The University of Iowa Hawkeyes
The Iowa Hawkeyes have experienced a football renaissance within the last few years and are now a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. It was a matter of finding the right coach, one who could recruit well and convince his players that his system is that of a winner. Iowa has enjoyed its best two-year run in 80 years. The state is renowned for its wrestling prowess, a product of farm boys and their work ethic, toughness and dedication. Football coach Kirk Ferentz has instilled the same in his players. Tough line play, hard-hitting defenders, and a dash of pure athleticism keep the Hawkeyes’ opponents on their heel. Robert Gallery, a soft-spoken Adonis, is symbolic of Iowa’s recent success. Solid and understated, something Iowans can relate to. It seems they might be a persistent foe for some time.
The upswing of the football team no doubt has encouraged a bit more revelry among the fans. Iowa City is a hip college town that can appreciate good beer. There may be no breweries or brewpubs in town, but the beer selection is still outstanding. John’s Grocery, a local epicurean landmark, offers beers from throughout Big Ten country, including Millstream, Gray’s, Three Floyds, Sprecher, Capital, Summit, Goose Island, New Holland and Schell. Millstream, located in Amana, is just 25 miles away. Millstream, founded in 1985, has endured as Iowa’s premier microbrewery, and it makes an eclectic assortment of brews. Its dialectically correct “Warsh Pail Ale” is just one of the selections. Take some to the party; people will thank you.
University of Illinois Fighting Illini
With football alumni like Butkus, Nitschke, and Red “The Galloping Ghost” Grange, it’s hard not to think of UI as a university with a great football history. Butkus and Nitschke took their grudges to the NFL. Grange was the single most important player in the early years of pro football. Butkus is still the standard by which all defenders are measured. But perhaps the most important gridiron figure of them all is UI’s very own George Halas. Halas never left Illinois in his football career. He helped found the National Football League, played in it, and then coached the Chicago Bears for 40 years. Football in America probably would be stunted were it not for Halas. History, indeed.
The University of Illinois won the Big Ten title in 2001. As the fans look to regain past glory, they remain unwavering in their optimism. So it is with the beer lovers of Champaign-Urbana. No brewpubs or breweries grace the city, but a couple of decent package stores provide a much-needed oasis of Midwestern craft brews. Picadilly Beverage Shop in Champaign usually has some Founders, Bell’s and Three Floyds available. The Corkscrew in Urbana has a similar selection. One could do a lot worse than that.
Northwestern University Wildcats
The Wildcats are not what one would call a perennial football power, but they did garner a trip to the Rose Bowl in 1996 with a magical season. Northwestern is considered on par with an Ivy League university and, as such, is sometimes overmatched on the field. Its Rose Bowl coup in ’96 was sweet justice for a team that had had enough sand kicked in its face by the bullies of the Big Ten. Perhaps the most cerebral player ever to don a football uniform is a graduate of Northwestern, Otto Graham. A tailback at NU in the 1940s but a quarterback in the pros, he led his Cleveland Browns squad to an unprecedented 10 straight championship games in two pro leagues. He was the victor in seven.
In 1855, Northwestern passed an ordinance that no liquor could be sold within 4 miles of campus. Remnants of the law are still in place, at least symbolically, so the beer scene around campus is less than enlightened. Thankfully, Chicago, one of the best beer cities in the United States, is a short commute away and most of its watering holes have Midwestern brews among the options. Northside pubs like The Clark Street Ale House, The Hop Leaf, and The Map Room are near enough via public transportation to make the trip worthwhile. One of the best breweries/brewpubs in the Midwest is a short distance away, too. Goose Island bottles many of its excellent beers and has an array of others on tap. The Piece brewpub has a mouth-watering lineup, a few guest taps, and growlers to go.
The boom of craft brewing in the United States has returned Big Ten country to its past glory in regard to beer. The quality of football, however, has never waned. If you are a beer fan, a trip through the region would be satisfying, whether you are looking for finesse or punch. Are you ready for some football?