Football season is back, which means it’s time to pull up a parking lot, open the trunk, fire up the grill, and pull something cold from the cooler.
The tailgating is back.
Everyone knows the old guard options for filling that cooler: Bud Light, Miller Lite, Modelo and, of course, welcome to the club, White Claw.
But a tastier hatchback can be had. Here are 10 recommendations to make things look better, a list based on the fact that tailgating is the proverbial marathon. Treat it like a sprint and you won’t even make it to kickoff, let alone halftime. These suggestions are largely about quality and variation, but if you’re getting what you pay for, we’ve got you covered, too.
This beer-lemonade hybrid is a crowd-pleaser if ever there was one, striking the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness with an authentic, luscious lemon flavor. Freedom Lemonade is exceptionally drinkable at a low alcohol level of 4.5% – similar to most light beers – and a welcome change of pace during cooler hours.
Some drinks are worthy of a tailgate for what’s inside the can. Some are worthy of the box itself. Spiteful’s Gridiron Golden is both, built entirely around the idea of enjoying football. It’s endlessly drinkable at 4.5% alcohol, but with impressive weight in the body and a robust toasty note that gives the beer surprising depth. It even features an enthusiastic Bears fan, inspired by the legendary “Saturday Night Live” skit (“Da Bears!”), on the box.
As noted, tailgating is a marathon – which makes having a few non-alcoholic things in the cooler a good idea. Lagunitas’ hopped seltzer was an oddity when it was introduced in 2019, but has resonated with many beer drinkers as a means of moderation. It has no alcohol and no calories, but is still interesting with a fruity-floral aroma and a crisp, earthy flavor.
Canned cocktails grew in popularity, so it was only a matter of time before canned non-alcoholic cocktails took off. Jeng’s three canned mocktails — which mimic a paloma, gin and tonic and Moscow mule — are another way to moderate at the tailgate. All three are well constructed and come with the bonus 11 milligrams of CBD, which may provide a useful dose of calm given the Bears’ likely win-loss record this year.
My favorite of the three is Jeng’s version of the Moscow Mule, which offers a crisp ginger bite and a crisp, fleeting finish. It’s a little sweet and without that boozy bite – but that’s the point. But if you must, you can add a shot of vodka.
If the key to tailgating is moderation, nothing quite like Lil Buddy, a crisp lager that packs a mere 4.2% alcohol in a tiny 8-ounce can. If ever such a beer snack is appropriate, it’s for hours of tailgating. Lil Buddy was a hit when it was introduced in 2019, but went on hiatus last year due to a shortage of aluminum cans. Luckily, Hopewell brought him back just in time for kickoff.
Is a Chicago hatchback even a Chicago hatchback without Jeppson’s Malört? While the hardest of hardcore hookers can have a bottle full of the bitter legend on hand, everyone can enjoy the accessibility of the spritz version. Introduced in 2020, Malört Spritz is made by Marz Community Brewing with CH Distillery’s Malört Jeppson, lime juice, grapefruit flavor, sugar and salt.
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It’s a much more approachable entry into the world of Malört with a round, floral sweetness with a note of cream soda strung with Malört’s unmistakable invigorating character. Despite Malört’s reputation, Malört Spritz is refreshing at a measly 4.75% alcohol.
One of my favorite new beers of the year is Metropolitan’s latest addition to its year-round portfolio: a lager that’s only 3.8% alcohol. It might sound wispy, but Micro Volt is anything but, packing heaps of clean, dry muscle with a slightly crunchy undertone. A perfect beer to drink on repeat.
What was born as a Lincoln Square cider bar is now a cider brand with two offerings introduced in the spring: a plain cider and a rosé blend with Michigan wine grapes that offers another level of fruitiness. Both are exactly what they should be: crunchy, slightly fruity and refreshing, rather dry than sweet.
Bonus: cider is an ace with food, especially the rich, meaty stuff that comes out of a hatchback grill.
Maplewood’s canned cocktails have been a delight since they first appeared last year. Most skimpy booze, but this spritz, made with Spruce gin from Maplewood and Sauvignon Blanc sourced from Washington State, weighs in at an easy-drinking 6% alcohol. It’s an unmistakable blend of gin and white wine, but one that drinks lightly and brightly, sitting deftly at the intersection of seltzer water and canned cocktail.
We end on another note of moderation. But moderating with non-alcoholic beer has never been so enjoyable. On a deep dive into non-alcoholic beer during Dry January, I found Untitled Art a revelation. I’m a fan of his three year-round non-alcoholic brands, which also include an Italian Pilsener and a hazy IPA. I returned most often to West Coast IPA for being such a convincing approximation of the real thing, with lush mango, papaya and orange notes before drying out on the finish. If you still want to be consistent at halftime, mix a few into the rotation.