It’s the Beer Talking

Illustration By Marshall Hopkins[/caption]

Parity and its close cousin, unpredictability, have been hallmarks of the NFL for more than a decade, but this season was ridiculous. The sheer we-have-no-freaking-clue-who-will-win-this-game factor has never been higher, and if it’s made being a fan especially difficult, well, it’s turned gambling into a genuine health hazard. For proof, look no further than this weekend’s NFC championship game, which features the Arizona Cardinals, who went 9-7 this season (and as Peter King points out over on SI.com, suffered 28- , 21-, and 40-point losses since Thanksgiving), against the Philadelphia Eagles, who went 9-6-1 and benched starting quarterback Donovan McNabb in Week 12. In the AFC, a rookie quarterback (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco) won two games on the road, and will gun for a third at Pittsburgh, the only division winner in the conference still alive in the playoffs.

There’s simply no calling these games anymore, so we’ve decided to scrap our usual handicapping methods—parsing the injury reports, checking the weather, consulting our personal psychics—and instead are going with the relative merits of each city’s regional beer to forecast this weekend’s winners and the eventual Super Bowl champ.

Our criteria, like the brews themselves, are simple: we’re talking old-school regional brews, not microbrews. Nothing against microbrews, but football seems more suited to blue-collar beer like Falstaff and Iron City than St. Nicklaus Bock and Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter. Plus, given the unpredictable economic climate these days, the cheap stuff is the way to go. So pop open a can of Stroh’s, kick back, and find out what the suds told us about this weekend’s games.

AFC Championship

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
National Bohemian vs. Iron City
Marshall Hopkins
Marshall Hopkins

National Bohemian

Brew Mastery: Natty Boh, as it is known locally , has been cheaply quenching powerful thirsts since 1885. In 1979, just as the Baltimore Colts would do five years later, the company making Charm City’s swill packed up and split town. Today—like pretty much every third beer out there—Natty Boh is part of the Pabst empire.

Can/Bottle Design: Is that an old-timey barber? A winking bohemian? An unfortunate, one-eyed, mustache-contest champion? Hard to say, but NB’s mascot, Mr. Boh to you and me, is a stylish reminder that the more you drink, the harder it is to see.

Slogan: “From the Land of Pleasant Living.” Is this the place to point out that Baltimore is consistently near the top of the national per-capita homicide rates?

Tasting Notes: If you had followed David Simon around during a hot summer shoot of the Wire and then bottled his man-moisture, it might taste something like this pilsner. Only not as sweet. Hoppy? Slightly. Refreshing? A little bit. Scrumptious? Not on your life.

Fast Fact: National Brewing, Natty Boh’s original producer, also brought the world Colt 45 malt liquor. On behalf of the geniuses behind that potent sauce, we’d like to say you’re welcome, Billy Dee Williams.

Marshall Hopkins
Marshall Hopkins

Iron City

Brew Mastery: A German immigrant (shocked?) named Edward Frauenheim started brewing the beer in 1861. The operation expanded its facilities twice in its first decade of existence, proving yet again that ‘Burghers will drink your sorry ass under the table. Also: good business sense.

Can/Bottle Design: It’s fittingly no-frills—the name sits on a red oval with an ironworks spark glittering above the “I” in ‘City’ (and echoing the Steelers’ helmet logo).

Slogan: “A Pittsburgh Tradition.” Again—not super dynamic. And which tradition is the lager aligning itself with? The dying-industry tradition, or the unspeakably cold, dark and long winter tradition? Seems like a missed chance to play off the town’s toughness—something like: “Drink This or We Will Smash Your Spleen.”

Tasting Notes: Iron City has about as much finesse as its name implies. But if you keep it ice cold, it’s crisp enough to drink throughout a Steelers’ game, and by the fourth quarter you may well agree with one of the brand’s old slogans that it is, indeed, “Pittsburgh’s Perfect Pilsener.” In any case, it clearly inspires undying loyalty among the locals.

Fast Fact
: Still made in Pittsburgh, though now owned by the Keystone Brewing Company, Iron City introduced the “snap top” can to the world in 1962, which helped all of our dads seem at least a little bit cool.

WINNER: Baltimore/National Bohemian. Much like the game promises to be (the teams have met twice this season, with Pittsburgh winning 13-9 and 23-20), this one was a tight, hard-fought affair. While both beers taste equally, um, serviceable, Natty Boh squeaks out the win on the strength of its dashing Cyclops of a mascot—and its smashmouth defense.

NFC Championship

Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Falstaff vs. Yuengling

Falstaff

Brew Mastery: During the infancy of this great nation, the West (settled later) and the South (too focused on Moonshine), lagged behind the East and Midwest in the production of beer. So we couldn’t find a regional beer from Arizona (if you know of one, send it in). No matter: We went with Falstaff, from St. Louis—home of the Cardinals from 1960 to 1987. St. Louis isn’t the only thing these two have in common: they share heartache, as well. The Cardinals—despite being the oldest professional football team in America—have never played in the Super Bowl;. Falstaff—named for Shakespeare’s tragically mirthful clown—was one of the oldest domestic beers until then-owner Pabst discontinued it in 2005 after a 98-year run.

Can/Bottle Design: When you last this long, you go through a lot of makeovers—just ask Ms. Ciccone. A recent edition featured a shield, or maybe it’s a lyre, against a backdrop of wheat. Whatever the shield thing is, it provokes very romantic feelings about wheat.

Slogan: “The Choicest Product of the Brewer’s Art.” We prefer the line from this old Falstaff TV spot, the unintentionally hilarious: “Man-sized pleasure.”

Tasting Notes: We talked to a relative in St. Louis and he swore by the stuff. Said it was better than Bud (“by far”); and it indeed outsold its cross-town rival by 50 percent in 1968. But Falstaff eventually fell to Anheuser-Busch’s marketing muscle. Then again, Pabst—Pabst—shut down the business. So how good could it have been? Or was Pabst worried about Falstaff draining some of PBR’s hipster cachet? We prefer to think the latter.

Fast Fact: Legend has it one former owner, Houston resident John Milkovisch, drank a six-pack a day and built a real house of cans with the empties. Eat it, Sigma Phi Epsilon!

Yuengling

Brew Mastery: “America’s Oldest Brewery,” has been family operated since 1829. We sincerely salute Yuengling’s dedication to providing a beer for Philly sports fans to cry into lo these many years. (Okay, they won the World Series last year but that was an anomaly; read on.)

Can/Bottle Design: A swooping Eagle, large enough to make Stephen Colbert blush, sinks its claws into a wooden barrel, while cheering an apparent spinal injury to the Cowboys’ Michael Irvin and booing Santa Claus.

Slogan: When you are “America’s Oldest Brewery” you have no need for slogans. Because nothing moves product like the word ‘old.’

Tasting Notes: Yuengling’s taste is a cut above the other cities’ brews—it’s full-bodied, with actual character. But that mostly works against it here, since it puts the beer closer to being a semi-national microbrew than an honest-to-goodness sip of canned cheapness.

Fast Fact: Order “a lager” in many parts of Pennsylvania, and Yuengling is what will be served. Order a “”pumpkin stout” on the other hand and you will likely be asked to leave.

WINNER
: A local fan persuaded us to go with Yuengling over Schmidt in the Eagles’ spot, and while the beer is great, and it has an eagle on its logo, the fact remains that it is brewed in Pottsville, not Philadelphia. It’s also half-way to being a microbrew, for better and worse. These factors—combined with the collective skills of Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner—will ground the Eagles this weekend.

SUPER BOWL

Cardinals vs. Ravens
Falstaff vs. National Bohemian

Will the Cardinals really finally reach the Super Bowl? Hey,beer don’t lie. But that’s where the hangover begins: Natty Boh and the Ravens top defunct Falstaff and the Cardinals, even as Kurt Warner formalizes a bid for Canton just by getting this crew to the Big Game. It’s Natty Boh and the one-eyed old-timey barber lifting the Lombardi, with considerable help from Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and frosty-cool Flacco’s solid game-management.

Mac Montandon has written for The New York Times and New York magazine, among others, and is the author of Jetpack Dreams.

John Bolster is a Features Editor at Penthouse magazine, and has written for SI.com, Deadspin, and other publications. He was very pleased with the unpredictability of the Miami Dolphins’ 2008 season.

I smell some home cookin. I happen to know that Mac is a Baltimore native.

— Doitfordawkins    Jan 15, 12:44 PM    #

In Yeungling’s defense, for a microbrew it used to be dirt cheap, cheaper than Budweiser. Only Busch could undersell it when I was in high school. And it’s not good.

— RolandC    Jan 15, 04:27 PM    #

As a lifelong swiller of Yuengling I take exception to your assessment of the beer as having “actual character”. Don’t confuse the lager’s slightly darker color with sincere flavor, which I am proud to say it entirely lacks.

— Jobey    Jan 15, 04:53 PM    #

Marshall, I dig those helmets. Can you make me an actual helmet like that?

Austin    Jan 15, 05:00 PM    #

RolandC – I think you are think about Yeung “premium”. Lager is a bit of a transformation for this brewery and while it is still not “good”, I’ll take it over any Bud product.

— Scott    Jan 15, 05:00 PM    #

The Cardinals won their division as well, so there are 2 division winners left.

Kershaw    Jan 15, 05:11 PM    #

Arizona has a few good breweries, including Four Peaks Brewery in Phoenix, and Nimbus Brewery in Tucson.

coley    Jan 15, 05:12 PM    #

i live in NC and yuengling is priced the same as bud/miller/coors at almost every store. “the good cheap beer” is what we call it. not placed in the microbrew section either.

— stephen    Jan 15, 05:15 PM    #

Kershaw: the only division winner in the CONFERENCE (AFC) still alive in the playoffs

-John

John    Jan 15, 05:19 PM    #

Shouldn’t the fact that Arizona doesn’t even have a brewery disqualify the Cards, or at least count strongly against them? Plus, I’m sure that Falstaff has not been a prevalent tailgating beer at Arizona Cardinals games so it’s hard to say that any legitimate benefit emanates from the beer to the team via fan consumption.

This begs the question: Do they even tailgate at Cards games? If so I would imagine a lot of Silver Bullet.

Even if we grant them a legit Falstaff connection, shouldn’t they lose major points for the Shakespeare connection? The “Man-Sized Pleasure” thing is brilliant, though.

— StoshK    Jan 15, 05:42 PM    #

Woah, there Bal’merian. Everybody knows that Yuengling is the sole property of the 1925 NFL Champion POTTSVILLE MAROONS and therefore cannot possibly be assigned to the team from Philly. Sober up!

Bill    Jan 15, 06:16 PM    #

Wouldn’t Victory Brewing Company work for Philadelphia?

The Love of Beer    Jan 15, 06:25 PM    #

Re: The Beercan House. It really exists, and really is an interesting place to visit in Houston. Recently it was purchased by a folk-art institution, so it’s open to the public. http://www.beercanhouse.org/
Two notes though – the house isn’t actually made of beer cans, just every surface is coated with ‘em (and yes, he drank most of them). And the cans aren’t exclusively Falstaff, there’s plenty of Lone Star, Pabst, etc mixed in too.

heyzeus    Jan 15, 06:29 PM    #

Four Peaks Kiltlifter is the pride of Arizona. Fantastic beer.

— Nick    Jan 15, 06:58 PM    #

wow, the cliche “booed santa claus 50 years ago” reference.

— da birds    Jan 15, 07:20 PM    #

Ahhh but you forget the special seasonal brew from Iron City – Old Frothingshosh (“The Pale Stale Ale With the Foam on the Bottom”) – based upon that I chose to predict Pittsburgh (Old Frothingshlosh) vs. Philly (represented by Yuengling’s Black & Tan) in the Super Bowl.

And the stout conquers all.

cptnspldng    Jan 15, 08:38 PM    #

Agreed. Four Peaks Kiltlifter is the finest beer in Arizona.

RMD    Jan 15, 11:17 PM    #

“the fact remains that it is brewed in Pottsville, not Philadelphia”

So a brew made and hour and a half away works against us, but the Cardinals are repped by a St. Louis beer without an issue? Get over yourselves. Kurt Warner gets sacked 5 times on sunday and they end up rolling his ass out of the stadium still laying on that field on wheels.

Sparerib    Jan 16, 10:44 AM    #

Nice try, sorry to say Natty Boh has not been made in the land of Pleasant Living for over 20 years, but rather by Miller brewing in North Carolina. Thus Iron City wins by default. Kind of the way the Ravens win the best male dance team debate.

jp    Jan 16, 11:14 AM    #

Doitfordawkins: You do? How? Also: Natty Boh rulz, hon!

Mac    Jan 16, 11:56 AM    #

Wow – What an uninformed group. There’s over 30 breweries in AZ. Four Peaks has been mentioned, but what about: Oak Creek, Papago, Sonoran, Flagstaff, Beaver Street, Gentle Ben’s, Mogollon, Nimbus, Mudshark, just to name a few. So although I’m not one to defend the Cards, I’m definitely going to stand up for AZ beer…

Felipe    Jan 16, 03:22 PM    #

OK. I was a little too fast on the last post. I realize now that the article focused on “regional” breweries. Well, I’d have to point out here that very few of those exist West of the Mississippi, period. The craft and micro-brew movement took hold and as any beer lover will agree with, regional breweries have been swallowed up through M&A, or have gone out of business altogether.

So, after all that, I gotta say “yep, no regional brews”, but don’t write off AZ beer.

Felipe    Jan 16, 03:31 PM    #

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