There are some combinations in our world that just make sense – Peanut Butter and Jelly, Salt and Pepper, Hall and Oates, and of course; Birds and Beer. For those of us in the birding realm, birds and beer is a familiar phrase, nay, idea of perfect bliss. Whether thine holy union is achieved at bird festivals, with birding buddies at a bar, or just at home after a fantastic day of crushing your local patch, brews and birds combined in any fashion is akin to the great symphonies or high art. And let’s face it; the American birders have the edge in our new nation full of craft breweries, locally sourced hops, and awesome birding festivals.
But how, Steve? How can this nirvana be attained? What separates drinking craft beer at the local pub from drinking craft beer at the local pub in celebration of the esteemed craft of birding? How do I know when to properly crack open a cold one after having a great day of birding? And how do I know when to crack open several beers after a terrible day birding? Don’t worry, I got you covered.
Frankly, any beer will work given particular taste, time of year, budget, and level of bird insanity. Perhaps you had a splendid day in early fall ticking off 15 warblers, 6 shorebird species, and a new county bird. This kind of birding day deserves a special brew, one of higher quality that massages your taste buds as you recount every beautiful feather on the first winter plumage of that sanderling. Or maybe you were watching radar all night, cleared the whole day’s schedule, and busted out to the best hawk watch in the state and found only starlings and a local turkey vulture. And then that same hawkwatch records a gyrfalcon the very next day when you are out of town. This kind of birding day requires a rapid shotgunning of a PBR followed by a mournful draining of 3 Natty Lights. (These things happen). The common theme: birds and beer, together in moderation (the beer part not so much the bird part), are a winning team.
With the ever-growing craft beer market in the US, and with the ever-growing number of birders in the states, there are plenty of bird-related beers available to consumers these days. Below is a list of some killer bird-themed beers. Birding pairing suggestions are also listed below. Cheers!
The Mendocino Collection Mendocino Brewing Company, Ukiah CA
So we have to start with a brewery committed to naming beers after raptors. Red Tail Ale, Peregrine Pilsner, Black Hawk Stout? You wonder how the Blue Heron Pale Ale got in there (although, as we will see, there is something about pale ales and great blues…). Major points to MBC for taste variety, cool bottle graphics, and awesome bird choices. I personally have tasted their red tail and eye of the hawk ales as well as their pilsner, and I would highly recommend them all. I have not tried any of their seasonal brews yet, but I’m sure they are quite delicious.
Best Bird Pairing: Hawk-watching. The names go a long way here, and frankly why would anyone miss the opportunity to drink a beer named after a peregrine falcon? Plus, both the red tail ale and peregrine pilsner are quite even, smooth, and refreshing on a hot day in early fall.
Bell’s Best Brown Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo MI
It’s no secret that I am an owl fanatic, and I fell in love with ‘Bell’s’ after tasting their Two-hearted Ale. So when I saw an owl on a beer brewed by Bell’s, I freaked out. When I first had this beer, a Boreal Owl was placed squarely on the bottle label, perched upon a barbed-wire fence in some sort of wintery scene. These days it appears the Boreal has been replaced by a Great Horned Owl. No complaints here. To top it off, this fall ale is full of malty deliciousness without going over the edge to the point of a porter or stout.
Best Bird Pairing: Successful Owling Night. Whether in late fall, mid-winter, or early spring, a chilly night of owling pierced with success deserves a celebration. This hearty ale should go a long way in warming up the bones and capping off a memorable evening filled with the mysteriously spectacular sounds of owls.
Swallow Wit Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse NY
Now, wheat heavy beers with a hint of citrus aren’t my favorite. Such is life. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this beer from Drew Weber’s neck of the woods. Relatively mellow on the citrus flavors (which I like), and the label features a barn swallow holding an old school beerstein (translate: awesome).
Best Bird Pairing: First day of excellent birding in early spring. You go out on a surprisingly warm April morning, and boom! You’re flooded with birds that just showed up and you forgot existed: swallows, rails, phoebes, and maybe an early warbler – life is good my friend. Drink up that witbier.
Kingfisher Premium Lager United Breweries Group, India
For those of you with eastern-hemisphere tastes, look no further. Sure, this lager isn’t exactly mind-blowing or innovative, but it has a nice, clean and crisp taste and goes excellent with Indian fare. This brew also ranks high on the ‘drink-ability’ scale, so if there is a particularly large birding celebration ahead, you might want to include this beer on the roster.
Best Bird Pairing: (1) Excellent day on the local patch. Maybe there were no lifers or county firsts, but you saw a good collection of species and got excellent looks at all of them. Plus, there was probably a Belted Kingfisher in there at some point. OR (2) Lifer bird from the Indian subcontinent in America. Probably unlikely, but then again Cape May went ahead and had a Whiskered Tern.
Great Blue Heron Pale Ale Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks, Millheim PA
In fairness, there were a few beers with the ‘Blue Heron’ distinction. But Elk Creek went through the trouble of naming the beer after the official Great Blue Heron name, and I have to introduce some bias to one of my top 3 favorite breweries in all of beer-dom. This beer is so tasty and well-balanced it qualified for the Olympics in gymnastics but was then disqualified because it’s a beer.
Best Bird Pairing: Shorebird and/or Sea-watching. Maybe it’s the name, but this beer has an aquatic vibe to it. And does anything beat a pale ale on a warm day by a large body of water?
Jubelale Deschutes Brewery, Bend OR
A very unique winter ale, but I have to give props to the label design. There have been different labels to this particular beer that don’t feature a barred owl, but once you have a barred owl on a beer, I have to drink it. I can see this one not agreeing with everyone’s taste, but personally it was quite delicious and if nothing else the graphic design is so cool and birdy it warrants consideration.
Best Bird Pairing: Christmas Bird Count. It’s a holiday ale after all, and the taste really does match up with that cozy feeling of just coming inside from a snowy day, feeling all warm and fuzzy (and birdy) inside.
Pygmy Owl Itty Bitty IPA Big Sky Brewing Co., Missoula MT
More Owls, and more IPA! I love IPAs (and what freedom-loving American doesn’t?), and I love owls. You can probably connect the dots on this one. While not the greatest or strongest IPA in the world, it still delivers the hop fix, and it has a little pygmy owl on the label. Montana never tasted so good.
Best Bird Pairing: Summer Fun. Maybe you just scoped out some really cool breeding birds, or maybe you just finished a fun summertime pelagic. Either way, it’s an IPA, so you can’t really go wrong.
Night Owl Cream Porter Craft Brewers, Honeoye Falls, NY & Night Owl Coffee Stout Otto’s Pub and Brewery, State College PA
Two ‘Night Owl’ monikers here to continue the owl theme. Maybe because we often drink at night and owls are out at night, but naming beers after owls seem to score well together. And why not? Perhaps a coffee stout is just the trick for those of you trying to stay awake while listening for that county great-horned owl. And as for the cream porter, I was thoroughly impressed. This beer was basically a smooth dessert condensed in a glass. Plus, what kind of person would I be if I didn’t include bird beers from two of my favorite birding regions and places I’ve lived?
Best Bird Pairing: A rousing evening of nocturnal flight calls. Sure, you would do fine pairing these beers with some more nighttime owl shenanigans. But staying sharp and savvy while listening to monosyllabic-barely-audible chips from a thrush screaming through the sky deserves some beers with a little sweetness.
Anyway one wishes to enjoy birds and beers is probably a good way, and obviously one doesn’t need to limit themselves to strictly bird-themed beers after birding. If that was the case, then Tim, Alex and I would have to avoid Dogfishhead after an awesome Delaware pelagic trip and that’s just madness. There are tons (and I mean tons) of other bird themed beers out there: Northern Hawk Owl Amber Ale, Goose Island beers, loads of British beers, and probably another 50 I have never heard of. Please, dear readers, let me know what beers I missed and give me your thoughts: this list is merely a brief overview of the many bird beers out there. As birders, we know how to make lists. Let’s get a killer list going of all the bird beers out there for our fellow hobbyists. With so many craft breweries in such wonderful places now, we as birders must strive to sample as many bird beers as we can. Plus, if you comment below on what bird beers I missed, I can go out and try some more! Lastly, always remember to drink and to bird responsibly.