Although Super Bowl LII will be here soon, only a lucky few of us will be fortunate enough to snag a ticket. While the game plays out at U.S. Bank Stadium, most of us will be watching from the comfort of our living rooms — hopefully with a roomful of friends.
Beer will be a part of many watching parties. Make the most of what you drink by offering perfect pairings for classic game-day snacks.
First, let's talk about some core beer styles to have on hand. This party may go on for a while. You want to stock beers that will let guests go the distance. Lower alcohol and less taxing to the palate are the name of the game. It's also good to have a set of beers that go well with a wide range of foods.
Here are my four core style picks.
Golden lager: One of these — American lager, pilsner or Munich helles — will appease your less beer-savvy friends and go well with almost any dish.
American pale ale: This will satisfy the hop heads without the alcohol and tongue-scraping bitterness of an IPA.
Amber beer: A Vienna lager, amber ale or dark American lager will keep the malt lovers content.
German-style black lager: For those who like their beer dark, a schwarzbier has the roasted notes without the richness or heavy burnt flavors of a porter or stout.
With the four basics covered, you can pop a bottle or two of some specialty beers to let your guests try some tasty pairings. Give everyone a glass and offer a range of beers to let folks sample their way through the spread.
Chips and snacks
Barbecue chips give you the sauce without the meat. Molasses, tomato and spices stand all alone without the toast and char. The schwarzbier in your stock will add the missing piece, offering a roasty bitter contrast. Köstritzer Schwarzbier is an excellent option from Germany. For something local, look for Stargrazer from Bauhaus Brew Labs. If you'd rather serve a dark American lager, Schell's Dark is a good way to go.
A Belgian dubbel also works well with barbecue chips. The emphasis here is on sweet and spice, with deep, dark-fruit notes coming through from both chip and brew. La Trappe Dubbel and red-label Chimay Première are solid choices. The alcohol is a bit high, but what the heck. You're just tasting samples.
What an odd flavor the Funyun has. The key for matching it with beer? Hops. Many American hop varieties have an undertone of chive that sparks the connection between American Pale Ale and Funyuns. The chive notes come through clearly with these oddly-onion rings, balanced out with the citrusy side of the hops. It's a magically peculiar melding of flavors. Try Day Tripper from Indeed Brewing Co.
Sauce-drenched Lil' Smokies will make the schwarzbier in your collection shine. The little bit of roast offers a calming counterpoint to the smoky-sweet sauce. The roast also brings out the meatiness of the links.
For a super-special treat with Lil' Smokies pour a German rauchbier. These smoked lagers have a malty base to meld with the sauce and meaty smoke to really make this pairing soar. Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen is one of the few examples found in the Twin Cities. It's also one of the best.
With Buffalo wings you have two options — amplify the heat or tone it down. A malty beer will ease the pain, while hops will set your mouth ablaze.
To go the first route, your amber beer will do the trick. Vienna lager or amber ale both have enough malty sweetness to quench the flames. The lager is more toasted bread crust, while the amber ale will have more caramel. Take your pick according to your taste. They each have just enough bitterness to keep some spicy embers glowing. The amber ale's fruity hops offer a nice counterpoint to the sauce. My go-to Vienna lager is Schell's Firebrick. It's hard to beat Bell's Amber for a good example of that style.
To fan the flames, turn to your American pale ale. Bitterness amplifies capsaicin heat. And like the amber ale above, citrusy American hop varieties give an interesting interplay of fruit, spice and vinegar. As an added bonus, pale ale is a classic pairing with blue cheese, so it works with the traditional dip, as well. Sierra Nevada Pale ale is a classic that is still as good today as it was when it was introduced in 1980. Deschutes Red Chair has a sturdy malt backbone that balances the heat just a bit.
American lager is a neutral pairing to wings that neither heats things up nor cools them down. Its light weight and high carbonation refresh the palate all the same. You can go with one of the biggies — Miller High Life would be my choice — or you can try something local. Grain Belt Premium is a Minnesota classic. 612 Brew in Minneapolis is launching 52 by 612 — a crisp, premium lager brewed with Vikings #52 Kyle Rudolph — especially for the big game.
To class your party up a bit, set out all the fixings for a build-your-own bruschetta bar. Include a range of ingredients like roasted tomatoes, balsamic braised onions, black-olive tapenade, crispy pancetta, cheeses like Parmigiano, chèvre, Gorgonzola and a variety of herbs.
Munich helles is a great beer choice here. Crackery malt makes a great companion to the toast. The delicate balance of sweetness, bitterness and spicy hop flavors works with any topping without getting in the way. Search out Schell's Fort Road Helles. It's my beer of the year and a surefire crowd pleaser, even with guests who think they don't like beer.
Your Vienna lager will also work well. Toasted-bread malt pairs naturally with toasted bread. The light sweetness boosts the more savory toppings and balances those with some acidity. Fair State Vienna Lager is another good locally made example. It has just become available in 16-ounce cans.
For something different, try Summit Belgian-Style Pale Ale. Biscuity malt, peppery hops and fermentation flavor and an abundance of orange-oil fruitiness will have deep conversations in your mouth with toast and toppings.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.