Can you feel it? That wonderful sense that spring is finally here? If you don’t believe me, breathe in the scents (if you even can — allergy season is brutal this year). What’s that you smell? Cherry blossoms, certainly. Probably some freshly cut grass. And what’s that smoky scent just on the edge? Oh yes: barbecue season is officially upon us.
That also means that the federal holiday of barbecuing, Memorial Day, is right around the corner. Whatever you’ve got planned (might I suggest a pork shoulder, preferably rubbed all over with some spice mix and smoked over indirect heat and periodically basted with beer?), there’s going to be one key ingredient: beer. If you’re throwing a party, you’ll want to have some on hand, and if you’re attending a party, you don’t want to show up empty-handed.
In recognition of Memorial Day parties everywhere, we’re doing something a little different in this edition of The Brewhaha. Rather than providing you with a single beer type and its history, we’re going to be the friend you text when you’re staring at the beer cooler, unsure what to buy. Want to make sure you don’t break the bank, but don’t want to seem cheap? We’ve got you covered. Are you hanging out with a group of the most jaded beer snobs? Read on to find out how to blow their grumpy little minds. Headed to a party thrown by that girl you want to ask out? We’re here to help you find the perfect ale to let her know you have the best taste in beer (columns).
Figuring out the lay of the land:
The first thing to do is figure out what kind of barbecue event you’re going to. That will help you determine the best option for your budget, setting and your group of friends and/or family. I’ve narrowed it down to five types of basic Memorial Day settings — figure out which one is most relevant to you, and you should find something to help make your weekend great! Consider it a “Choose Your Own Adventure, But for Adults Who Enjoy Beverages in a Responsible Manner.”
The four types of Memorial Day situations you may need to navigate:
- It’s a hang out by the grill party.
- It’s a grilled dinner party.
- You’re bringing beer for the after party.
- You’re on your way to the party, and you totally forgot to grab something.
A hang out by the grill party:
You know the drill — you show up, and the party is in the backyard. There’s a cooler where you can deposit your beer to stay cool, and you know to prepare for an afternoon of conversation, beer drinking, incidental sunburns and, inexplicably, watching things cook on the grill.
This is an all-afternoon affair (speaking of: Drink lots of water and wear sunscreen unless you want the day after Memorial Day to be a memorial to how awful you can possibly feel)! So you want something cool, refreshing, easy-drinking and crowd-pleasing. The goal is to bring something you’re happy to drink yourself, and to overhear someone saying, “Wow, who brought this? It’s really good.”
Here are five great options for a party like that — and for the record, get cans if you can; they stay colder a little longer:
- All-Day IPA, Founders (Michigan): One of the first in the “session IPA” that is currently exploding in popularity, it’s also one of the best. It’s a light, crisp and refreshing option that everyone is going to enjoy.
- Mama’s Lil’ Yella Pils, Oskar Blues (Colorado): An American pilsner that manages not to be too hoppy, this easy-drinking option is refreshing and delicious.
- Hell, Surly Brewing (Minnesota): A true Munich-style Helles lager, this beer is dry and crisp in the best way. Plus: It comes in tall-boys.
- Literally any Kölsch (Germany): These beers, all from the city of Cologne in Germany (the term “kölsch” is a protected regional term), are perfect — crisply bitter, refreshing and low enough alcohol you’ll always be happy to have another.
- Wittekerke, De Brabandere (Belgium): A traditional wit beer, it will please both fans of wheat beers and anyone who likes a little summery spice in their beer.
A grilled dinner party:
Some barbecues are actually just excuses to have a giant, fancy dinner outside, which really is just wonderful. If your Memorial Day calls for a party like this, step up to the plate and bring something a little out of the ordinary. Keep in mind, you’ll want to bring beer that can sit on the table and probably pairs well with food. Below are five options that come in wine-sized bottles that will work great to serve several guests — just think of it as if you brought wine that no one expected.
- Cuvée René gueuze, Brouwerij Lindemans: An affordable(!) gueuze that comes in a 750 ml bottle that looks just beautiful, this dry, funky beer is a mixture of spontaneously fermented beers is great to pair with a variety of grilled foods. It might be an acquired taste for some unfamiliar guests, but chances are, once they try it with some grilled meat, they’ll understand the appeal.
- Sarasola Sagardoa Basque Cider (Spain): This dry, acidic cider from Spain isn’t as sweet as some of the French ciders you might be more used to, but Sarasola is as refreshingly tart and crisp as a great apple should be.
- Dogfishhead 75-minute IPA, Dogfish Head (Delaware): For this special 750 ml beer, Dogfish Head blends their 60-minute and 90-minute IPAs, adds a touch of maple syrup and then carbonates it naturally. It’s a smooth, sweet and deliciously hoppy addition to any party.
- Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie, Etienne Dupont (France): Another cider, this one from France, this light and crisp option will pair with food like a good sparkling wine will. Plus, it looks just great on a table.
- Saison Rue, The Bruery (California): You already know that saisons are delicious and pair well with food. What are you waiting for?
After party beer:
At some parties, you know your hosts will have the whole day taken care of, and don’t actually need you to bring any beer. But that doesn’t mean you should show up empty handed! Instead, figure out what kind of beer the host likes the best, make sure you linger after some of the other people have gone home, and then crack one of these open to make the night something special.
- B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout, Hoppin Frog (Ohio): Granted, this one has a dumb name. But it belies a sophisticated, boozy imperial stout that’s perfect as an after dinner drink. It’ll take your conversation — and after-party — well into the night.
- Rodenbach Grand Cru, Brouwerij Rodenbach (Belgium): A classic example of a Flemish Red Ale, this beer is tart, sweet and rich. Notes of funk give way to oaky fruit and a smooth finish. Plus, it’s only around $10 at a lot of stores.
- Westmalle Tripel, Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle (Belgium): Really, you can bring any Trappist Ale and feel great about your choice, but Westmalle happens to be my favorite. It’s candy-sweet and deceptively easy to drink despite its high ABV. It’s a perfect way to end the evening.
- Goudenband, Brouwerij Liefman’s (Belgium): Another sour option, this classic Oud Bruin style ale is a perfect capper to a great party— it’s not overly tart, but instead is perfectly balanced with sweetness to give a long finish that is just great.
- Rueuze, The Bruery (California): It might sound like heresy, but this gueuze-style ale from California holds up to the lofty standards of even the snobbiest gueuze hound. Tart, effervescent and dry, think of this as the real Champagne of Beers.
You’re on your way to the party, and you totally forgot to grab something:
First: Don’t panic. Calmly raise your phone and talk to Siri or whatever Android’s annoying disembodied voice is named, and ask for local convenience stores (unless you live in a state where beer is only at state stores — in that case, ask Siri for a liquor store and hope you can make it before their totally arbitrary and outdated sense of morality interferes with your plans). You’ll have a limited choice, but here are a few that should work.
- Craft lager: Your local craft brewery probably makes a lager. It’s probably OK, mostly! Grab a sixer, and no one will object.
- Yuengling (Pennsylvania): Look, people from Pennsylvania will insist Yuengling is the greatest beer in the world. It’s not. But it’s not bad! It’s malty and refreshing, and it’s cheap. No complaints!
- Mexican beer (and by this I mean Tecate): If you don’t think Tecate is delicious with a little lime juice, I will fight you. That said, you need to drink it before it gets cold.
- Your local crap beer: Most regions of the U.S. have some kind of terrible beer that is nonetheless treasured because they hearken back to some misplaced sense of nostalgia. Whether it’s Narragansett, Old Style, Rainier or some other obscure artifact from the Jazz Age, it’s still better than nothing. Just stay away from Hamm’s.
- Generic Euro lager: Heineken and Stella Artois is literally everywhere, and is decidedly OK!