Tailgating Time 

The secret to pre-gaming is having the right libations.

Ever since Milo of Croton reportedly carried an ox across the Olympic stadium before killing, roasting, and eating the thing in a single day, sports fans have been tailgating. Tailgate parties are about the easiest entertaining there is — which is probably why men are allowed to throw them. It's casual. Your clothes are supposed to have team logos and numbers on them and probably someone else's name across the back. Small talk is replaced by deep and unwieldy philosophical discussions on the impending cosmic implications of The Game.

It should be pointed out, however, that these primordial get-togethers aren't as easy as they were back in Milo's day, or even back in mine. When I was in college, there were only about three beers, and they all tasted exactly alike. Budweiser was slightly more expensive than Miller, which made it more sophisticated. (I swear I had a friend who drank Bud when scoping for a date because he thought it made him look like a bon vivant. Nowadays, he pulls the same stunt with Range Rovers.)

Cheap domestic beers still have plenty of fans, people who like them because they're used to the flavors and those beers take them back to yesteryear, a carefree time when you could drink a beer without having to talk about it. But those days are in the past for most of us. Now, if you set out a cooler of Budweiser or Coors at your tailgate, you're going to look like you're just mailing it in.

click to enlarge Cash Saver
  • Cash Saver

Having a nice variety of beers is the key to the modern tailgate party. And when I want variety, I head to the Madison Growler and Bottle Shop, a sort of shop within a shop at the Cash Saver on Madison. The growler station sports about 30 local and regional brews on tap. And one aisle over, in what I like to call the "Glorious Hall of Beer," there are 300 or so varieties.

I like Tin Roof, which has an aptly named Gameday IPA that hits the mark. It's got some hop to it that's balanced out with citrus, so it isn't wildly bitter. And not to be too blunt about it, but at 4.3 percent ABV, you can safely drink a fair amount of it. Also, I know it's a marketing gimmick, but speaking as one of the eight living Americans who actually like reading William Faulkner, I also like Yalobusha's Snopes Family Pilsner. I should add, generally speaking, you can't go wrong with a Pilsner at an early season tailgate. They're lighter in flavor and alcohol, and more suitable for warm weather.

Speaking of Faulkner, it's best to avoid moonshine because, well, it's moonshine. You might think you can hold it, but you can't. No one can. Not even Faulkner, although he never seemed to get the memo. That edict goes for most hard liquor at a tailgate. Sure, there is always the tried-and-true Bloody Mary, but go easy; game day is a marathon, not a sprint.

And there's always the wine option, though with all due respect to Milo of Croton, who supposedly consumed 18 liters of wine daily (probably to wash down the ox), vino just seems out of place at a tailgate. Instead, consider cider. I know. The very word conjures up both the insufferably trendy and antebellum family heirlooms in the same breath. Which is no mean feat. That said, Sonoma Cider and Smith & Forge both make good hard ciders that aren't too sweet. But do check the ABV, some of the newer ciders really pack a wallop. Still, while I'm no doctor, I did go to a lot of med school parties, so I'm pretty sure something made of apples can't be too bad for you.

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