by Jim Laughren
There’s a school of thought that says events like the Super Bowl, gatherings of friends for food and drink and an afternoon of camaraderie, demand to be fueled by a good, solid session beer. We’re talking hours here, from the pre-game show (and accompanying barbeque, if you’re lucky) to the game itself (and all the eats and drinks laid out for nibbling through wolfing and back again) to the halftime show, the second half, and the post-game wind down. As if to support this point of view (and not merely rake in the obvious profits) every grocery store, supermarket, convenience and liquor store in the country will feature floor displays and end caps of one light lager after another. Even the sports bars will steer you in this direction: most will offer game day specials of America’s big name brews, whether by the bottle or by the bucket.
But not everyone goes to the same school. And I, for one, urge my fellow sports fans/beer drinkers to opt for a more adventurous play.
We all know the extreme and experimental brews out there can be a gustatory delight, for maybe half a glass. Then, let’s face it, the monster dose of hops or chilies or roasted barley or coffee or cocoa nibs or whatever wacked-out spices the brewmeister has thrown in to make his or her baby a triple imperial over-the-top ABV super brew begins to wear down the old taste buds. Palate fatigue, kids, it’s a fact of life.
These sometimes startling beers push the boundaries, a very fine thing to do. We need innovation, experimentation and a no-holds-barred approach to light the way. That said, there’s a reason these crafty creations are sold in single bottles and not six packs: it’s tough to drink more than one. Hence the call for quaffable session beers to get us through the daylong event known as Super Bowl.
But what a missed opportunity. The whole point, said one fan of extreme beer, is that a smaller portion suffices. A few good draughts of T3 (triple hot, triple heavy, triple ABV) Hops Like A Rabbit On Crack (IBU 350) and you’ve likely had your fill. Amazing stuff, makes you think about what beer can be. Now, let’s sample something else, shall we?
It’s so right, so the-way-it-oughta-be when I can take half a dozen swallows of something big and crazy and then move on to a new brew and see what the dude down the road is doing, without wasting half the beer I started with. And it’s usually only at a beer fest where a true aficiando can explore so many offerings.
So why waste all those fellow suds lovers one gets to drink with at Super Bowl? Sure, we’ll have some sessionable juice in the house, but the beauty of a group is that we can split those bottles and share a whole menu of brewus extremis and not get burned out. I’d much rather have a good taste of five or ten best efforts that I’ve always wanted to try than a mug full of something that becomes a chore halfway through.
Don’t waste your tasters. Super Bowl is the perfect time and place to invite that group of friends who savor their brew like you do.
Whether you’re the host or a guest, put together a Power Pack for the big game. Depending on the size of the crew, you might assemble a stunning six-pack or, for more folks in the group, a case, or two of the most interesting, far-out beers you can lay hands on.
And go local, dudes. There’s so many great breweries out there with tiny, as in “very small,” production that need your support. Look in your own backyard to start. I’ll bet you can find some Imperial IPAs, a bevy of barrel-aged options, some serious stouts, monster malts and heavy-duty hop monsters to bring along, maybe with some big ABV options among them. Open and pour and enjoy. It’s gonna be a long afternoon. Have a helping of one or two of the magnificent ones, then break it up with a nice lager. The session beers have their place, and the good ones are very good. But why let these lighter-weight popularity contest winners dictate the beverage list for the day?
While you’re at it, pick up a bottle or two of some down and dirty grape juice. Someone—a hubby, a honey, a tag-along or that very hot you-know-who next door—is gonna be a wine drinker and will greatly appreciate your consideration. Remember, hospitality is about making everyone comfortable and glad to be there, not just your inner circle.
You might try a big, red zinfandel from Cali or a meaty, peppery syrah from up Walla Walla way. And nothing beats a northern Italian white blend of four or five varieties, great complexity and excellent with food.
So whatever the specifics, the school of thought that’s in session this year (get it?) is more, bigger, blow me away, and hey, our guests over there need a refill on their wine. Go team!
Broncos Fans Might Want To Round Up:
The Beast – Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, CO
As the brewer says, “The Beast is a seducer – complicated, powerful, dark, and created to last the ages.” Dark burgundy, a massive 15% ABV ale bursting with honey, nutmeg, orange, and run-soaked plums and raisins. Dude!
Hibernal Vinifera Stout – Ska Brewing, Durango, CO
??? That’s right... vinifera. This crazy oak-aged beauty is chock full of malbec grapes, the kind they grow in Argentina, to go with all those coffee, chocolately stout-like elements for a double-on 7.5% ABV mountain high.
Fade To Black – Left Hand Brewing, Longmont, CO
Where do these things come from? 7.8% ABV and they call it a black rye ale, though it’s really a pourable fruitcake soaked in a solution of mezcal, molasses and crushed black pepper. Hello!
Rocky Mtn. Oyster Stout – Wynkoop Brewing, Denver, CO
Whoa, cowboy. You gotta be kidding me. Seven specialty malts, roasted barley, Styrian Goldings hops and every batch butched up with 25 pounds of sliced Rocky Mountain oysters, as in bulls’ testicles? That’s just nuts!
While Seahawks fans should cast a line for:
Old Birdbrain – Black Raven Brewing, Redmond, WA
Wow! A monster mouthful of caramel, toffee, vanilla, and spices
(from its extended stay in rye whiskey barrels). A viscous 11.5% ABV world class barleywine. Find and drink.
The Sister Imperial IPA – Fremont Brewing, Seattle, WA
They’ve got a DIPA, The Brother, which apparently wasn’t hopped enough so they threw in tons more hops and now claim this 8.5% ABV beauty clocks in at a million IBUs. Can these people be trusted? Tap and growler only, kids.
Fat Woody – Silver City Brewery, Bremerton, WA
Hey, I don’t name ‘em, I just write about ‘em. And this oak-aged Wee Heavy is worth the ink. Coconut, raisins, butterscotch, big malty sweetness with a touch of peat, just because. 9.7% ABV
Fall Line Russian Imperial Stout – Two Beers Brewing, Seattle, WA
Here’s a heavy duty, Pacific Northwest 12% ABV cherry, chocolate, vanilla, coffee palate-buster, aged in brandy barrels for six months, just in case you needed more complexity. Ha!
May the best team win, and the best beer be enjoyed by many.
Jim Laughren, CWE, wine and beer advocate and educator, is both a fun guy to drink with and the author of A Beer Drinker’s Guide To Knowing And Enjoying Fine Wine, which was recently reviewed in Taste California Travel's Book Section.