Grip 'n sip
Ah, beer--mankind's greatest invention. Its crisp, explosive flavor refreshes the body upon merely hitting the lips, and it makes just about everything (with the exception of driving and medical procedures) 100% more fun, video games included.
We recently spoke to Greg Zeschuk, co-founder of BioWare, about his ongoing web project, The Beer Diaries, where you'll find a huge list of brew recommendations--but it can be hard to know where to start when there are so many to choose from. That got us thinking: Just as certain styles of beer go well with certain types of food, so too do some beers go well with certain genres of games. Now, we're not talking about cracking open a Bud Light during a match of Call of Duty (though you can choose to drink that watery baby juice if that's your thing); the following suggestions are for those looking to expand their beer horizons, with suggestions for pairing great brews with great games. Let the experimentation (and drinking) begin!
Disclaimer: Don't try this unless you're of the proper age; otherwise you'll automatically get pitted like this guy.
Did you know...
Before we jump into beer and game pairings, let's clear something up first. In the beer world, there are two categories: lagers and ales. What's the difference? The type of yeast with which they're fermented. Lager yeasts tend to form a cap on the bottom of the fermenter during the process. This creates what is often described as a "clean" taste, meaning the grains and hops will have a more pronounced flavor.
The yeasts in Ales, on the other hand, create a cap on the top of the fermenter, resulting in brews that are typically spicy or fruity--two characteristics derived primarily from the yeasts used during the brewing process. Of course, there are hundreds of different beers, each with a distinct flavor, and the terms "lager" and "ale" will help you narrow down your choices about as effectively as "video games" accurately describes your particular genre interests. The only way to find beers you'll like is to try new things.
Like role-playing games? Try pairing with a stout or porter
RPGs are some of the biggest time sinks in the gaming world. They're often dramatic, immense in scale, and rife with detail. A perfect beer companion, then, ought to parallel these characteristics--it needs to be something both flavorful and rich that'll keep pace with the experience at hand. "I think for me especially, if it's an RPG kind of world, [I'd drink] something deep and contemplative, like an imperial stout," Zeschuk says. "Or--I wouldn't say slow moving, but definitely kind of more thought-provoking beers."
Stout / porter characteristics: Beer enthusiasts will argue all day long about the differences between stouts and porters (which you can read an in-depth explanation of here). For the purpose of this article, however, know that both are generally darker, thicker beers. Stouts are often brewed with roasted barley or malt, resulting in a creamy body with hints of chocolate or coffee flavors, while porters are usually characterized as having a slight caramel taste.
Stout / porter suggestions: North Coast Rasputin Imperial Stout, Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, Guinness Dry Stout, Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter, Stone Brewing Smoked Porter
Like strategy games? Try pairing with a brown ale
When we use the term "strategy" here, we're including many different sub genres, from 4X to RTS--even simulation games like SimCity apply. Now, obviously these aren't all what a gamer might consider a strategy game, but we're using the term as a catch-all category merely for pairing purposes. In these games, foresight is critical; rarely will rushed decisions yield a desired outcome, so you'll want a beer that will keep you refreshed yet sharp--a beer meant for sipping instead of slamming. That's where savory brown ales come in.
Brown ale characteristics: Brown ales are often sweet to the taste, and are typically imbued with a coffee or nutty, earthy flavor. Both the potency of hops and alcohol content in brown ales can vary pretty drastically depending on the brew.
Brown ale suggestions: Newcastle Brown Ale, Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale
Like shooters? Try pairing with an amber / red lager
Shooters compose the overwhelming majority of the games available in the console space, and Call of Duty and Battlefield are household names practically on par with the likes of Mario. Light lagers, such as Bud Light and Natty Ice, might seem obvious suggestions to pair with these types of games, as it's easy to binge-play a slew of fast-paced matches while binge-drinking mega light beers. But if you're interested in a more substantial beer pairing, amber and red lagers are a good start. "I think an awful lot of what people enjoy has to do with exposure," Zeschuk says. "People will write off folks who drink the mass produced light lagers, but I think at the end of the day it's because they haven't found the beers they like. If you look around enough and try enough different beers, you'll probably find something with a little more character."
Amber / red lager characteristics: This is a very broad category, encompassing beers that have more malt flavoring than light lagers. Bitterness is generally pretty low.
Amber / red lager suggestions: Brooklyn Lager, Yuengling Traditional Lager, Old Scratch Amber Lager, Blue Point Toasted Lager
Like handheld games? Try pairing with a wheat beer
The great thing about handheld games is that they offer both complex titles for the hardcore crowd and gateway experiences for the budding gamer. From Brain Age to Tetris, there's plenty on offer for those with little interest in consoles, while games like Fire Emblem: Awakening and Persona 4 Golden serve a more loyal handheld following. Wheat beers--such as the popular Blue Moon and Leinenkugels' Sunset Wheat--offer similar experiences for beer drinkers: their typically fruity flavors are easy for non-beer consumers to get into, while the more exotic wheat styles present beer geeks with a variety of unique tastes.
Wheat beer characteristics: As the name implies, wheat beers are brewed with a large amount of wheat. While there are sour variations of these types of beers, many are fruity in flavor, often imbued with a banana or orange taste. For a more pronounced flavor, try dropping a slice of the appropriate fruit (depending on your beer purchase) into the beverage.
Wheat beer suggestions: Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel, Blue Moon, Leinenkugels' Sunset Wheat, Erdinger Pikantus Weizenbock
Like action games? Try pairing with an India pale ale (IPA)
Few games require the degree of focus and twitch reaction that the action genre demands. While it might seem as though drinking beer would dull those senses, a brew with just the right kick might unlock the dormant combo potential locked away in that brain of yours. "I was talking with my friends about how IPAs work with action games; you need that sharpness to keep you going," Zeschuk says. "There's no real formal art to it, it's more a speculator's game than anything else."
IPA characteristics: Fun fact: IPAs are named as such because of an increased export demand of pale ale from England to India in the 1800s; the only way breweries could guarantee the beer wouldn't spoil during the shipping process was by adding a ton of hops, a natural preservative. Thus IPAs are known for their sharp, hoppy bitterness and earthy/floral undertones. Alternatively, you can try standard pale ales, which have less hops intensity.
IPA suggestions: Sculpin IPA, Alpine Beer Company's Nelson, Bear Republic Racer Five, Stone Ruination IPA, Rogue Yellow Snow IPA
Like indie games? Try pairing with a craft brew
Craft brewers are the indie devs of the beer world. These typically small breweries operate on skeleton crews to create inventive new flavors one barrel at a time. While their products are often sold only at select locations, you'd do well to research local craft breweries, try what they have on offer, and support them if you enjoy their products, which encompass all categories and styles of beer.
Zeschuk says he developed a love for craft breweries while working on Star Wars: The Old Republic in Austin, Texas: "The Austin beer scene sort of went from having just a few local craft breweries to almost 20 in the time I was there," he says. "I came to be obsessed with it I guess, it was kind of a funny thing, I just really got into it. And also, I met some of the guys that made it and it really reminded me of game developers, the entrepreneurial spirit they have as well, so that was another factor that made me want to do The Beer Diaries--not just drinking beer, but to show what these guys are like. They're really interesting characters."
Craft brew suggestions: Whatever your local craft scene has to offer.
Like racing games? Drink whatever you want
Here's the thing about beer--it doesn't mix well with the operation of heavy machinery. But it does mix well with the simulation of operating heavy machinery. Remember: the only kind of drunk driving that's safe is when you're doing it from your couch.
Bottoms (and controllers) up
There is no right or wrong when it comes to pairing beer and games, just play and drink what you like. But we hope by offering a place to start, you'll be willing to go out, try some new brews, and find a few unexpected favorites (and don't forget to check out The Beer Diaries!). We know you love games, but how many of you also love beer? What are some of your go-to selections? Let us know in the comments below.
And if you're looking for more, check out 10 real people with game character names and the strangest things to fall from the sky in video games.