Fans of the Baltimore Orioles, dejected followers of a team that has suffered through 13 straight losing seasons, finally have a reason to get excited about opening day down on Eutaw Street. They're about to welcome an old friend back to Camden Yards this season — and it's not Cal Ripken. They're finally getting Baltimore's signature beer on tap, National Bohemian, lovingly nicknamed Natty Boh:
The beer will be available throughout the ballpark at the April 4 home season opener, said Rachel Anne Warren, a retail sales specialist with Pabst Brewing Co. Warren said sales of the beer, once marketed under the slogan, "Brewed in the Land of Pleasant Living," had exceeded expectations after it was reintroduced on tap at the end of January.
Natty Boh in Baltimore is like Old Style in Chicago or Pabst Blue Ribbon in Brooklyn: Locally beloved despite having a boringly shallow taste profile. So O's fans are understandably excited for reasons other than the upcoming baseball season.
Alas, as beloved as Natty Boh might be in the Charm City, the fact remains that the beer has a thin, watery mouth feel. If we're being honest, Natty Boh would not make a short list of the best beers available at a baseball game.
But what would make a list of the top-10 beers available for purchase and consumption at MLB ballparks? I've compiled my own listicle below, giving extra credit for beers that are produced locally and discounting beers that are brewed and sold by massive corporate entities. That means the three stadiums named after massive corporate breweries will not be represented on this list: Miller Park, Busch Stadium and Coors Field (although the Sandlot brewpub attached to Coors Field gets an honorable mention for being the birthplace of the popular witbier Blue Moon).
Stone IPA, Petco Park, San Diego: The Stone Brewing Company is just a half hour up the coast from the home of the San Diego Padres so this beer fits the local angle. After all, the closer the beer gets brewed, the faster it gets to your mouth and the fresher it's going to be. The Stone India Pale Ale might be a little too hoppy and a little too strong (6.9 percent ABV) for some folks, but with Petco being a pitchers' friendly park that suppresses scoring, you can't drink more than three of these babies before the Padres have lost a two-hour game 1-0.
Anchor Steam, AT&T Park, San Francisco: Ready for a boozy San Francisco day? The Anchor Brewing Company, home of a great brewery tour (with free samples) and an early evening San Francisco Giants game at AT&T Park are just a half-hour walk apart. Anchor Steam is a toasty, caramel-colored lager that's both easy to drink and interesting on the tastebuds. But if you want something more challenging, hit up the Public House sports pub that's attached to the ballpark and bring one of over three dozen different brews into the game with you, including a cask-conditioned bitter named after a baseball player-turned-evangelist that's brewed specially for the Public House.
Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale, Turner Field, Atlanta: Find your way to the Tomahawk Tavern concession stand at the Ted and you can snag an Abita Purple Haze, a Sam Adams Summer Ale, or the locally produced SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale. With a reasonable 5.4 percent ABV and a mild citrus and hoppy taste, it's what you want to be drinking whether you're in the upper deck or out at the Double Dime Ranch hunting badgers with Chipper Jones(notes).
Blue Point Toasted Lager, Citi Field, New York: Head out to the "Taste of the City" area beyond the center-field wall at Citi Field and you'll come across Chef Dave Pasternack's "Catch of the Day" concession, a Long Island-themed seafood stand that sells a delicious Long Island-brewed toasted amber lager with a note of spice and toffee. The Blue Point brew pairs perfectly with the Nathan's all-beef hot dog steamed in the beer itself, or even better with a Mets win. (Well, maybe you should just stick with the frankfurter.)
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.: Dogfish beermaker Sam Calagione and his crew brew up some of the best beers in America from their location in Lower Delaware. That's just 100 miles as the crow flies to the Red Porch and the Red Loft at Nationals Park, where the team introduced the 60 Minute IPA last year as one of four new craft beers. It's bottle-conditioned, which means that the beer ferments a second time after it's been bottled, so it yields a citrusy and floral taste. But, sorry, Bryce Harper(notes). Even if you make the majors this year you'll have to wait until opening day 2014 to legally take a sip.
Finnegan's Irish Amber, Target Field, Minneapolis: I've never tried this beer, nor do I know a single person who has. It could taste like Jim Thome's(notes) back sweat for all I know. But no matter, the good people at Finnegan's set their product apart from any other beer by being a non-profit brewery that donates 100 percent of their profits to fight poverty in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Kudos to the new Target Field for carrying a product that is both the cause of and solution to all life's problems.
I.C. Light, PNC Park, Pittsburgh: OK, this beer — all too similar to the mass-produced corporate light lagers that we love to hate — is not a great beer. It might not even be considered "good" anywhere outside of Iron City's home in Pittsburgh (even though the beer is now brewed at the old Rolling Rock home in Latrobe, Pa.) But I.C. Light is the beer of choice among devout Pirates fans who need something inoffensive to pair with an otherwise offensive Primanti's Pittsburgher cheesesteak. It's also the rare beer that somehow tastes better in aluminum than glass, probably because you feel better about supporting Alcoa, the locally based aluminum concern.
Mac & Jacks African Amber, Safeco Field, Seattle: Hailing from Redmond, Wash., the Mac & Jacks African Amber is actually classified as an American amber. It's reddish in appearance and tastes a little bit nutty and a little bit fruity. Best of all, you can grab a cup of it at the Safeco Field outpost of Porter's Place BBQ, purveyors of spicy sausage sandwiches topped with tangy pulled pork, chicken and beef sandwiches. Safeco features a number of local beers, including Redhook ESB, Manny's Pale Ale, and Snoqualmie Falls Grand Slam Amber.
Flying Fish Extra-Pale Ale, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia: It's the No. 1 selling craft beer at a stadium that features a number of great choices. At just 4.8 percent ABV, Flying Fish's Extra-Pale Ale is the kind of beer that you can go back and get more of during a long, high-scoring game at that bandbox of a ballpark. It pairs perfectly with a bucket of Chickie and Pete's spicy crab fries but avoid the greasy cheese dip which could overwhelm the crisp flavor of the beer.
Small beer, Oakland Coliseum, Oakland: Don't fall for the scam. The $5 small beer and the $8 large beer are both the same size. Get the small and get a better value! Or try a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from nearby Chico, Calif. It's one of the more popular microbrews in America for a good reason: It's hoppy, citrusy, and downright delicious.
Most of the beers on this list are pale ales of some sort; along with pilsners and summer ales, you'll find that these are the best kinds of beers to drink while sunning yourself during a late July baseball game. You'd be best to avoid full-bodied oatmeal stouts or brown bitter dunkelweizens that would only weigh you down and make you feel like John Kruk at a buffet table. And remember, these beers are meant to be enjoyed in moderation. They taste so darn good that you'll want to savor the flavor, not chug them like you're a sorority girl with a Solo cup and a half keg of Milwaukee's Best.
Full disclosure: I've paid for every single beer that I have consumed from this list. None of them were received as a promotional review sample from any brewery. But if you work at any of these breweries or heck, any brewery at all, you can change that.
What's your favorite beer to drink at a ballgame? What park is it available at?