Anyone with a sizable family and a known penchant for craft beer has faced the unenviable task of buying beers to suit everyone’s palate. To some, Cantillon Lou Pepe – a masterful gueuze made by Brasserie Cantillon in Brussels – might taste like sour cherries and barnyard funk. To others, it’ll taste like spoiled wine and manure. The problem, of course, stems from the subjectivity of taste.
With over 5,000 breweries in the country, there’s options for every conceivable price, flavor, and event—tailgating included. The trick is to get a variety of low alcohol beers, because the tailgate is a marathon, not a sprint. By making choices across the style spectrum, you’re guaranteed to make everyone happy. Here’s how to do it without breaking the bank.
Ask your uncle what he drinks and he’ll say, “whiskey on the rocks.” But when no one’s looking, he’ll grab the something lighter. There’s no shame in enjoying a light drink, especially in the warmer months, and the 6% alcohol by volume Spiked Seltzer provides a refreshing alternative to heavier styles.
If alcoholic seltzer is a new concept, it’s because Spiked Seltzer didn’t hit the national market until this year, after nearly fifteen years in development. It’s the brainchild of Nick Shield’s, a fith-generation brewer who founded Boston’s Haffenreffer Brewery in 1870, and it was purchased last September by AB InBev, so it should be available in your local grocery store cooler. Currently, the company produces four flavors: Indian River Grapefruit, West Indies Lime, Cape Cod Cranberry, and Valencia Orange. In our opinion, Grapefruit is the one to pick.
A thousand years ago in Goslar, Germany, brewers began making a style of beer called Gose (“gose-uh”). It was a refreshing, slightly sour style made from 50% malted wheat and 50% malted barley, as well as the saline waters of the Abzucht and Gose Rivers, which intersect in Goslar. Over the years, this style became lost to mainstream brewing, but in 2011, Sixpoint propelled it into the modern brewing zeitgeist with Jammer, a 4% ABV draft-only beer.
Today, Sixpoint periodically releases Jammer in their signature skinny cans, particularly around summer time. While the original Gose got its salinity from river water, Sixpoint uses Jacobsen Hand-Harvested Sea Salt from the Oregon coast. To spice things up, they also add coriander. The result is an easy-drinking, inoffensive brew that’s great for those who like something a little bit different.
Victory Prima Pils
Beer falls into two families: Ale and Lager. There’s a myriad differences between each, but a good rule of thumb is that Ale is made with top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and fermented at higher temperatures, while Lager is made with bottom-fermenting (Saccharomyces uvarum) and fermented at lower temperatures. Often, Ales are your heavier, fruitier, higher ABV beers, while Lagers tend to be lighter, crisper, and paler. Think about a Brown Ale at an English pub versus a Pilsner and sausage at a biergarten.
One of the most popular style of lager is the Pilsner, named after the Czech city of Pilzn. Typically, it’s a golden beer with a mild flavor, though recent developments have split the style into German Pilsner, Czech Pilsner, and European Pilsner, each with its own subtle variations in color, aroma, and flavor. In the U.S., one of the most accessible pilsners is Victory Prima Pils, a 5.3% ABV German-style Pilsner that balances a German hop bill with delicate Pilsner malts.
Hopback Amber the perfect choice for the person who likes bitter hop flavors but wants his beer to look like beer.”
Founders All Day IPA
Of all the trends that have emerged in brewing in the last few years, one of the most welcomed has been the “session” beer. Unlike the high ABV beers that have recently glutted the market, the session beer is specifically brewed low ABV, the concept being that you can drink a few in one session. The best of these manage to make a drinkable beer without sacrificing flavor.
One of the most ubiquitous session beers is Founders All Day IPA, a 4.7% ABV session IPA made to “keep your taste satisfied while keeping your senses sharp.” Part of Founders’ year-round lineup, it’s a fantastic standby and terrific “entry-level” beer for those looking to experiment with craft, and it’s one of the few craft beers available in a 15-pack.
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace
While sours and IPAs tend to polarize, almost no one argues about the saison. Unanimously lauded, the style is typically low ABV and easy drinking, drawing most its flavor from Belgian yeast.
Brooklyn put a twist on the traditional saison by making a beer that highlighted not yeast, but a single hop varietal called Sorachi Ace. First developed by a Japanese brewery in the 1970s and named for the Sorachi region of Japan, the oddball hop tasted like lemons, and never saw much commercial use. In 2008, a family farm in Oregon started producing the hop, which is where it was found by Brooklyn Brewery. Sorachi Ace is a dry, lemony beer that pairs well with seafood and poultry. It's also one of three beer with a 100 rating from October reviewers.
Tröegs HopBack Amber
Although the fundamentals of brewing haven’t changed since cultures first started experimenting with fermentation, ingenious engineers have spent the last several millennia creating technology that yields new flavors. One such piece of equipment is the hopback – basically a hop infuser. After the boil but before cooling, hot wort gets pumped through a hopback, which brewers fill with whole cone hops. This allows volatile compounds normally lost in the boil to settle into the beer.
Tröeg’s Brewing Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania, owns a 12-foot hopback, which they use to make HopBack Amber, a 6% Amber Ale. Winner of a gold medal for American-style Amber/Red Ale at the 2012 Great American Beer Fest, it combines the maltiness of Crystal, Munich, and Pilsner malts with an infusion of piney hops. It’s the perfect choice for the person who likes bitter hop flavors but wants his beer to look like beer.
Left Hand Milk Stout
Stouts already have a reputation as the dessert of the beer world, but add some unfermented sugars and you get a beer with even more sweetness and body. In Milk Stouts, the unfermented sugars come from lactose, a sugar present in milk that’s responsible for “lactose intolerance.”
One of the country’s more popular expressions of the style is Left Hand’s Milk Stout, a roasty, chocolatey 6% sSout often served on nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide. The nitrogen causes a flurry of micro bubbles, which adds to the beer’s already silky-smooth texture. For someone who likes dark beers even in the summer, Left Hand Milk Stout is a light, tasty choice.