There is something romantic and appealing about being a sommelier, about being the person who can make such flawless wine recommendations that they elevate your meal to another level. To my mind, they have this mythic image, elevating them above us mere mortals who sip on pedestrian alcoholic beverages.
This image has become so pervasive that the name and idea are being adopted into other areas, in sensible ways like the cicerone qualification for beer professionals, to the slightly more whacky vegetable sommelier in Japan.
With this in mind, I’d love to bring my own spin to it. I’m going to talk about how I justify having certain beers at the board game table, but shroud it in a veil of sommelier-inspired mysticism and mystery and call it pairing. Join me, as I make up a completely random and unscientific guide to pairing beers and board games.
Pairing By Weight
This is probably my favourite way to pair a beer to a board game.
Picture the scene. You’ve just purchased Rex, a two plus hour game, with asymmetrical powers and a weight rating of 3.26 on BoardGameGeek.com, indicting it’s quite complex. This is going to be a long, involved game… a game that weighs on you, a game that leaves a memory, something you won’t likely forget.
The beer you choose should match this. In the case of Rex, it should be something memorable, heavy, complex, something that will stand out in your memory as a memorable beer, some would say it should be imperious, or rather imperial. As a fan of darker beers I’d like to pair an imperial stout with this kind of game. These beers usually clock in with a pretty hefty ABV of 8%-12%, and often have notes of dark chocolate or coffee. Some are aged in barrels, like whiskey or bourbon barrels, with the character of the whiskey or bourbon bringing a delightful edge to the beer.
If you’re more into the IPA side of things, an imperial IPA, a beer that has been double or even triple hopped fits perfectly. I’m not one for mega-hopped beers (though it does depend on the hop variety used), so I wouldn’t go for this too often myself. But if you are going to indulge in an imperial beer of some description at the game table, just make sure to finish the rules explanation before cracking open the bottle.
On the other hand, let’s say you’re playing something light, fun, bubbly and refreshing. Celestia is one game that fits the bill perfectly. There’s a chance it’ll make a lasting impression, but probably because of the interactions with your friends. A heavy, imperial stout would not be the way to go here, as the complex flavours and big hit each mouthful brings could distract you from the game. You want something equally light, something that’s playful on the palette but refreshing, like lighter games often are. You want a beer you can pick up, and take a quick swig of, before diving straight back to the game. Here a session ale or lager suits perfectly. Let’s get one thing clear though, I don’t endorse binge drinking in any way, shape or form, but a session ale is designed to be enjoyed in multiples, leading to a drink that’s light, coming in with an ABV of 3-5%, and is often brewed with paler malts and has a less pronounced hop profile.
What I like about pairing beer weight with game weight is it helps you create a certain expectation for the evening. A fast, fun game, served up with a lighter, refreshing beer can be a great start to the evening. Then, as the heavier games and the heavier beers hit the table, things get more serious. This weight pairing allows you to have the perfect drink for the game whether you want a light night with session ales and less complex games, or a one-game night with a heavy hitting imperial stout.
Pairing By Theme
The craft beer and board games podcast, Draft Mechanic, absolutely excel at this. If you don’t listen to them, you should give it a whirl.
Essentially what you’re doing here is trying to find beers named in such a way as to double down on the theme of your game. My go-to example is Blood Rage, Eric Lang’s card drafting game of Viking plunder and combat. If you haven’t played this game it’s absolutely worth a try. The Viking theme pervades this game, with dead warriors, fresh from a failed attempt to pillage no doubt, being sent to Ragnarok, and the world tree Yggdrasil dominating the centre of the board.
Such a well-established theme opens up a world of possibilities and gives you a wide range of beers to choose from, for example, Pillage The Village by Mad Viking Brewery or how about anything from Einstok Brewery in Iceland? Doubling down on this theme also gives you the opportunity to throw some shade at your friends, as your dedication to the game, the theme, and the extra effort you made clearly means your going to win, right? It also gives you the freedom to stick to your preferred beer styles, while still embracing the pairing of beer and board games.
Unfortunately, you may not always be able to find a beer locally that meets your requirements. I can imagine most people having a hard time finding the right brew to match with Zendo for example. If this method of pairing appeals to you, I really encourage you to check out how Jake and Danielle over at Draft Mechanic pull this off.
Does this make a difference?
Games are driven by the people who play them and the environment they play them in. Multiplayer games in isolation are just cardboard artifacts, their purpose unfulfilled without people brought together. So many things contribute to making a game night, or even a single play of a game a success, and the expectations you and your friends bring to the table can enhance or detract from a game night.
Try playing Dead of Winter in a dimly lit, preferably cold room with a few friends who are all suffering from a cold, no beer, no food, no warm drinks, and you’ll soon experience how oppressive and miserable that game can be (frostbite is not a requirement). This absolutely matters!
I would say that though, as I’m writing 1,000 words trying to convince you to pair your beers with your board games! Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
What you’re favourite beer and board game pairing?
Patrick “Paddy” Brophy, writer at The Crafty Players, spent 5 years living in Japan, and now works at telling everyone how great it is. He likes all kinds of board games, and there’s nothing he would rather do more than sit down around a table with friends and push meeples around. He’s
fond of saying he’ll play anything once.
Beers of Choice: Porter, stouts and ales.