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What to drink with Euro ‘16

Because if you’re watching, you’re drinking.
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shutterstock_289685597I’ll be honest—I was going to write about Brexit.

It seems important, after all. It’s not hard to think of ways that it could affect beer drinkers. Will British ales get cheaper for Americans? Will more Yanks visit England and take advantage of that lovely cask ale and low exchange rate? (It’s $1.33 as I write this, remembering how it was $1.70 just two years ago.)

But I have a sneaking suspicion we’re already tired of hearing about Brexit. It’s entertaining in a sick way—especially the allegorical exclamation point that was England’s loss to Iceland—but it’s out of our control. We have our own problems.

So, do I want to write about our own problems? Nope! I feel in my bones that it’s time for a breezy summer listicle. You love those—or maybe not. Doesn’t matter. I don’t want to patronize you, but insightful bullet points neatly fit my short attention span.

What were we talking about? Can’t remember. Beer, probably. And soccer. Why not?

That reminds me of a thing that annoys me: whenever a fellow American says “football” when they mean soccer, I hear fingernails on a chalkboard. Never let a Brit or eurosnob or anyone shame you into saying “football” when you mean soccer. That has become our word, so own it. Invest it fully with our dangerous American exceptionalism.

Yet, there are plenty of europhiles among us fancy beer enthusiasts, and soccer fans, too. Imagine a Venn diagram with circles that represent beer geeks, europhiles and MLS supporters. And upper-middle-class white males. Yikes. On second thought, don’t imagine that. It’s uncomfortable.

The quarterfinals begin Thursday, so there are eight teams left. Many of the underdogs have gone home, but a few remain. The quarterfinalists also include a few of the world’s better beer countries—those are easy. The others will be more of a challenge. So consider this a weak excuse to learn something about beers and breweries we wouldn’t have considered otherwise. I’ve tried to stick to beers that are (1) interesting, (2) actually from the team’s country, and (3) available in the U.S. That’s not always possible, so I cheat.

As a public service, I note that all of these quarterfinal matches kick off anytime from noon (PDT) to 3 p.m. (EDT), depending on your time zone. Make the appropriate arrangements and neglect your life duties accordingly.

Thursday: Poland v. Portugal  An interesting matchup, but beer-wise we must contort ourselves. Bear with me.

Poland: What I wanted to put here was a proper Polish-brewed grodziskie—like the Smoked Cracow from Pracownia Piva, for example—smoky and sourish but light enough for midsummer. But I couldn’t find one available in the States yet. You could make due with the well-regarded (and more available) Lips of Faith Grätzer, a New Belgium-Three Floyds team-up. If you can find it. Plan B: Find a Baltic porter.

Portugal: Independent brewing is happening in Portugal again, but I’d be shocked if any of it were available in the U.S. If it were, we might wish for something that speaks of its country, even in an obvious way, like the Blommer Madeira from Mean Sardine in Mafra, about 25 miles northwest of Lisbon. A collaboration with Denmark’s To Øl, it’s an imperial stout with fresh plums, aged on Madeira casks. But it’s unlikely to ever reach American shores. Plan B: Your local bottle shop may carry any number of precious beauties that matured in port barrels, such as Orviamo from Side Project and De Garde, or Sang Royal from Cascade. Plan C: cold Super Bock and some bacalhau.

Friday: Wales v. Belgium  Two small countries with strong ale traditions, one more favored.

Wales: I think 20 years ago it wasn’t that difficult to find Welsh ales from breweries like Brains and Felinfoel in the U.S. I suspect the age of mad variety has nearly killed the availability of plain but comforting imported bitters. A beer that opened my eyes to ale was Felinfoel Double Dragon, enjoyed from a dimpled mug with rarebit at Llewellyn’s, in the Central West End of St. Louis. But times change. To mark that pub’s 40th anniversary, local breweries Civil Life and Schlafly brewed what they called Welsh Ale, but I think they drank it all up. Something from rising star Tiny Rebel would fit, and not just because its name is apt for the Welsh team’s underdog role. Tiny Rebel has only been around since 2012 but slayed the giants last year by taking Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival. The winning beer was Cwtch—supposed to rhyme with “butch”—an amply citrus-hopped “Welsh red” ale. Not available in the U.S. yet, as far as I can tell, but maybe it should be. So, having struck out, we’re still on Plan A: A majority of the Welsh joined the English in carrying the Brexit vote, so drink something British with rarebit.

Belgium: Our times are so bizarre that Belgium is one of the favorites to win the Euros, which is not meant to be a brewing competition. Here, just go with your favorite Belgian beer—we can get those. But if you need a nudge, I’m happy to oblige. I’d suggest the Oud Beersel Oude Kriek for being one of the juiciest authentic cherry lambics on the market, as well as for being a shade of red only slightly darker than the Devils’ jerseys. Plan B: None needed.

Saturday: Germany v. Italy  Kraft versus Craft, with eight World Cup championships between the two of them.

Germany: A luxurious option, like a pitch populated by Porsches. So as with Belgium, go with your favorite German beer. Or take my dad’s advice and drink Schneider Aventinus, an 8.2% weizenbock, the beer world’s version of a Porsche SUV. Dad drinks Miller Lite for hydration and has done so for decades now, but he has been known to buy the Brown Derby’s full stock of Aventinus and sock it away somewhere for, you know, occasions. But if it’s hot, you may want something lighter, more quenching. So, Plan B is your nearest Berliner-style weisse.

Italy: The country of the mighty Azzuri has long enjoyed lager with its pizza, but over the past 15 years or so Italy has blossomed into one of Europe’s most entertaining beer drinking countries. It has done so not by imitating American craft, but by picking and choosing what it likes from Belgium, Britain, Germany, the U.S. and elsewhere, and reshaping it—often into 75 cl bottles—to fit the country’s own culinary culture. Before it’s too late, you might hunt for the superb Duchessic from Birra del Borgo, a dry saison-like blend that gets acidic complexity from a dose of Cantillon lambic. (AB InBev bought Birra del Borgo in April, and it’s unlikely that Cantillon would allow the collaboration to continue.) Another favorite of mine, and equally good with the weather, is the Grooving Hop from Toccalmatto, a session-strength (4.3%) golden ale that gets a berry-wine kick from Nelson Sauvin hops. Also, pizza.

Sunday: France v. Iceland 

France: The tournament hosts, heavy favorites, and makers of some of the world’s most overlooked farmhouse greats, obscured by the reputations of French wine and Belgian ale. Go look for Au Baron Cuvée des Jonquilles, Theillier La Bavaisienne and Thiriez Extra—all theoretically available in the States, imported by Shelton Brothers—for a sampling of the best. You can celebrate Thiriez’s 20th anniversary while you’re at it. Plan B: Drink some apples in the form of Cidre Bouché from the Dupont estate in Calvados, Normandy. Plan C: wine.

Iceland: They are the current European heroes for knocking those uppity Brexiters from the tournament, although Iceland’s own attempts to apply for EU membership have sputtered. No matter. Here we have real underdogs if we take the long view, overlooking the fact that they cruised through qualifying games by beating the Dutch—twice. Icelandic beer is its own sort of underdog, not easy to find in the U.S., but one to hunt would be Olvisholt Lava, a smoked imperial stout whose international fans, like those of the team, are recently multiplying.

 

Author
Joe Stange is the author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers and co-author of Good Beer Guide Belgium. Follow him on Twitter @Thirsty_Pilgrim.

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