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Why You Should Drink House Beer

The simple pleasure of all-occassion brews

As a college freshman, I remember there being no more beautiful a sight than a dorm refrigerator bursting with illicitly bought Natural Ice, stacks of identical cans beckoning my bad decisions.

It was my freshman year house beer, the unwavering constant for all my wavering and falling. There was never a question of what I’d drink, but rather how much. (Answer: too much.)

Gazing into my blurry rearview mirror, I glimpse two rarely repeated moves. One, drinking ice beer, which is basically battery acid bonged onto your liver. The second, buying the same beer by the case.

Today, I’m that insufferable dude poring over the beer fridge as if it contained the answers to all life’s problems (actually, sometimes it does), tweezering out single cans and bottles of IPAs, pilsners, and dry-hopped sours. They fill my fridge like a kaleidoscope of frosty butterflies, each one unique.

I crave a beer brimming with flavor and modest booze, a constant I can count on when I just want to drink, not think.

Sometimes, though, staring at a fridge freighted with flavor variables is like being pricked with a paralyzing dart. Too much choice! It’s the salad days of American beer, a buffet stretching into IPA infinity. Yet, I don’t always want to ponder IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and what have you.

In other words, I want a house beer.

The "house" booze concept is commonly applied to wine. The masses-pleasing, mostly anonymous red or white wine is doled out by the glass, the nice price encouraging repeat consumption. House wine lubricates conversation without steering it, discourses on provenance and pedigree taking back seats to the company at hand. House wine only enters discussion when you want more.

Beer, too, has a dinner table toehold. Belgium’s scantily boozy tafelbier—Flemish for table beer—is a traditional accompaniment to mealtime or, heck, anytime. Table beers are light-bodied without being light beer, packing enough character and complexity to keep taste buds from growing bored. Brand them session beers with both a foodie and Belgian bent.

Clockwise from top left: Jester King's Le Petit Prince [via Facebook], Mystic Brewery's Table Beer [via Facebook], Allagash's House Beer [via Facebook], and House Beer's House Beer [via Facebook].

Bières de table, as they’re also known, endure in Belgium (Brasserie DuPont’s spicy, grassy Avril is a must-try), but American brewers have increasingly stepped up to the table. Jester King’s Le Petit Prince is as dry and bubbly as fine Champagne, while the 2.9 percent ABV means you can—and should—solo-crush a 750ml bottle. Mystic Brewery deems its brisk, thirst-routing Table Beer an "everyday saison," and San Diego’s Benchmark underscores its Table Beer’s complete quaffability—summer-afternoon brightness enlivened with a lemon squeeze and cracked black pepper—by sticking it in 16-ounce cans. (The beer takes inspiration from Belgian monks’ low-alcohol singel, typically a monastery specialty.) And Connecticut’s farmhouse-flavored Kent Falls makes Farmer’s Table, dry-hopped with enough citrusy Cascade hops to appeal to any IPA acolyte.

These table beers stand strong with seafood and salads, cheese plates and pad Thai, roast turkey and jerk chicken, answering two eternal questions: What should I drink with dinner? What’s can I sip at lunch so I don’t drunkenly wreck my day? Table beer!

See, house and table could be kissing cousins, referring not to a codified style but rather an all-occasions mindset.

Increasingly, these food-friendly beers are favored fridge-stockers, joining those found under different monikers. Whenever I venture to Portland, Maine, I try grabbing a case of Allagash Brewing’s Belgian-inspired House Beer, humming with pear, citrus, and 4.5 percent ABV. House. There’s that word again. See, house and table could be kissing cousins, referring not to a codified style but rather an all-occasions mindset. (Allagash also brews Hoppy Table Beer.)

For lager-making magician Jack’s Abby, that means the golden, appealing malty House Lager, German in inspiration and sold in 16-ounce cans. California start-up House Brewing’s flagship, House Beer, is also a low-ABV lager, "one you can drink time and time again without worrying about how filling it is or what it says about you," as its marketing speak goes. Indiana’s Central State sees House as a rye-driven rustic blonde fully fermented with Brettanomyces, spice and funk playing in low-alcohol concert. At California’s Berryessa House, The House IPA is a 7 percent IPA popping with citrus and stone fruit, while Minneapolis’ Dangerous Man makes the fruity House IPA and Belgian Table Beer, scented with cloves and bananas.

House? Table? Georgia’s Wild Heaven ditches both designations with Emergency Drinking Beer. It hybridizes a pilsner and salty-sour gose, adding citrus zest, lemongrass, and Portuguese sea salt to a 4 percent ABV package designed for anytime, anywhere imbibing.

In a world of promiscuous drinking, in which we one-night stand with beers before swiftly bouncing to the next, stocking house beer is a commitment to monogamy, or simply steady cohabitation. There’s comfort in carbonated familiarity, no matter its form. Maybe it’s a tropical IPA or snappy pilsner, or a stout that you can’t do without. Buy a six-pack, buy a case—you know, just in case a couple friends unexpectedly swing by. Consider it a hedge against that most heinous of crimes, the empty fridge.

It’s a new house rule.

Editor: Kat Odell

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