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Ask a Cicerone: What's the Best Beer for Tailgating?

Editor's Note: Ask a what? A Certified Cicerone®. That is, a beer expert who has passed a particular certification exam administered by the Craft Beer Institute. You can think of them as beer sommeliers.

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Antony Field of Bosworth Brewery

For us, half the fun of football season is the eating and drinking part. A tailgate party might include brats or burgers, wings or ribs, onion dip or pimento cheese, but no matter what, it really needs to include beer. We asked our group of experts for their tailgating tips and advice, what to look out for and what styles of beer to buy.

Here's what they had to say.

"Your location should influence the brand of beer you choose: if your town or city has its own brewery, then make sure you're supporting them while you support your team. As far as beer style goes, the food will likely be fatty, meaty and possibly spicy so I'd choose beers that will cut through the fat and play well with the spice. I think this is a case where the most obvious answer is the best: an American Pale Ale. I'd steer towards the lower end of the ABV range as this should be a 'session'."—Antony Field (Bosworth Brewery)

"Esteemed chocolatier Jacques Torres is always asked by curious admirers what the best chocolate is. 'You know what the best chocolate is,' he responds, 'The one you like.' For tailgating, I like to pick a beer that 1) I wouldn't mind drinking all day, and 2) that I can drink all day. One of the beautiful things about beer is that the carbonation works as a palate cleanser. This is why beers are so food flexible, and why even a bad pairing isn't really that bad. So bring anything you like, and bring enough to share. You may make a few new friends, and maybe even open someone up to something completely new and different."—Joshua A. Cass (821 Cafe)

"Tailgating food is about having fun before the game, often with uninvited guests encroaching in on your camp. So, keep it simple. Oktoberfest beers are seasonal and made to pair with German picnic foods. So your hot dogs, sausages, kraut, potato salads, hamburgers, veggie burgers, chips, dips, and crudites will be made more delish paired with an Oktoberfest."—Valerie Smith (Ecliptic Brewing)

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Charles Coy of The Corner, upcoming in Santa Monica, CA

"There are lots of top craft breweries that have moved to canning their beer and that's a good choice for the tailgater who wants to load up a cooler with good beer. You can fit more cans in that giant Igloo ice chest and they cool down faster than glass bottles (and you don't have to worry about your buddy Fred shattering a bottle on your foot in the parking lot.) In terms of beer styles for tailgating, I'd say keep it simple: a crisp blonde ale will be refreshing and a hoppy pale ale will go nicely with those spicy nachos."—Charles Coy (The Corner, Santa Monica, CA)

"My number one advice for an all day tailgate party is water. Lots of water. Need to stay hydrated if you think you last all day and still root for your team. I like to stick with lighter, flavorful session beers while tailgating. One tasty brew I have been fond of is New Belgium's Shift (yes, I sell it!). I love craft in a can, and these come in a 16 ounce can. Lager style, 5% abv, crisp flavor with enough hops to let you know that this is a craft beer. You can drink them all day and not feel too bloated. Being a lighter lager style, this beer is great with hot wings, spicy chili, or any other finger tailgate foods you might be chowing down on for the game. The carbonation in Shift help cleanse the palate from any spicy foods leaving you ready for more."—Bryan Rounds (Central Coast Distributing)

"I say lose the American light lager and get with a Kolsch, a light German style ale. It's fermented slightly colder than most ales but can easily pass as a pale lager. You can't roll out of the store with a 30 pack of Kolsch, but a couple 6-packs with friends and food and you will forget about your light lagers."—Matt McComish (Whole Foods Market)

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Becki Kregoski of Bites 'n Brews

"If you're not the one stuck being designated driver, grab a growler to keep costs down. My favorite pairing for painfully spicy wings is Verboten Brewing's 'Laze About' peach-habanero golden ale. Sweet aromas of fruit and biscuit invite you in, with a light peach flavor and an afterburn that lingers, intensifying the wonderful fire of the wings. If you love spice like I do, this will be the pairing to end all."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)

"Located in a college town, I would consider myself an expert at this question. It seems like every craft brewery is coming out with a session IPA. These beers are great because they have all the flavor, but less alcohol than their traditional counterparts, so it is okay to have a few before the big game. My favorite of these right now is Founders All Day IPA. I think that this beer pairs well with almost all traditional tailgate fare."—Brian Hoppe (Hy-Vee)

"Since there is likely a lot of sauce involved food-wise—whether it be nachos, chicken wings, guacamole, etc.—I would lean towards something that finishes clean as a whole, while concurrently not being heavy-bodied. I'd go for something that presents itself as balanced, neither accentuating too much hop bitterness nor malty sweetness. This leaves me with a Dortmunder—the minerally chalkiness (sulfates) accentuates the bitterness just enough to balance out the firm sweetness, which doesn't overwhelm anything but the most delicate dishes in the slightest. Great Lakes produces a Dortmunder Gold that is a really great example."—James Tai (Pinch)

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Rob Hill of Total Wine & More

"My first advice for tailgate beers is to watch your ABV (the alcohol by volume in the beer), meaning, select beers with low to moderate ABV levels so you can stay in the game. For foods such as wings (spicy and BBQ), chili, nachos, and other popular tailgate foods with a kick, you can complement the flavors with amber lagers and ales which are typically full of flavor yet well balanced, or you can amp up the spiciness of the food with hoppy American Pale Ales or India Pale Ales. In contrast, to tame food spiciness with some malty sweetness you may go with black lagers (Schwarzbier) or Brown Ales."—Rob Hill (Total Wine & More)

"I tend to gravitate toward citrusy pale ales or crisp amber lagers. They're both easy to find, affordable, and versatile—and they won't scare anyone away. For cheesier, fattier foods, I lean toward the citrusy cleaning power of the pale ale; but for spicy or grilled foods, I want the toasty maltiness of an amber lager."—Aaron Libera (Sanford Homebrew Shop)

"My first piece of tailgating beer advice is: cans, not bottles. Canning craft beer is one of my favorite things happening in the industry and the Oskar Blues brewery has been doing it since the beginning. Their beer Mama's Little Yella Pils is a great easy pilsner that's light enough to drink for the long haul, but flavorful enough to stand up to game day foods like wings, nachos, and hot dogs. For something with a little more bite, Ballast Point in San Diego recently started canning their world famous Sculpin IPA, which is so citrusy, juicy and bitter, it's ideal for fatty foods like burgers, but also refreshing enough to drink on its own. It's a little on the stronger side at 7% alcohol, so just keep that in mind when drinking for longer periods of time and feel free to rotate and take turns with the higher and lower ABVs."—Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man NYC)

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