It's easy to associate kegs of beer with frat parties or watery yellow swill, but when it comes to serving large quantities of craft brew to large quantities of thirsty people, these ubiquitous barrels are a surprisingly sophisticated choice. The metal barrels are an eco-friendly drinking option, to be sure — the reusable metal container leaves the recycle bin free from pounds of glass bottles or cans — but kegged beer is also economical.
Though the price a keg of craft beer varies, even for the very good stuff it's a smart option: a half barrel, which holds 15.5 gallons and is equal to about 165 12-ounce beers, costs under $200, averaging out to about a dollar per beer.But unless you're throwing a monster Super Bowl party, you'll probably want a quarter barrel, otherwise known as a pony keg, which holds 7.5 gallons or about 80 12-ounce beers, or a sixth barrel, which holds 5.5 gallons or 55 servings. Choose the size wisely: if you use a "party pump," the easiest means for tapping a keg, any leftover beer will go flat a few days after being tapped; a CO2 dispensing system will keep beer fresh for longer but can be difficult to install.
You can pick up a keg at almost any liquor store, but placing your order directly with a local brewery is the way to go. Not only will the keg cost less, but the beer will be fresher than kegged beer that's been shipped to a distributor. (Some specialty bottle shops will also take orders for kegs—another good way to guarantee freshness.) When you place your order, also reserve the essentials: a party pump to get the beer flowing, and a large bucket to keep ice nestled nicely against the barrel. Keeping the beer cold from pickup until serving both ensures freshness and spares you from the many torturous hours it can take to cool a warm keg. (If you live somewhere where outdoor temperatures hover safely between freezing and 45 degrees, consider housing the keg outside.)
Most important of all, you have to choose the right brew. Because the big game runs longer than most parties, help guests keep from overindulging by serving beers with lower alcohol — save the barrel-aged stout or barleywine for a less marathon beer-drinking occasion. And with a spread of flavor-packed snacks - dips, wings, nachos - you'll want to choose a versatile beer that will pair well with all the foods on your table.
Here are our suggestions for Super Bowl brews, by region:
Victory Brewing Prima Pils
A classic, refreshing pilsner with just 5.3 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) is a good game-time guzzler that pairs well with everything from guacamole to spicy wings. Light, bright but beguilingly complex.
Pisgah Brewing Co. Pale Ale
A beautiful orangey beer that tastes slightly sweet and creamy overlaid with just a touch of hops—if you're paying attention. If you're focused on the next touchdown pass, it's an interesting, easy-to-drink pale ale. 5.5 percent ABV
Bell's Brewery Winter White Ale
A tried and true witbier, or wheat beer, that blends sprightly bubbles with the taste of spicy cloves. Enlightening, but not appropriate for guests who fear flavor. 5.0 percent ABV
Deschutes Brewery's Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale
This marriage of toasty malt flavors and grassy hops comes off as a sweetish IPA, but the serious hops profile will please both IPA lovers and the hop curious. Plan on more sipping and less guzzling with this beer's 6.2 percent ABV.
Lucy Burningham is a Portland, Oregon-based writer.