CLASSES ARE BACK in session, and that means the return of college football, one of the South's favorite pastimes. Not everyone will agree on a favorite team, nor will fans agree on a definitive college football beer.
Instead of weighing the merits of low-alcohol session beers, arguing the benefits of small craft labels to the big beer behemoths or trying too hard to make connections between a school’s mascot and a specific beverage, the following list is a good place to start when planning your next tailgating party.
After all, it’s based on the most important criteria when evaluating colleges: place. And if you’re a college football fan, it’s hard to beat the SEC East (unless you’re in the SEC West, of course). When watching match ups between your favorite SEC East teams this year, grab some friends and one of these college-town hand-crafted brews.
Home state pride compels us to begin with the Georgia Bulldogs. Athens, GA is home to two breweries, including the well-known Terrapin, and a meadery with several others in the planning stages. Creature Comforts is the new kid on the block, and its Athena is a Berliner Weiss that practically screams game day. It's only 4.5% alcohol by volume and the mixture of sweet and tart pushes it past the usual suspects relegated to football beer status. Only available on draft, you'll have to do some legwork to track it down, but kegs have started to make their way to Savannah. Let's hope Athens doesn't swallow it all up before the season ends, and you can cheer on the silver britches while proudly drinking a fine regional brew.
The Dawgs’ arch-rival Florida Gators play in a stadium nicknamed "The Swamp," and Gainesville's Swamphead Brewery is the obvious brand if you're looking to show support. Wild Night is a honey cream ale that uses state-sourced ingredients to create a sweet and crisp beer that is balanced with an even malt profile. To enjoy this tasty drink in Savannah, you'll have to visit the brewery and pick up a growler. It's not quite Gatorade, but it will do the trick.
What may be the nicest surprise of this SEC East beer tour is Columbia, SC. Even if you don’t root for the South Carolina Gamecocks, as long as you like beer, you’ll find plenty of excellent drinking options for their next game from breweries like River Rat and Conquest. Conquest’s Warrior Heart is an IPA that sounds like it was named for a team still struggling to get over the loss of Marcus Lattimore in 2012.
Lexington, KY is home to the Kentucky Wildcats as well as West Sixth Brewing. Perhaps best known outside of the state for its recent legal battles with Magic Hat Brewing, West Sixth makes a good beer as well as good press. West Sixth IPA is its citrusy, hoppy flagship beer. It utilizes four hops, including the always welcome brightness and lemon flavors of Citra. Best of all, if you're willing to drive to Kentucky or Ohio, it's available year round, so you can buy more in March to cheer the UK basketball team after another disappointing football season.
The Tennessee Volunteers’ home of Knoxville isn't known for a local beer scene. The Tennessee brewing climate is notoriously tough due to the state's alcohol ordinances. Nowhere is the lack of quality breweries more evident than in the state's premiere college town. Saw Works Brewing Co. and its Rocky Hop IPA are certainly up-and-comers to watch. That clever beer name should help the brewery as it will depend heavily on home town fans to boost its bottom line.
Also of note, there’s apparently another SEC East football team in Tennessee. Go figure.
That leaves us with the newest member of the SEC East, the Missouri Tigers. If there's a place that has a lesser brewery scene than Knoxville, it's Columbia, MO. They do have a promising start up brewery in Logboat, which opened last year. Logboat's main line includes usual suspects of a Pale Ale, IPA and Witbier along with a surprising English Mild selection. If you venture due west out of Columbia, however, the highway takes you to Kansas City, home of Boulevard Brewing Co. Boulevard produces a large line of fantastic beers, but perhaps none are better than their herbal and spicy Tank 7 Saison, which the Tigers would be proud to have as a fan-favorite drink.
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