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.
Deschutes Black Butte (Porter)
As the football teams start positioning themselves for a playoff run, the mercury drops ever faster, and we reach for ever darker and sturdier beers to warm us up at our tailgate parties. Enter the Deschutes Black Butte Porter. While it has languished for years as the Stout's misunderstood cousin, the robust Porter is ready for its moment in the spotlight. In truth, the line between the two styles is fuzzy, but porters generally lack the coffee notes found in stouts. What you do get in a porter is a strong and malty beer with a full body and a roasty character.
Other great choices include Anchor Porter, which was the first porter brewed in America after Prohibition. Firestone Walker Walker's Reserve is also a fantastic choice. The charred-malt flavors in all these beers will keep you warm on the coldest days and stand up to the biggest flavors that you can think of throwing on the grill.