Your Guide to Game-Day Beer Pairings
Whether you’re hosting a tailgate party or a homegate party for the big football game this fall, make it worthy of the highlight reel by pairing beers with your game-day fare. At the very least, you’ll keep guests (even those who put money on the losing team) in festive spirits while securing your place in the Host or Hostess Hall of Fame.
Like any game-day strategy, this calls for a playbook. Enter Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s legendary head brewmaster and winner of the 2014 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. He’s also the author of “The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food” (you might just call him the Joe Montana of the beer world).
Here, Oliver shares his recommendations for beer pairings that are sure to drive your football feast into the end zone.
Hot Wings: Go Hoppy
Is there a better way to ease third-down anxiety than by gnawing the chewy end bits of a delicately fried wing? And frankly, nothing quells the fire of their smoky-hot spices better than a cold beer. But which style of beer has the potential to make this experience even better? According to Oliver, pale ales and IPAs should do the trick. “A firm hop bitterness cuts through fat and keeps fried food from tasting too heavy,” he explains. “Plus, hoppy beers are great with chilies.”
Chili: Think Caramel
When cool fall temps coax team-colored scarves and beanies from the closet, a simmering pot of chili — served with a blitz of toppings — makes for excellent game-day fare. Oliver notes that because chili (well, good chili, that is) has complex spicing and a real intensity of flavor, caramelization is important. “An amber lager or a brown ale will pick up on the browning of the meat and will go nicely with beans,” he says.
Brats: Anything Goes
Sizzled to snappy perfection on the grill, brats are a no-brainer when it comes to game day. It’s easy to see why they’re popular for tailgating: nestled into a soft, golden bun, they’re easy to manage while mingling — as long as you don’t get too crazy with the sauerkraut. Plus, with only one hand tied up, you’re free to grab a beer, which Oliver says can be just about any one of your choosing. “Pretty much everything works with brats,” he says, “especially German- or Belgian-style wheat beers.”
Barbecue: Pour a Brown
There’s something about barbecue that builds anticipation for the day and game ahead. You savor its smokiness long before you taste it, sometimes for hours. When the meat hits the table, your guests may find it hard to remember the score. Pair it with a beer that plays up its trademark roasty, smoky flavors, and watch the game turn into background noise. Oliver’s choice: “You can easily do amber lagers,” he says, “but brown ales are even better.”
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Dips: Hop It Up
Guacamole, seven-layer dip, salsas, nacho cheese … these are the all-stars of the dip world, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t start your game-day soiree. For amping up flavors in dips with plenty of cheese and/or a bit of pepper-borne spice, Oliver recommends an IPA. “You need the cutting power of hops, and besides, nothing tastes better with cilantro and chilies than those big American hop flavors,” he explains.
Pizza: The Tie That Binds
Ordering up — or preparing — a selection of pizza pies lets you appeal to all kinds of palates. It’s a safe bet, and you can make it spectacular with the right beer pairing. Oliver suggests an amber lager or a pale ale. “Serving a beer that has a touch of caramel flavor will tie the cheese, sauce and toppings all together,” he says.
A Final Beer-Pairing Pep Talk
Finally, Oliver offers this sage advice for selecting game-day beers: “Think about drinkability,” he says. “You want a beer that will still be fun to drink after the first pint and into the afternoon.” So, in other words, consider steering clear of beer styles that typically boast a higher alcohol content, such as double IPAs and Belgian tripels, even if they are exceptionally delicious. You wouldn’t want your guests to miss any beer-pairing plays, after all.