We’ve already established that the Kentucky Derby is America’s premier sports-drinking day, as it involves several hours of beer and bourbon interrupted by two measly minutes of yelling at horses on TV. (I always like the gray ones; did a gray one win this year? Ah, doesn’t matter, come to think of it, because I had pomegranate syrup in my Maker’s that day, so the horses were really all just fighting for second place to begin with.)
But that’s just in the sports-holiday category. When you open the competition up to include all of the days on which we honor our various gods, trees, wars, turkeys, statesmen, flags, horses, gamesmen, French prisons, planets, and parents, none can touch Independence Day for sheer boozejoy. The reasons are several—the weather, the relative inclusiveness, the lack of gifting obligation, the watching shit explode in the sky, and so forth—but first and foremost is the holiday’s beercentricity. The Derby’s for bourbon and Bastille Day’s for cognac and New Year’s Eve is for pretending to enjoy grocery store Prosecco and your birthday’s for a lonely mini of Fireball in the office bathroom because it somehow fell on a Tuesday for the 13th consecutive year. But beer was, is, and forever shall be the only reasonable thing to drink in bulk on the 4th of July. Sure, you can have a glass of wine here and there, a shot of Old Grand-dad to get the day rolling if you require, but I must insist that you focus mostly on beer. And I recommend your day’s rotation include at least a few of the following:
I was hesitant to include this one, because it seems a bit too obvious, and get 100 percent out of my face with your stupid hashtag beer. However, among the prevailing counterarguments: Surly sent me a couple sample cans, and the beer is fantastic. They call it a “pre-prohibition American lager” that uses corn as a key flavoring component rather than a cheap barley substitute. And you can indeed taste the corn, along with clean, basic, bready malt and an herbal hop kick. It’s a bit sturdy for a pale lager, at 6-percent ABV, but that’s not a problem on a holiday, provided you let someone else oversee the hot dogs and the explosives.
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I mean it says it right on the label: The man was a brewer and a patriot. The beer is also much better than its current reputation among craft beer geeks would lead you to believe. It’s got plenty of body for a 4.9-percent amber lager, along with a faintly toasty bread character underscoring the caramel flavor and a grassy, earthy edge from the German noble hops. This is a beer that’s complex enough to keep you interested all day, but not to the extent that it will distract you from your one-person cholesterol-ingestion contest.
There’s a reason this 4.7-percent ABV session IPA is the best-selling beer among one of the fastest-growing segments of the beer market: They sell it in 15 packs. But there is also another reason: It’s fantastic! This is no half-assed, stripped-down IPA. It’s a high-quality beer built from the ground-up to showcase both malt and hops, with enough biscuit and honey flavor to balance the persistent citrus and pine.
Wormtown Brewing of Worcester, Massachsuetts, is best-known for their top-notch Be Hoppy IPA, which I adore, but I might even prefer this softer, sweeter American pale ale named in honor of local boy made good, Robert Goddard, the inventor of the liquid-fueled rocket. It’s a showcase for modern American hops, with the full range of tropical and citrus aromas and flavors. Lotta mango and grapefruit in particular, says me.
Austin’s renowned weirdness notwithstanding, being the capital of Texas is a pretty damn American thing for a city to be, at least truck-commerical-wise, and the brewery’s named after the same noun as the holiday, so I knew I had to get an Independece beer on this list. Only slight problem is that I’ve never tried any, but luckily my pal James Sutton works down the block at Austin Eastciders, and he says Power & Light is your 4th of July beer because: “It’s a super-crushable Cascade pale ale, like a modernized Sierra Nevada, light in body, with power in the citrus and pine. I want this beer served at my funeral. Is that a thing? It should be.” Now, I know what you’re thinking: Damn, James, funerals sure are a thing, and yours is coming right up, because Will hates it when people refer to anything other than hairy bugs and human spirits as “crushable.” And you’re not wrong, but I say we let that indiscretion slide on account of the holiday.
Baxter Bootleg Fireworks
Hey, here’s a fun confession! This is another beer I’ve never actually had. But I kinda have: This year’s beer is the third edition of the summer seasonal double IPA, and I’ve had the other two and loved them both. I don’t have tasting notes for you (I know, I know, it’s a shame: Left on the edge of your seat wondering if it’s more “grapefruit, citrus, and pine” or “orange, mango, and resin”), but I can promise you it’s a very good rendition of a fruity, super-hoppy, new-school 9-percent DIPA from an underrated Maine brewery.
The revitalized Narragansett is near the head of the class of old-man-style American pale lagers, and for the price I recommend it in almost any application. It’s especially appropriate on the 4th of July, because ‘Gansett has taken to reissuing the throwback 1975 cans every summer in homage to the beer Quint drank all throughout Jaws, the quintessential Independence Day movie (sorry, Independence Day movie, you’re good, but you’re a little light on exploding sharks).
This crisp, refreshing ale uses a combination of traditional German (Tettnang) and fancy American (Simcoe and Citra) hops to create an easy-drinking summer beer that has enough bright citrus spark to appeal to the hop-humpers while retaining the food-friendliness and broad approachability you want in a Fourth of July beer. Plus there’s a baseball on the label.
Despite the strange things its people do to both pizza and hot dogs, Chicago is still technically part of America, and a mighty damn fine part at that, so let’s honor its contributions to beer and I guess independence and whatnot by throwing some Revolution Anti-Hero IPA in the cooler. This malt-respecting 6.5-percenter opens with a lot of pine and a touch of flowers, and then light citrus and a bit of peach show up to round things out. It’s good, drink it.
The craft drinking community has finally matured to the point where it’s no longer anathema to drink a porter in the summer or a kölsch in the winter. Hurray for us! Let’s celebrate our freedom from seasonal drinking straighjackets and the British with a couple cans of this fantastic 5.5-percent porter from America’s hometown of Plymouth, Massachusetts. It tastes like coffee, bitter chocolate, caramel, burnt toast, nuts, and freedom.