Football and beer: the perfect autumn pairing. Football is the ideal sport for socializing and, of course, sampling a favorite brew. Brewpubs become gathering spots for game fans to stoke the fire, toast a victory, or lament defeat with a soothing beverage. In many college towns, the names of brews and pubs pay homage to a beloved team. Then, of course, there’s tailgating. There is something about a bundled figure, on a brisk fall afternoon, enjoying food and drink in less than perfect conditions that screams “football fan.”
Fans set aside a whole day, if not a weekend, to indulge themselves in the frenzy of the game and its peripheral activities.
More than a beverage to consume on the sidelines, beer has a historical and symbolic link to the game. Football fans and beer lovers share in their sense of camaraderie. College football fans are fiercely loyal to their teams and their respective conferences. Regional bias adds yet more fuel to the sometimes blazing fealty, with inevitable debates about whom, or which, is superior. Beer aficionados are little different—they are often staunch in their love for styles, brands or regional inclinations. The debates are more subdued but no less inspired.
College football and brewing also share a chronology, as both were popularized in the latter half of the 19th century. Nowhere is this connection more apparent than The Big Ten. Famous for its physical, take-no-prisoners style of football, the member universities cut a latitudinal swath across the upper Midwest and Great Lakes, which geographically casts a cultural mentality common to all of the members.
The Big Ten universities range from Iowa to Penn State in the east. Every state in between has at least one conference member. The region is also the birthplace of professional football. The earliest teams rimmed the Great Lakes in small, working-class cities whose residents were enamored of both football and beer.
Primarily immigrants from central and eastern Europe, these new Americans brought their brewing skill and love for beer with them. As they were accustomed to imbibing lager beers in their homeland, they brewed the same in America. The affinity for bottom-fermentation endures, though all modern styles of beers are well-represented, making the region unique in the United States.
The Big Ten states of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois were among the most prodigious brewing states of the 19th century. The cool climate and often hilly terrain provided the perfect environment. Today, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania are hotbeds of the modern American brewing scene.
Historically, football was just as reflective of the populace. Blue-collar football teams composed of farmers, factory workers, lumberjacks, and coal miners made for some rugged games on hardscrabble fields, a style that is still synonymous with the Big Ten.