Homecoming Edition: The Beer Nerd’s guide to tailgate brews

By Jackson Crowder / Staff Writer

If beer is the best thing on earth, then sports are the second best. Thus, it should come as little surprise that beer and sports go together as well as they do. Beer and sports go together like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper and Catelyn and Eddard Stark.

Naturally, things that go together well usually find themselves in the same place. Peanut butter and jelly like to hang out between two pieces of bread, salt and pepper atop a steak, and Catelyn and Eddard in Winterfell. Sports and beer, however, find their meeting place at the most hallowed of all American athletic traditions: the tailgate.

A good tailgate requires three things: meat, beer and an athletic event somewhere within the general vicinity. For those who are of age, a tailgate without a beer in one’s hand is an incomplete experience, a shadow of what it should be. It ceases to be a tailgate at all and just becomes a group of friends, who may or may not have tickets to the game, hanging out and eating hot dogs.

You have to have something to wash down that mystery meat, and water is simply unacceptable. It strikes me as incongruous, then, that so many people consider Natty, Bud Light, Miller and Coors to be the cream of the tailgating crop. Just because beer is meant to accentuate the situation, rather than be the centerpiece, is no reason to disregard it altogether.

Good beer and tailgating can indeed coexist, but it is not as simple as popping a bottle of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA and partying. Elevating the beer selection at your next tailgate requires a delicate touch. 

Readers beware: A beer nerd rant is forthcoming.

The idea of tailgating with a pricey bottle of Ommegang Three Philosophers or Chimay Blue is nice and sounds cool but frankly, it is a waste. Beers of that ilk need to be poured into type-specific glassware and consumed at special temperatures (usually around 54 degrees), two conditions that are hard to meet in a tailgating environment. Such beers are fussy, and tailgating is a decidedly un-fussy thing to do. There’s a reason that various burgers and sausages are standard tailgating fare, and oeufs en gelee is generally reserved for classier environs, right? When choosing a good beer for a tailgate, there is no reason to resort to something made by Anheuser-Busch or Miller-Coors, but some restraint is also worth exercising. Don’t waste your best stuff at a tailgate. That said, don’t skimp, either. Luckily, in the beer world that we live in, there are plenty of good options to go around.

For a good, simple beer that can be drunk straight from the bottle with no appreciable drop in quality, try Full Sail Session Lager. Hailing from Full Sail’s Oregon brewery, this lager appears every bit as yellow and fizzy as Bud Light, but it has a deceptively crisp and balanced flavor that makes it a solid choice for any scenario where more than two or three will be consumed (such as a tailgate). The beer’s hop flavor is present and easily noticeable but not overwhelming, which serves more to deepen the overall taste than to add bitterness, making it a perfect beer to pair with grilled meat. Additionally, there is a certain mysterious natural grape flavor and a touch of sweetness that plays nicely in such a dry brew. At 5.1 percent ABV, Full Sail’s Session Lager is just alcoholic enough to keep any tailgate loose, but not so high as to make the interplay of flaming grills and flying footballs too dangerous. 

Looking for something of a hoppier variety? Try Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale. Known best for its attractive and pretension-free can (an ideal delivery system for a tailgating beer), Dale’s Pale Ale is a mild beer, good for hop heads and novices alike. While I would not recommend it for shotgunning purposes, it’s piney and slightly citrusy hop quality goes well with typical tailgate edibles, but it’s strong enough to hold its own in the face of smoky, often burnt, flavors. Do be careful with its 6.5 percent ABV, though, especially if you plan on actually going to the game that you’re tailgating.

Finally, if you’re strapped for cash like I often am, there is no shame whatsoever in going for the tried-and-true Molson Canadian. The best of the so-called “bad beers,” Molson is a cut above its American counterparts, even though it is largely considered to be the Canadian Budweiser. As far as taste goes, Molson packs a thick, bready malt punch with a hearty sweetness that makes it taste as if a Bud Heavy was scaled up in quality and brewed by someone who has at least a passing interest in making beer.

At the end of the day, these are, of course, just recommendations, and there is no such thing as a beer that doesn’t work for a tailgate. From Natty to Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust, any brew at all can work if you want it to. So enjoy tailgating season. Have fun and go nuts, for the season is short and having a beer while monitoring your fantasy team just isn’t the same.