Reasonable people can disagree about whether the sport that the rest of the world calls football is a more civilized pursuit than the American gladiatorial sport that plays out on the nation's gridirons each fall and winter. We'll take a well-executed screen pass over a bending corner kick any day, but to each his own. On one point, though, we'll brook no argument. There is no greater pre-sport fan ritual than the American tailgate party. Grilled food and cold beer, enjoyed outdoors with good friends, what's not to like? Well, maybe one thing: the fizzy yellow swill that we see far too many football fans guzzling down during their pregame.
What makes a great craft beer for a tailgate party? While there's no one-size-fits-all formula, you need to keep a few things in mind. First, go for big flavors, but not big alcohol. Beer tends to go down quickly at a tailgate party, so account for it ahead of time and keep the ABV levels at least somewhat reasonable. At the same time, grilled meats and spicy sauces are perennial tailgate favorites, so look for big, roasty malt backbones to match the meat and hop flavors to cut through the heat. Also, remember where you are. Tailgates take place in parking lots. Give extra consideration to beers that are available in cans, which pack more efficiently in a cooler and clean up more tidily. Likewise, if a particular beer is best showcased with elaborate glassware, then you're probably better off leaving it for the victory party when you get home.
With these guidelines in mind, we picked five classic beer styles and a great example from each style.
Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale (Amber Ale)
Bear Republic's Red Rocket Ale gives you a two-for-one punch when it comes to tailgate beers. You have a caramel-malt backbone to match the caramelized flavors of a burger, and there's enough hop bite to cut through spice. The beer falls under the Amber Ale style, and it's a difficult one to get just right: If the brewer uses too much caramel malt, the beer ends up being cloyingly sweet, and if it uses too many hops, it takes the spotlight away from the style's malt profile.
Bear Republic definitely tilts the scale to the hoppier side, but when it's this good, who could complain? If you can't find a Bear Republic Red Rocket in your local stores, then look for the Rogue brand, which manages a similar feat with St. Rogue Red Ale.