Craft Brew Crossover: Red Hook Meets Buffalo Wild Wings

redhook game changer handle - louisville beerThis week’s sign that some beer makers are still trying to figure out a way to make a “craft” beer they can also sell to your Corporate Light-drinking frat buddies is here: Redhook Brewery has teamed up with Buffalo Wild Wings to create an ale that attempts to cross craft-versus-corporate boundaries.

Announced back in the spring, Game Changer can now be had at Louisville-area Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants. Brandon Cutright, a manager at the Highlands location, said a 23-ounce Game Changer will cost five bucks. The beer contains 4.6 ABV and is rated at 25 IBU.

Which is to say that it’s sessionable and won’t overpower the regular Joe or Jane with hop bitterness.

“We’re not trying to get people who are already drinking craft beers,” Matt Licklider, director of brewing for Craft Brew Alliance, the Portland, Ore.-based parent company of Redhook Brewery, told “We’re trying to convert the 85 to 90 percent of people who are drinking domestics.”

Cutright said the ale was made specifically to go with hot wings; I didn’t have any wings during my recent B-Dubs visit, but did have a sample of Game Changer. Brewed with a blend of caramel malts and American-grown cascade hops, it’s about what you would expect: a very mild ale with only a hint of hop bitterness. In fact, the nose carries far more hops than the flavor, at least when tasted alone. One assumes the flavor benefits from the variety of sauces one can pair with it. Also, the tap handle looks like a remote control, which I guess is kind of cool.

Game Changer, in my mind, signals yet another play toward the growing awareness of craft beer; Redhook and Buffalo Wild Wings are betting people with timid palates who nevertheless want to feel like they are too refined for Corporate Light brews might latch onto this ale. Hey, if it can serve as a “gateway” beer to someone who may actually have a palate that is looking to expand, I’m all for it.

As always, drink happy and, whenever possible, drink local. (Meantime, if you want to try a Game Changer on the cheap, every Wednesday is $2.50 pint night at Buffalo Wild Wings.)

Also, don’t forget to make your submission to my Name This Blog contest. You can win free Louisville beer!

Light American Swill: Is it Truly the Devil?

louisville beer - mini miller high life

Thanks, Dad!

Full disclosure: Sometimes I drink Miller Lite. In fact, I drink it fairly often. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but I also am not ashamed to openly admit it.

Before I sound apologetic, know that I’m not. The metaphor I use is this: Light domestic swill is to beer as Taco Bell is to Mexican food. Even though deep down I know it constitutes corporate badness (and it is generally kind of gross and cheap-tasting), I still like it for reasons much different than my reasons for liking good beer or real Mexican food.

For my taste, having a craft beer is an experience in itself; it’s something I actually like to focus on while I’m experiencing it. But if I’m watching a Packers game with my buddies at Buffalo Wild Wings, I’d prefer to just drink the ice-cold swill rather than pay nine bucks for a Sam Adams.

Many years ago, I told New Albanian Brewing Company‘s Roger Baylor (the king of local fascist-killers) that I tended to think of Miller Lite as “beer soda.” He probably doesn’t remember this, but his response has always stuck with me. He said, “I think I’d rather just drink soda.”

His point was well taken, and still is.

But I actually think my fondness for the light stuff is the by-product of emotional attachment. My grandfather always had beer around, and it was usually Pabst Blue Ribbon (which I still drink occasionally). My dad also kept beer in the fridge, and it was (and still is) usually Miller High Life. I began begging for tastes of the stuff when I was probably no older than 5 or 6. To me, that fizzy yellow stuff was just what beer was.

Fast forward to age 10 or 11, when I took on the task of mowing the lawn. My dad stocked the fridge with the little 7-ounce High Life bottles back in those days (with the occasional foray into Lowenbrau or Little Kings), and often my reward for winning the battle with the front and back grass on a hot August day was my very own mini-sized bottle of cold beer.

Come on, what makes an 11-year-old boy feel like a man more than giving him his own freaking beer? (Remember, we’re talking pre-puberty here; the Farrah Fawcett poster came later.) But my beer puberty, if you will, really hit me when Bluegrass Brewing Company and, to a lesser extent, the Silo Brewpub opened their doors. That’s when I grew up and came to truly appreciate the difference between beer and what I had come to know as beer. (Thank you, Dave Pierce.)

No one has to preach to me about the evils of Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, etc. I get it. They are the Wal-Marts of beer. They are the major-label, Auto-Tuned pop bands of beer. They would happily squash every microbrewery on the face of the planet and force us all to suck fizzy piss-water from their teats of corporate greed, if only they could.

But they can’t; if it was possible to force free-thinking people to  have absolutely no taste, we’d all be puckered up and going at it relentlessly right now. Instead, I’m planning to schedule a brewpub tour with my girlfriend and you’re reading a blog post about beer appreciation. Cheers to beer.