Some of college football’s oldest rivalries are found in the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Minnesota have the longest skein of battles, at 112 games. Michigan versus Ohio State is easily one of the fiercest tilts in college football and is considered by some to be the most engaging of all athletic contests. Massive alumni bases and gargantuan stadiums, some of which can hold over 100,000, only enhance the festive atmosphere, which builds to a crescendo on game day. Fans set aside a whole day, if not a weekend, to indulge themselves in the frenzy of the game and its peripheral activities.
To explore the beer haunts of the Big Ten is to explore college football history itself. The names Butkus, Nitschke, Warfield and Nagurski are synonymous with Midwestern football and conjure up images of olden times. Griffin, Carter and Brady symbolize the new Big Ten, more wide open, but no less tough. The Big Ten has never shed its image as a blue-collar conference, with a nod to modern tastes. And so it is with the region’s beer, true to its roots, with plenty of contemporary flair and style, and a solid dose of savvy. The Big Ten’s gridiron stars and beers are worthy of legendary status.
So let’s strap on the gear and take a run up the gut, with a few jukes here and there, through Big Ten country and head for brewing pay dirt. Both the wizened beer veteran and the curious rookie should be satisfied.
University of Wisconsin Badgers
Situated between Lakes Mendota and Monona in Madison, UW is quintessentially Wisconsin. Its beloved football team, with a hard-nosed, grinding style, befits its mascot. Winner of three Big Ten championships in recent years, coach Barry Alvarez preaches straightforward and mistake-free football. Apparently, the local brewers share his philosophy. The city has few rivals when it comes to the beer scene in a university town. Madison has three brewpubs near campus, Great Dane, J. T. Whitney’s and Angelic. Nearby are two world-renowned breweries, New Glarus and Capital, winners of numerous national and international awards. There’s nary a glitch in either’s beer portfolio, most of which is available in bottles. Homespun Lake Louie Brewery in Arena makes small batches of beer to perfection. The spiffy Tyranena Brewing Co. in Lake Mills produces five regulars and four seasonals, all bottled. The selection makes coolers at Badger games among the happiest around.
After the game, check out the Student Union, with seating for hundreds, German décor, and numerous local brews on draft. The plaza outside rises just a couple feet above beautiful Lake Mendota. Local hero Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, a native of Wisconsin and perhaps its most memorable player, is worthy of a toast on a fall football afternoon.
Penn State University Nittany Lions
A member of the Big Ten for about a decade, Penn State is a perfect fit. Known as “Linebacker University” for its tough, wide-ranging defensive marauders, Penn State is widely respected among football fans as an honorable foe. Coach Joe Paterno is an institution, as revered as the team itself. Excellence across the board is the modus operandi for Penn State, with solid, rather than flashy, players the norm. Dave Robinson, Jack Ham, and modern madman, Lavar Arrington, have wreaked havoc over the decades with lessons learned at Penn State. Hundreds of superb high school gridders ensure a steady stock of rough-hewn kids whose passion is Penn State football.
Pennsylvania’s beer culture is vital and diverse. Its most venerable microbrewery is Stoudt’s, in Adamstown, whose portfolio features both ales and lagers. Victory Brewing is equally eye-popping and even more diverse, with hophead delights Prima Pils and Hop Devil, and hard-hitters like Golden Monkey Tripel and Storm King Imperial Stout. Tröegs Brewing is yet another stellar operation.
Otto’s Pub and Brewery, State College’s only brewpub, is a great place to get wound up or wind down. Run by Penn State grads, it has hand-pumped ale and an authentic roggenbier. For a pint of Pennsylvania’s finest, check out Zeno’s Pub, a convenient jaunt from campus, featuring numerous taps.