Nothing can help to make up for the mild, boring summer we had like the return of football season. Whether you’re an NFL supporter or die hard college fan, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll spend at least one day this season at a tailgate or game day party. But if anything has changed since your college days, there’s a very good chance you won’t want to bring along crappy light, watery beers and Charles Shaw wines. As lovers of both sport and good booze, I’ve come up with some helpful tips to make sure your tailgate game is coming correct.
Keep It Sessionable
The old “marathon, not a sprint” adage rings true especially on game day. We love Imperial Stouts as much as the next guy, but it’s important to keep the ABVs (alcohol by volume) in a range that won’t have you forgetting the second half. Luckily, craft brewers have gotten wise to the overcrowding in the fridge of 8% IPAs and heavy Belgian-style big boys. Go for an approachable IPA like Founder’s All-Day (which come in convenient 15-pack cans), a low-gravity pale ale like Firestone Walker’s Pale 31, or (for the hop averse) a witbier such as Cigar City’s Florida Cracker or Ommegang Witte.
Picking the right wine involves a different strategy. While the idea of an idle Sunday afternoon tends to come to mind when thinking about football games, the truth is that anyone getting to the game themselves is up against a huge variable set of elements. Are you in New York or New Orleans? Is it kickoff week or playoff berth time? 1pm kick off or Monday Night Football? Unlike college kids, tailgating adults should know how to plan accordingly. If it’s a hot afternoon game, pick up a citrusy Arneis. If you’re looking at a snow bowl, slide in with a full-bodied Syrah. If you’re looking for easy, fun wines, go for the sparklers: Prosecco, Cava, and Lambrusco are huge crowd pleasers and go down easy. There’s never a perfect answer to this question, but that’s what makes finding the solutions so much fun.
(Re)Consider The Can
One of the most painful habits to break in the world of craft beer is the misguided notion that canned beer is somehow inferior to bottled or draft. Yes, it’s true that a lot of terrible mass-produced beers come in cans, but so much has changed: Wildly popular craft breweries like Oskar Blues and Revolution are can-only, and many more are following suit. Keeping your beer options canned means a fresher tasting beer, easier transportation, easier (and more environmentally friendly) clean-up, and ease of opening while you reign supreme at bean bag toss. Coming from someone who has personally shotgunned a can of beer with the same well-respected, critically-acclaimed brewer who made it, I can promise that no one will think less of you for it.
And while beer may be making huge strides in the can arena, wine drinkers can rejoice knowing that wineries are in the nascent stages of the same: A huge revelation in my wine world was the discovery of truly great canned wines. What was once relegated to Paris Hilton’s attempts at making Prosecco has been brought to the mainstream by people who actually know what they’re doing. Offerings like Underwood’s Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir come in super convenient cans (a half a bottle each) which are easier to transport, open, and drink from and won’t have you feeling like you’ve pilfered a bodega’s wine section. Embracing this new leap in wine culture would only be gimmicky if the product didn’t stand up (which it absolutely does), so give it a shot!
Consider Your Food
Bringing along frozen hot dogs to grill is fine. But if you’re looking to make those dry-rubbed ribs, beef chili, or pulled pork really stand out, you should be putting a little thought into the beers and wines that will be going with it. And just because you’re going bigger bodied doesn’t mean you have to limit your choices to cork and cage bottles: hefty beers like Oskar Blues Gubna, Founders Breakfast Stout, and North Coast Brother Thelonius are easy pairings for heartier tailgate eats. Wine drinkers can go for a hefty Syrah, full-bodied Cabernet, or (my personal favorite) a citrusy Provencial rosé for their grill pairings. If you’re looking for a simple standby solution, know that Prosecco has yet to let me down in any food pairing. One lesser-known stupid easy beer pairing for any BBQ is Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, a smoked dark beer from Germany that tastes like liquid bacon.
Embrace The Communal Pour
If your local bottle selection is limited and you’re looking to keep your game up, consider grabbing a growler on your way to the stadium or party. 64 ounces of your favorite, fresh draft beer is the perfect amount to share with a group. Planning ahead with friends this way also means you can get a good mix instead of sticking to one option while pregaming.
For wine drinkers, think inside the box. If you’re late to the realization that boxed wines aren’t all patently plonk, I recommend a test for the next time you’re in the store. Pick up a 3L box of wine in one hand and feel how much it weighs, and then immediately pick up four bottles of wine in the other. Glass is stupid heavy, and anyone looking to provide enough wine for a crowd will appreciate how portable and convenient bottles’ boxed counterparts are. Dispensing from a trailer-mounted spigot is much easier (and less conspicuous) than toting around a bottle, and most brands also make it easy to keep them chilled with icepacks or bagged ice (with a little hacking).
My Quick Pick Beer Favorites:
- Founders All Day IPA 15-pack cans
- Firestone Walker Pale 31
- Stillwater Classique or Brontide cans
- Cigar City Florida Cracker Witbier
- Schlenklera Rauchbier Urbock
- Bell’s Porter
- Lagunitas SUCKS
My Quick Pick Wine Favorites:
- Underwood Pinot Noir and Pino Gris in cans
- Cantina Valpantena Corvina Box Wine
- Diamarine Rose de Provence
- Keuka Springs Riesling
- Col del Sol Prosecco
- La Luna Lambrusco
Zach Mack is a reformed media lackey who was lucky enough to find a way to make a living in the world of beer and wine. He’s the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co., a top-rated craft beer store and bar in the East Village, which he opened in 2012. Before his publican days, he wore many hats as a writer, covering travel, tech, and pop culture.