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10 Super Bowl craft beers that deserve more airtime

Pick your poison, either from New England or Washington state

Craft beer brewers don’t get a whole lot of air time on Super Bowl Sunday, but they typically find a way to stay in the game.

As a rule, craft beer doesn’t do Super Bowl commercials. In 2010, Anheuser-Busch InBev BUD, +0.82% paid more than $1 billion to wrest the NFL’s official beer sponsorship away from MillerCoors and its Coors Light brand and hand it to Budweiser. More importantly, A-B has been paying an undisclosed amount of money to make Budweiser the exclusive beer sponsor of the Super Bowl since 1988. According to Kantar Media, Anheuser-Busch InBev spent $145.9 million on Super Bowl ads alone between 2009 and 2013. The next biggest Super Bowl spender, PepsiCo PEP, -0.37% spent $97 million during that time.

It isn’t as if networks are making it super easy, or cheap, for craft beer brewers, either. This year, ad time for Super Bowl XLIX on NBC on Feb. 1 is going for $4.5 million per 30-second spot — or $150,000 a second. That is up 12.5% from the $4 million for last year’s game on Fox and up 88% from $2.4 million a decade ago, according to Kantar Media.

It’s a burden that’s giving even Budweiser’s notoriously deep pockets signs of wear. This year, A-B’s three minutes of Super Bowl ad time represent a 25% cut from the four minutes it ran in 2014. Even 30 seconds is typically more than craft brewers can afford. The biggest craft beer brewer in the U.S., Samuel Adams brewer Boston Beer Co. SAM, -0.98% dedicated nearly $208 million to advertising and marketing in all of 2013, the last full year for which information was available.

Even the Brewers Association craft beer industry group in Boulder, Colo., would have a tough time coming up with enough change to tout the success of member brewers, whose sales grew 18% by volume through June and whose share of the overall beer industry just eclipsed 8%. The $4.5 million cost of one ad is roughly a third of the $13.4 million in total revenue the group created in 2012. Theoretically, it could pass the hat to brewers and scrape up enough for an ad, but brewers have shown a strong preference toward blitzing social media and increasing availability around Super Bowl time.

Besides, with 3,200 licensed brewers throughout the country, craft beer gets a huge boost in NFL markets packed with breweries. Not only is the Seahawks home in Seattle saturated with great breweries like Elysian, Georgetown, Schooner Exact and Fremont, but the state of Washington’s 201 craft breweries in operation at the end of 2013 ranked No. 2 in the country behind California’s 381.

The Patriots’ home state of Massachusetts lags behind at 57 breweries, but the New England Patriots have a far bigger base to draw from. Combined with Maine (47), New Hampshire (22), Rhode Island (8), Vermont (29) and Connecticut (23), New England has 186 breweries within its borders. That’s still fewer than Washington in a slightly larger area (72,000 square miles to Washington’s 71,400), but not exactly lacking, especially with heavy hitters like Maine Beer and Hill Farmstead among the ranks.

With that in mind, we came up with a 10-pack of beers from Washington, New England and, in one case, beyond for your Super Bowl consideration. And let’s try to forget the Patriots’ so-called deflate-gate scandal.

Redhook

Audible Ale, Redhook Brewing Co., Woodinville, Wash.

Craft beer brewers might occasionally stoop to brew a beer for their Major League Soccer franchise (as Redhook has for Seattle Sounders supporters and brewers like Widmer Brother, Boulevard and D.C. Brau have for their local teams), but seldom do they venture into the Bud/Miller/Coors-dominated world of mainstream sports. Redhook has been around since 1981, hasn’t had its founders in the picture for a while, moved out to the suburbs years ago and joined the Craft Brew Alliance with Widmer Brothers in 2007.

It had nothing to lose by going after sports fans and, about two years ago teamed up with former ESPN SportsCenter host and current Fox Sports Radio personality Dan Patrick to make the relatively low-alcohol Audible Ale pale ale. Redhook and Patrick launched the branded beer by giving away a rolling “man cave” trailer laden with tech toys and beer gadgetry. Now Redhook is on tap at more than 925 Buffalo Wild Wings locations throughout North America. This year, Redhook is doing some inter-brewery betting between the Seahawks fans at this Woodinville facility and the Patriots fans at the Portsmouth, N.H., brewery it opened in 1996. Terms of the wager haven’t been disclosed, but the malty, 4.7% alcohol by volume Audible Ale is a game-day winner regardless of the outcome.

Gear Patrol

Fort Point Pale Ale, Trillium Brewing Co., Boston

The Patriots haven’t made the Super Bowl in this brewery’s lifetime, but its Fort Point Pale Ale and its many hop variations on the style have been waiting patiently for their day at the big game. Opened in March 2013, Trillium has helped give Boston-based Pats fans a beer experience unlike any they had the last time the Pats made it this far in 2012. Trillium helped make growler fills a regular Boston occurrence, and growler fills of this citrusy blend of Columbus and Cira hops should be a fixture at Super Bowl parties throughout the Hub this year. While a 6.7% ABV beer this hoppy would have qualified as an IPA in Boston when Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won their first Super Bowl back in 2002, the fact that it’s a flagship West Coast-style pale ale during their sixth trip to the big game shows how much times have changed for both the Patriots and Boston craft beer.

Brewpublic

Split Shot, Elysian Brewing Co., Seattle, Wash.

Founded in 1995, Elysian dates back to the Kingdome — which the city of Seattle is still paying for through 2016 — and the Rick Mirer/Chris Warren/Cortex Kennedy years. Like the Seahawks and their stomping grounds, it’s improved with age. With a location near CenturyLink Field now one of five the brewery boasts throughout Seattle, the city’s become awfully familiar with its Loser pale ale collaboration with Sub Pop Records, its Men’s Room Red and its Spacedust IPA. However, Elysian does seasonal beers better than just about any brewery in the Pacific Northwest and follows tasty offerings like its Superfuzz Blood Orange summer ale, its slate of several fall pumpkin ales and its Bifrost winter ale with a milk stout made just a bit bitter through the addition of espresso from Portland, Ore.-based Stumptown Coffee. It’s an easy-sipping 5.6% ABV beauty that does a great job staving off that gray Northwest pall until game time.

Narragansett

Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout, Narragansett Brewing Co., Providence, R.I.

What, you think your fancy Northwest espresso’s all better or somethin’? Listen, pal, just down the road from Foxborough, folks in Rhode Island have been drinking a concoction called coffee milk (milk mixed with coffee-flavored syrup from Lincoln, R.I.’s own Autocrat) since before either the Patriots or Seahawks existed. Narragansett picked up on this and not only brewed it into a smooth, creamy 5.3% ABV dream of a stout, but put it into 16-ounce tall-boy cans for easy game-day transportation. While it may be contract-brewed outside of Rhode Island until Narragansett can scrape up enough cash to build a brewery, it’s about as authentically Rhode Island as frozen lemonade or dynamites. StarbucksSBUX, +6.62% Seattle’s Best, Tully’s and ubiquitous espresso carts may make Seattle and Washington seem like it’s cornered the market on coffee, but Dunks-drinking, Gansett-loving New Englanders know better.

77 Fremont Select, Fremont Brewing Co., Seattle

You wanna call Seattle fans bandwagon jumpers, son? The Seahawks may have only come alive within the past decade or so, but there’s a whole lot of respect for what came before. That carries down to brewers like Fremont, which opened in 2009 but brews this friendly little 4% ABV beer full of Citra, Chinook, Calypso and Cascade hops in honor of Seattle’s old Horlucks & Sicks Brewing Cos., which produced 66 Select and Rainier beers and eventually gave way to Rainier Brewing. Those ties run deep, and you’ll be able to go a lot deeper into the game with this crisp, low-alcohol spring brew.

Drinking America

Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Boston Brewing Co., Boston

There are two things Boston loves: sports and pedantic arguments. As much as the Pats will cover the former, Samuel Adams and Boston Lager have prodded along the latter ever since Boston Magazine ran a piece by beer writer Andy Crouch calling the brand’s craft credentials into question. We’re not getting involved in that debate, but we’ll just note that there’s significant overlap among folks who objectively believe Samuel Adams’ trademark Vienna Lager that founder Jim Koch first brewed in 1987 isn’t worthy of craft drinkers’ time and those who believe that Bill Buckner singlehandedly lost the 1986 World Series for the Sox.

Washington Beer Blog

Lucille IPA, Georgetown Brewing Co., Seattle

Where’s all the West Coast IPA, you ask? Well, here’s a fine one you’ll find just about all over Seattle. With a hop profile built on the backs of Columbus, Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe and Cascade from the nearby Yakima Valley — you know, where places like New England still gets the majority of their hops from — and a sturdy 7% ABV, Lucille is one of the friendliest names a lover of piney, citrusy, hop-heavy beers could see on a tap handle. That it’s made by a brewery that posts pictures of its cat named Marshawn in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl should only endear it further to the Seahawks faithful.

Maine Beer Company

Lunch, Maine Beer Co., Portland, Maine

Then again, the East Coast isn’t making such shabby West Coast IPA these days, either. With 7% ABV and a healthy helping of Warrior, Amarillo, Centennial and Simcoe hops, Lunch sure looks, smells and tastes a whole lot like its West Coast counterparts. The Patriots have made the Super Bowl only once since Maine Beer opened as a nanobrewery in 2009, but beers like Lunch have helped New England step up its game considerably since then.

Sixpoint

Beast Mode Porter, Sixpoint Brewing Co., Brooklyn

This beer has nothing to do with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, his 67-yard run against the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 playoffs or his 79-yard run against the Arizona Cardinals in December. It doesn’t have anything to do with Seattle, New England or anything beyond this bitter, coffee-style porter. It does, however, hold the only trademark on “Beast Mode” not held by Lynch himself. At 6.4% ABV, it’s a fine, malty, roasty example of the style, but it’s far better timing by Sixpoint.

Hill Farmstead Brewery

George American Brown Ale, Hill Farmstead Brewery, Greensboro, Vt.

It’s tough to include Vermont beers in this mix when the state tends to divide its football allegiances between the Patriots and the New York teams (especially the Giants), but enough Pats fans know and revere Shaun Hill’s brewery to merit its inclusion. There are more complex beers in his portfolio, but this Centennial-, Cascade- and Columbus-hopped brown ale, at 6% ABV, goes down easy enough for Super Bowl drinking. Like the Brady and Belichick era, it’s steady but exceptional.

Last-call notes

Craft beer has long claimed that its commitment to traditional recipes and better ingredients sets it apart from large, multinational brewers. Though even some craft brewers had doubts about the quality issue, especially since larger brewers have more money to toss at ingredients, the Department of Agriculture just confirmed that craft brewers use four times as much barley in their beer as their larger counterparts. That’s not only a huge disparity, but it gives the USDA hope that farmers will be able to boost barley production to meet demand.

Boy, does CNN love the self-serve beer tap. The barroom was just about the last place where basic human interaction was not only necessary but encouraged and this aims to make it the equivalent of the fast-food soda machine stand. Awesome. Seriously, good job forcing one of the most social places on earth into involuntary introversion.

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