This week, I fired up my grill for the first time in 2013. That makes it BBQ season, soon to be beach season, and ultimately summer beer season. Choosing the right beer to use as your social event entrance fee, or to cater to your own guests, can sometimes feel like a special kind of PR strategy. What seems expensive, but not too expensive? What is fancy, but not too fancy? What has mass appeal, but still feels special? Before giving up and reaching for [brand] Light, here is a getting started guide based on my experience.
I’ve been active in the DC and Baltimore tech meetup communities for several years. Before that, I organized many (very large) college “off-campus social events”. We continue to host and attend a lot of reasonably-sized gatherings. The common thread among them is the difficulty in choosing an appropriate beer selection for a crowd—as an organizer or a contributing patron.
Getting the total volume of beer right is one chore, but getting beers the larger group will covet and compliment you on is another—because everyone has different tastes. It isn’t practical to get a dozen 6-packs for a small gathering, so most assume a couple 24’s of Joe Schmo Light is the safer choice. It isn’t. Not only will a lower volume of beverage be opened (affecting fun to be had), but you’ll find partial bottles littered about—because as the nickel beer warmed, it lost its refreshment and revealed a lack of flavor. Worse, as the beer enjoyer you are, you’ll be left sipping the cases of sad beer you’d hoped to burn through.
Over time, I’ve compiled a fairly solid mental list of beers that are both popular and easy* to find—having unscientifically observed the ice chest and which bottles are consumed first, last, or never. Each list is roughly ordered by popularity.
* I’m going by prevalence around DC/MD, but these are all nationally available brews. There may be a regional favorite I am not representing.
Default foundation (most popular)
- Sam Adams (normal, Boston Lager)
- Dale’s Pale Ale (comes in a can)
Seasonal combo packs (great buy!)
- Sam Adams Seasonal (combo pack)
- Flying Dog (combo pack)
- Heavy Seas (combo pack)
- Dogfish Head (combo pack)
Pro tip: Seasonal combo packs from local breweries are often great choices because they quickly add variety and flare with very appealing price tags.
Additional light/medium selection
- Blue Moon
- Stella Artois
- Dos Equis
- Red Stripe
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- St. Pauli Girl
- Negra Modelo
- Michelob Ultra Amber (the “Amber” is important)
Additional medium/dark/hoppy selection
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
- Yuengling Black & Tan
- Dos Equis Amber
- (anything by Flying Dog)
- (anything by Heavy Seas)
- (anything by Dogfish Head)
- Storm King Stout
- Sierra Nevada Stout
- (anything with a punny “hop” name like “Hopocalypse”)
- (anything by Rogue)
- (anything by Brooklyn Brewery)
- (anything regional and known to be good)
Seasonal/Fruity (buy very sparingly)
- Mike’s Hard Lemonade (any flavor)
- Woodchuck Cider (any flavor)
In general, it is better to get one beer from several categories rather than multiple beers in the same category, as categories are grouped by type of drinker—thus an individual will often be attracted to most of a category. As you add variety, run through the categories in order, looping back to the top. For example, grabbing Yuengling, Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Storm King Stout then back to Sam Adams would make a very reasonable selection for a crowd you know little about. It isn’t perceived as a cheap selection (though it is budget-conscious) and there’s something for everyone.
- (the usual budget/college/kegger beers)
- (oatmeal/cream stouts; their audience is too specific)
- (crazy stuff like blueberry, peppermint, etc. beers; pumpkin ales are the exception in autumn)
Pro tip: Though I enjoy them on my own, buy only minimum quantities of Becks, Heineken, Hefeweizen, and Lord Chesterfield Ale—for some reason, I’ve found them to be last-picked among a selection.
Cheers, prost, salut, and happy drinking! Don’t light the porch on fire.