Are you ready to think beyond Bud?
That's the question that might be worth asking come
Super Bowl Sunday, and if you are, we've got some suggestions for you.
Sure, the mass-market beers still dominate store shelves. (And still play a significant role in game-day advertising. Remember the
Budweiser frogs?) But craft beers and microbrews are where the real interest is. Consider that in 2007, sales of craft beer soared by nearly 18%, according to the
Brewers Association, a trade group. By contrast, beer sales increased by a mere 2% overall.
But what if you're an
, Miller or
drinker who's been hesitant to try craft beers, perhaps fearing you need an advanced degree in "beer-ology," with a full understanding of the difference between top and bottom-fermenting yeasts?
We'll simplify things: Don't worry so much about beer styles or such ingredients as hops, malts and barley. Just think about what tastes great or might be fun to try. With that in mind, we talked to some craft-brew industry insiders and sampled a few beers ourselves -- hey, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it -- and came up with these six picks.
(As with almost all craft beers, availability can vary by region, so brews made in one part of the country may not be easily found in another. But liquor or beer and wine stores with a good selection are your logical place to begin looking for them.)
The New York Beer
The Giants may be the underdogs in the Super Bowl, but New York has a winner in
Southampton Ales & Lagers from Long Island's famed Hamptons region. We especially like their Southampton I.P.A. (India Pale Ale) -- a beer with a degree of bitterness, but with some fruitiness (think apricots and grapefruit), too.
The New England Beer
This is a no-brainer for Patriots fans: Even though it's gotten so big that it's hard to think of it in the craft category,
Samuel Adams, the 24-year-old Boston-based brewer, still rules -- in New England, if not the rest of the country. Brewed by
Boston Beer Co.
, it offers a wide range of beers, from seasonal to "extreme." Our pick right now: the newly available medium-bodied Irish Red Ale, with its distinctive red color and subtle sweetness. Sam Adams' team says it pairs well with grilled kielbasa. Sounds like the makings of a Super Bowl party to us.
The Organic Beer
Laugh all you want, but there is such a thing as organic beer -- that is, beer made with the same basic stuff, but with an all-natural twist. Maine-based
Peak Organic boasts that "the ingredients in our delicious beers are made without toxic and persistent pesticides and chemical fertilizers." But regardless of how eco-minded you are, we can report that the beers -- or at least, the Nut Brown Ale, made with "the rare organic New Zealand Hallartau hop" -- have a nice, earthy flavor.
The Bolder Beer
Ready to take the next step in your beer exploration? That means stouts and porters are usually the brews to try. They're dark beers that don't shy away from the strong, manly side of the equation, with decided chocolate overtones. Ted Sullivan, the beer specialist at
Binny's Beverage Depot, a large Chicago-area chain, tells us he's partial to
Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter (love that name!). It's got the chocolate flavor, but "it's not as bitter" as other porters, Sullivan says. Plus, he notes, "it goes great with barbecue."
The Fun Beer
As you might have already discerned, some of the pleasure in partaking of craft beer is making note of the distinctive names or bottle designs. Not that we don't care about what's inside the bottle, but if the packaging sets us up for a fun experience, we're all the more intrigued.
Magic Hat Brewing Company, based in South Burlington, Vt., wins our vote in that regard. Magic Hat takes the magic theme to the extreme, offering beers that sound more like potions (one is a delicious pale ale simply called "#9"), plus variety packs with such monikers as "Feast of Fools" and "Pandora's Box."
Another suggestion comes to us courtesy of Brian Graham, a home brewer who also runs a beer-oriented restaurant called Hot Shotz in Indianapolis. The name of one of his favorite craft brews? Arrogant Bastard Ale, made by
Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif. But he insists he likes it for more than the name alone. "It's got a nice dark fruit and coffee profile," he says.
The Bud Beer
Yes, we said it: Bud, the most ubiquitous name in beer. But in this case, we're talking about some of the newer, craft-style beers coming from
Anheuser-Busch, the brewer behind Bud. Our favorite: Shock Top Belgian White, which has a pleasant kick of orange flavor. It's almost enough to bring us back into the Bud fold.
Charles Passy is a Florida-based writer who covers food, travel, entertainment and consumer culture and products.