The best American craft beers to crack open for the Superbowl


Like Thanksgiving, Baby Showers and Black Friday, the Super Bowl is an American custom that tends to polarise opinion over here.

A baffling version of British bulldog played by grunting, grappling leviathans in skin-tight leggings, shoulder pads, eye make-up and shiny helmets that goes on for hours. It’s not for everyone.  

But one thing is for sure – no other sport lends itself better to drinking beer. American Football’s stop-starty rhythm allows everyone watching ample opportunity to get to the fridge and back without missing any of the action.

Yet when Gridiron first appeared on British TV screens back in 1982, it was not a great time to be reaching for an American beer. Having once been home to more than 2700 craft breweries in the late 19th century, American beer in the 1980s had become a byword for uniform blandness.

But that’s definitely not the case now. America boasts the world’s most creative and exciting craft beer scene made up of more than 4000 breweries (more than ever before) and a greater diversity of styles than any single European nation can offer. According to new figures from The Brewers Association, breweries are opening in the country at the rate of two a day.

Even better, an increasing number of great American brewers are sending their beers over here and with this year’s Super Bowl taking place in San Francisco, California, we have chosen eleven beers that all hail from the Golden State.

This wasn’t difficult as California is where American craft beer was born and it continues to be a fertile source of great beer. So when Superbowl 50 kicks off, we suggest you fill your fridge with a few of the following.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 5.6%

It’s tricky to over-estimate the importance of this pioneering Pale Ale that was first brewed back in 1980, using some second-hand dairy tanks out of a ramshackle brewery in the town of Chico. Its unashamed celebration of the spicy, citrusy Cascade hop made hops hip again, recalibrated the palate of the American beer drinker and inspired a generation of American craft brewers to follow suit. More than 35 years on, Sierra Nevada is the third biggest brewer in the States yet its flagship bottle-conditioned beer remains the benchmark for American pale ales and is the ultimate burger beer. 

355ml, £1.79

Firestone Walker: Union Jack IPA, 7.5% 

One excellent west coast IPA from one of America’s most intelligent ale-makers. Using the iconic Burton Union System, favoured by Burton brewers back in the 19th century, and more than 4lbs of Pacific Northwest hops per barrel, Firestone Walker combines classic characteristics of Californian and British brewing to create a superb citrusy dry-hopped IPA with balanced bitterness and a bready malt base.

£3.89, 355ml


Green Flash West Coast IPA 8.1% 

An archetypal Californian Double IPA from a brilliant San Diegan brewery that hails three different West Coast hops in style, almost as if the brewer has licked his fingers and individually peeled off each one, like a single dollar note from a wad of greenbacks, and layered them gently on a bed of pale malt. The classic grapefruit aroma of Cascade is followed by the peach tones of Simcoe, then the woody lip-smacker Columbus kicks in and a soothing centennial balm, pine and lemongrass, signs the whole, highly tasty, experience off. £4.00 330ml 


Anchor Brewing: Steam Beer 4.8% 

A lot like a lager and a bit like a bitter, this is the signature beer of San Francisco and, historically, it’s been hugely significant in America’s craft brewing revolution. Spicy, citrussy with a sweet biscuit base, and lovely light carbonation courtesy of krausening (the addition of actively fermenting wort) it’s a hard-nosed hybrid brewed like using lager yeast yet conditioned like an ale at warm temperatures.  It supposedly earned its name from the vapours that wafted up from the brewery’s rooftop fermenters into the cool city air. £1.83 (when bought as a pack of six) 355ml


North Coast Brewing: Brother Thelonious 9.4% 

From this imaginative microbrewery on the Mendocino Coast comes this very drinkable, deftly balanced Dubbel, a style more readily associated with Belgian abbey ales. A robust, mahogany-hued homage to jazz legend Thelonious Monk, it spirals with notes of chocolate, chipotle and a cinnamon spice. Hmmm. Nice.

355ml £4.89


Lagunitas IPA, 6.1%

Unlike other, more crudely-hopped west coast IPAs, this nuanced Northern California classic won’t leave your palate whimpering in the corner with a snot-bubble protruding from its nose. Achieving, instead, a marvellous equilibrium between malt sweetness, bitter hops and some smashing pine-y, citrusy aromas.

£2.49 335ml


Stone Brewing Old Guardian, 11% 

Stone’s unashamedly aggressive beers blew the doors off a subdued San Diegan beer scene back in 1996 and inspired the likes of Brewdog - the whole “stick to the man” schtick is very similar. Underpinning this unapologetically antagonistic approach, however, are some very decent beers including this grandiose, vinous bottle-conditioned Barley Wine that is best served in a snifter or a brandy balloon with some Stilton on the side.

£13, 650ml


Anderson Valley Brewing: Boont Amber 5.8% 

A fruity, floral, copper-coloured yet sweet-tempered Amber from a bucolic, solar-powered brewery in beautiful Boonville, where locals speak Boontling, a dialect invented in the late 1800s by pesky kids hell bent on hoodwinking their parents. Made for “Bahl Hornin’” (good drinking), have it with a hot dog and some caramelised onions. 355ml £3.30


Alesmith Speedway Stout 12% 

Beer geeks get very excited about this divine, dark and velvet-textured Imperial stout brewed in small-batches using copious quantities of coffee beans and then aged in bourbon barrels. Espresso astringency softened by vanilla notes, a touch of oak and a wonderful, warming finish. A signature classic from a brewery that, back in 1995, was instrumental in sowing the seeds of San Diego’s blossoming beer scene.

£15.25 750ml bottle


Half Moon Bay Brewing: Mavericks Amber Ale 4.8% 

Beneath San Francisco on the central Californian coast is Half Moon Bay, home not only to the world pumpkin championships but also Maverick’s Point, hailed by many as the most notorious ‘Big Wave’ surfing-location on the planet with waves that routinely top out at more than 50 feet. The pick of the surf-themed suds at the superb Half Moon Bay Brewpub is this malt-driven assertive amber ale that balances some vigorous hop bitterness with apricot, blackberry and a touch of toffee.

£6.89 650ml


Mad River Brewing: Steelhead Extra Pale Ale, 5.7%               

Based in the small Northern Californian town of Blue Lake, Mad River has been fashioning some fine ales since 1989 when it inherited the brew-kit on which Ken Grossman, of Sierra Nevada fame, cut his brewing teeth. There’s just enough citrus hop here, but reigned in on the bitter finish. A touch of toffee too. Very well put together.

£3.50 355ml