Football season is here again, which means it’s time to grab some parking lot, pop the trunk, light the grill and pull something cold from the cooler.
Tailgating has returned.
Everyone knows the old-guard options of how to fill that cooler: Bud Light, Miller Lite, Modelo and, of course, welcome to the club, White Claw.
But a tastier tailgate can be had. Here are 10 recommendations to spruce things up, a list grounded in 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, though if you’re after bang for the buck, we have you covered there, too.
- Freedom Lemonade (Revolution Brewing)
This beer-lemonade hybrid is a crowd pleaser if ever there was one, hitting a flawless balance of tart and sweet with authentic, luscious lemon flavor. Freedom Lemonade is exceptionally drinkable at a lean 4.5 percent alcohol — similar to most light beers — and a welcome change of pace during hours of pulling refreshment from a cooler.
- Gridiron Golden Lager (Spiteful Brewing)
Some beverages are tailgate-worthy for what’s inside the can. Some are worthy for the can itself. Spiteful’s Gridiron Golden is both, built entirely around the idea of enjoying football. It’s endlessly drinkable at 4.5 percent alcohol, but with impressive heft in the body and a sturdy toasty note that gives the beer surprising depth. It even features an enthusiastic Bears fan, inspired by the legendary “Saturday Night Live” sketch (“Da Bears!”), on the can.
- Hoppy Refresher (Lagunitas Brewing)
As stated, tailgating is a marathon — which makes having a few nonalcoholic things in the cooler a good idea. Lagunitas’ hoppy seltzer was an oddity when introduced in 2019, but has resonated with many beer drinkers as a way to moderate. It has no alcohol and no calories, but remains interesting with a fruity-floral aroma and a crisp, earthy flavor.
- Moscow Mule (Jeng)
Canned cocktails have soared in popularity, so it was only a matter of time before nonalcoholic canned cocktails took off. Jeng’s three canned nonalcoholic cocktails — which mimic a paloma, a gin and tonic and a Moscow mule — are another way to moderate at the tailgate. All three are well-built and come with the bonus of 11 milligrams of CBD, which may offer a useful dose of calm considering the Bears’ likely win-loss record this year.
My favorite among the three is Jeng’s take on the Moscow mule, which boasts a crisp, ginger bite and clean, fleeting finish. It’s a bit sweet and lacking that boozy bite — but that’s the point. Though if you must, you could add a shot of vodka.
- Lil Buddy (Hopewell Brewing)
If the key to tailgating is moderation, nothing quite moderates like Lil Buddy, a crisp lager that’s a wee 4.2 percent alcohol in a wee 8-ounce can. If ever such a beer snack is appropriate, it’s during hours of tailgating. Lil Buddy was a hit when introduced in 2019, but went on hiatus last year amid an aluminum can shortage. Fortunately, Hopewell has brought it back just in time for kickoff.
- Malört Spritz (CH Distillery and Marz Community Brewing)
Is a Chicago tailgate even a Chicago tailgate without Jeppson’s Malört? While the hardest of the tailgating hardcore may have a full bottle of the bitter legend on hand, everyone else can enjoy the approachability of the spritz version. Introduced in 2020, Malört Spritz is made by Marz Community Brewing with CH Distillery’s Jeppson’s Malört, lime juice, grapefruit flavor, sugar and salt.
It’s a far more accessible entry into the world of Malört with a round, floral sweetness with a cream soda note threaded with Malört’s unmistakable bracing character. Despite Malört’s reputation, Malört Spritz is refreshing at a meager 4.75 percent alcohol.
- Micro Volt (Metropolitan Brewing)
One of my favorite new beers of the year is Metropolitan’s latest addition to its year-round portfolio: a lager that’s just 3.8 percent alcohol. It may sound wispy, but Micro Volt is anything but, packing in heaps of crisp, dry muscularity with a lightly bready note. A perfect beer to drink on repeat.
- Rosé Cider (Northman Cider Co.)
What was born as a Lincoln Square cider bar is now a cider brand with two offerings introduced in spring: a plain cider and a rosé blend with Michigan wine grapes that offers another level of fruitiness. Both are just what they should be: crisp, lightly fruity and refreshing, leaning dry rather than sweet.
Bonus: Cider is an ace pairing with food, especially the rich and meaty things that come off a grill at a tailgate.
- Sauv-Blanc Spritz (Maplewood Brewery and Distillery)
Maplewood’s canned cocktails have been a delight since emerging last year. Most lean boozy, but this spritz, made with Maplewood’s Spruce gin and sauvignon blanc sourced from Washington, weighs in at an easy-drinking 6 percent alcohol. This an unmistakable mingling of gin and white wine, but drinks lightly and brightly, sitting deftly at the intersection of hard seltzer and canned cocktail.
- West Coast IPA (Untitled Art)
We end on another note of moderation. But moderating with nonalcoholic beer has never been more enjoyable. During a deep dive into nonalcoholic beer during Dry January, I found Untitled Art a revelation. I’m a fan of all three of its year-round nonalcoholic brands, which also include an Italian-style Pilsner and a hazy IPA. I’ve gone back most often to West Coast IPA for being such a convincing approximation of the real thing, with notes of lush mango, papaya and orange before drying out in the finish. If you still want to be coherent at halftime, mix a couple of these into the rotation.