COME Sunday's Super Bowl, much of America will watch a battle of the NFL's two superior teams while swilling an ocean of insipid beers that couldn't even make it to the playoffs, much less a championship game.
We at the Food section, fans of both football and fine beer, decided to put a blitz on that contradiction, and maybe nail it for a loss. Accordingly, we assembled an all-star team of beers and ales, one brew for each offensive position, all worthy of the ultimate football game. Our idea was to select for each position a brew whose attributes -- such as size, strength and character -- approximate those of a football players who would man that position.
Both football and the world of fine beer are complicated, though, and in assembling our roster we turned to expert advice. In this instance, Keith Johnsen, marketing chief for the online retailer Beveragebistro.com, and Stan Hieronymus, editor at Realbeer.com, a prominent Internet clearinghouse for beer-related information, served as our directors of player personnel, identifying beers and ales we might draft for our team.
None of the brews selected for the accompanying roster are marketed by Beveragebistro.com, which specializes in home delivery of esoteric and hard-to-find brews. All were recruited from beverage stores and supermarkets in the Los Angeles area.
A FOUR-PERSON panel of Times Food section tasters got out our whistles and clipboards, and put the brews through a workout to test their Super Bowl worthiness.
Matching the brews to positions on a football team was not only fun, but we think gives our lineup an extra measure of credibility. For instance, our guards (Old Peculier and Anchor Porter) are a little more agile than our tackles (Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale and Samuel Adams Triple Bock), which are heavier -- just as tends to be the case on a football team's offensive line.
Our flanker (Redhook IPA) and wide receiver (Pyramid Hefeweizen) are lightweights, built for speed and showiness. And of course our quarterback (Chimay Red Belgian ale) is the most cerebral and contemplative of the lot.
All of those that made the squad can flat-out play. Some, however, really knocked our socks off.
But when we came to describe our selection, it wasn't in the lexicon of football, but in the language we know from other sorts of tastings (wine, for instance).
One coach on the Times panel found the Chimay, which comes stoppered by a small champagne cork, to be "almost like a new wine, still tasting of lees and fermentation. This one seems like a living thing, like it's still evolving."
Another coach described the syrup-like Samuel Adams Triple Bock, with its burnt-cocoa bitterness, as tasting "complex, like vintage port, but the finish is pure molasses."
A third coach (like the rest of the panel) had trouble finding words to describe the powerful Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale, with its 9.6% alcohol quotient. "That is a mouthful of beer," he exclaimed. "It's delicious, shocking. It's got everything -- smokiness, bitterness, bright fruit. I mean, this is lunch."
Another taster, noting a faint hint of angostura bitters in the flavor, thought a moderate-size glass of the Bigfoot could serve as "almost the beer equivalent of a Manhattan or old fashioned -- so much better than those cocktails people are always concocting. It's a really complex taste sensation, with no work."
We tasters were taken also by the qualities of Anchor Liberty Ale, a rich blend of creaminess and tartness that was "like a sauce," one taster said. The brew seems to cry out for sliced roast beef.
We were similarly impressed by the Pyramid Hefeweizen, which a taster described as possessing "a toasty wheatiness and this fruit thing in the middle, but in the end a cleansing bitterness."
Go easy on the ice
But a word of caution: The beers on our roster are ill served by the American habit of over-chilling. Too low a temperature tends to blank out their complexities, the very talents that got them on this team in the first place. The Pyramid Hefeweizen and Sam Adams Light are best at around 45 degrees, the Anchor Liberty Ale and Redhook IPA at around 50, and the rest at around 55, except for the Bigfoot, which is best at around 60, and the Samuel Adams Triple Bock, which merits temperatures even a little warmer than 60.
With this lineup, we feel we're ready for anything the Super Bowl can throw at us on Sunday.
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The starting lineup
Beer: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, England
Scouting report: Very dense and firm-bodied, with great balance and a hint of chocolatey sweetness
Matchups: A hunk of carrot cake or apple pie topped with Cheddar cheese
Beer: Old Peculier, England
Scouting report: Rich, round ale with a pronounced sweetness that gives way to a bitter finish
Matchups: Pastrami piled on slabs of rye bread
Beer: Anchor Porter, U.S.
Scouting report: Deep and dark, but thirst-quenching, with a hint of raspberry brightness
Matchups: Sizzling sausages or, conversely, oysters, mussels or clams
Beer: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale, U.S.
Scouting report: A delicious, shockingly complex barley wine, among beerdom's most powerful (9.6% alcohol)
Matchups: The strongest cheese in the house
Beer: Samuel Adams Triple Bock, U.S.
Scouting report: Syrupy thick and complex as vintage port, with molasses and melted bittersweet chocolate
Matchups: Possibly liverwurst, but best sipped alone (in a liqueur glass)
Beer: Stone Smoked Porter, U.S.
Scouting report: Dark with intensely smoky nose and flavor, and exceptionally long finish
Matchups: Sliced roast pork loin with a really sharp mustard
Beer: Chimay Red, Belgium
Scouting report: Cerebral and complex, with a pronounced note of cloves; member of a category (Belgian ales) many experts consider the pinnacle of brewing
Matchups: Ham, cheese, nuts -- anything, really, except a rushed attitude
Beer: Bert Grant's Scottish Style Ale, U.S.
Scouting report : A lightly molasses-like aroma and a robust taste of sweet malt that ends with a bitter flourish
Matchups: Nuts, especially fresh walnuts, or dry salami
Beer: Anchor Liberty Ale, U.S.
Scouting report: Flowery aroma, creamy mouth-feel and tart, seductive flavor -- a real "go-to" brew
Matchups: Here's your burger beer, fans (and melt some blue cheese on that ground round)
Beer: Redhook IPA (India Pale Ale), U.S.
Scouting report: Riesling-like aroma, bright, ultra-bitter zestiness in the mouth, and a good, long finish
Matchups: Almost any chip and any dip; strong cheeses like aged Gouda
Beer: Pyramid Hefeweizen, U.S.
Scouting report: Light and lively with a wheaty nose, fruity flavor and a refreshingly bitter aftertaste
Matchups: For an early game-day start, buttermilk waffles and mild sausage
Beer: Sam Adams Light, U.S.
Scouting report: A light beer hardly belongs in this lineup, but the Sam has more color and richness than other lights, (besides, a placekicker's not really a football player, anyway)
Matchups: Salty popcorn, salty peanuts -- anything that makes you want to guzzle thirstily