If you’ll recall in the prologue of the “Craft Beer Initiative” I told you about my personal resolution to exclusively, or just about, drink craft beer. For the 2nd installment of this series I decided to compile with what I feel is a fairly comprehensive listing of the pros and cons to making the switch to craft beer at your tailgates. After that you’ll see some recommendations you can start with if you’ve chosen to give craft beer tailgating a try. So without further ado:
Taste – While this is debatable for some, I feel there is absolutely no comparison when you look at the taste of craft beer vs. macro-brewed beer. Sure there are some craft brews that miss the mark on the taste element, but there are many many more that far surpass what comes out from the big boys. To see the passion that craft brewers put into their beer makes me appreciate it even more.
Diversity – This is pretty self explanatory. While there are a lot of overlaps in the styles of craft brews, the flavor, attributes, and qualities within each vary greatly. My own experiences have shown me that when you take the labels out of the equation on macro-brewed American light lager, only the most sensitive palates could pick out specific brands. The diversity of craft beer is one of my favorite things about the genre. I can pair certain brews with specific foods, tailor what I drink to the season, and keep it “fresh” so I don’t get in a rut.
ABV – I almost feel like I shouldn’t include this here as it could easily count as a con, but most craft brews contain a higher alcohol content than the usual light lagers. I think we’ve seen the problems that can arise when folks get a little too much in them, but when done responsibly it can make for a fun time. A higher ABV may be one of the most important things to consider if you’re going to make the switch even part time. A percentage point or 2 doesn’t sound like much, but I guarantee you it will feel like a world of difference when you’ve got a couple in you. (Always drink responsibly, if you’re going to overdo it please make sure you have a sober designated driver, and for pete sake please don’t get rowdy.)
Cost – These days the price on a product often decides what gets consumed and what doesn’t. The saying goes that “you get what you pay for” and I think that to be true in most situations. The cost of craft beer is certainly higher which is why I’ve placed it here, but it is usually worth the extra in most cases. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll typically get more bang for your buck in the ABV department so the cost difference may not be that much in the end.
Availability – This one has a couple of parts to it. First of all, not every store is going to carry a wide selection of craft brew, if they even sell it at all. When going on an impromptu beer run that can be a problem. The other is a matter of distribution. One of the things that I love about living in NC is that I’m really close to a lot of great breweries, and more are on the way. Unfortunately what I have ready access to here, especially the smaller breweries, a guy like Dave in California may not be able to get it at all and vice versa. The good news is that distribution is getting better every day so hopefully those gaps will shrink more and more over time.
Packaging – This one could be lumped together with availability, but if you tailgate at a place that prohibits glass you may be out of luck. While there are plenty of canned craft brews (we’ll discuss them later in the series), with more showing up everyday, right now it’s only a small number of the overall.
The following are things that I thought of while I was working on the above. While I think they’re valid points, I don’t feel they warrant a definitive pro or con label. Instead we’ll call them marginal pros and cons.
Marginal Pros – For starters you’re probably helping small business by buying craft beer. Most micro and nano breweries have very few employees and concentrate their efforts on making outstanding products rather than dump millions into trying to sell it to you. Craft beer could also be a conversation starter at your next tailgate. Since a lot of folks probably aren’t familiar with it you can certainly talk it up. Heck you may even convert one or 2 of them.
Marginal Cons – More alcohol means more calories, and they’re the type of calories that don’t have any real nutritional value. However I am guessing based on some of the crazy menus I’ve seen for tailgates that calorie counting is more of an afterthought than anything. Lastly craft beer can be intimidating. It’s the whole reason I’m writing about it. My approach is to think of it as the ole “you’ll never know until you try it.” For beginners out there see if you can find a place that sells single bottles so you don’t end up wasting a six pack. You could also try and work something out with a buddy so you can try something new without taking it in the you know where.
OK, I’m ready…
So you’re ready to at least give it a shot? Awesome! The best advice I can offer is to try and find some sort of outlet where you can try different brews or, as I mentioned above, find somewhere that you can buy a single bottle. Microbreweries are awesome places to try different styles of brews because if you can get in on a tour of the facility you’ll usually finish with some sort of tasting. That’s probably the best way to get your feet wet, but that’s purely a metaphor and in no way should you soak your feet in good beer.
Given that it’s summer I will recommend that a good place for you to start is with a wheat based beer. Wheat beers may also be disguised as “wit,” “weiss,” or “weizens.” While each of these has it’s own characteristics I think the macro-brew drinker will probably find them to be refreshing. If you think you’d like to go this route you can look for Blue Moon, Shock Top, or Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat. They’re all made by the big macro-brewers but they should be affordable and accessible enough to warrant a taste. Look for some notes of citrus fruit and spices in the flavor. If you’re into those you’ll find that a lot of breweries use wheat based beers for their summer seasonal’s.
Another really good place for the new craft beer drinker is with the various lager styles. Pilsners should feel right at home for those of you who drink the “light/lite” beers. Another great beer to consider is Samuel Adams Boston Lager. If you can learn to like that you’ll be well on your way to drinking lots of beers. It has a real hop profile and is a great stepping stone that should be easy to find. As a matter of fact I may go out and grab a sixer this coming weekend. I can promise you that my endorsement is not based on anything other than my on experience. It really is a great beer.
In the next installment I’ll talk about how to get the most out of your craft beer in the parking lot from a glassware perspective, and I’ll also compare what happens to the same beer in a can and in a bottle. As always if you want to chime in you can do so in the comments below. If you have input, insight, or indigestion based on my article you can also email me at brandon (at) tailgatingideas dot com.