burgers, and quail.
Well well, it looks like we have something approaching a consensus from the Aleheads this time around. It would appear that Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale is the runaway favorite for tailgate celebrations this year, though strong nods of course also go to Otter Creek, Goose Island, Victory, and Long Trail for their excellent offerings.
As a footnote, since I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling the Oskar Blues tailgate beer of champions, I’m going to suggest to my fellow Oregonians (Go Ducks) that they check out Caldera Pale Ale. Brewed in Ashland, Oregon it also comes in a can, puts up 5.5% ABV with a nice, though not overwhelming, hop profile and a very drinkable 55 IBUs. A perfect beer for those hardy beer-loving tailgaters who are going to kill a sixer and then some before the game, as well as those with a more timid palate who may only have a beer or two and don’t want to be punched in the back of the throat by a fistful of hops. I grant you, a can doesn’t make as effective a weapon as a bottle would in those occasional parking lot rumbles, but here’s hoping that you, dear readers, don’t have occasion to worry about the lack of a handy bludgeon this season.