A March Madness Beer Drinker’s Guide to Moderation

Lager style beer FTW! Photo by Anders Adermark
Lager style beer FTW! Photo by Anders Adermark

The NCAA basketball tournaments, aka March Madness, have arrived. For hoops junkies, that means hours and hours of watching top seeds take on Cinderellas and every seed in between try to battle their way into the next round.

In a lot of cases, it also means drinking with your friends while these games play out. As such, you’ll want to pace yourself to make sure your marathon tournament watching doesn’t go sour on you.

As many know, for most people the body can absorb and process alcohol at approximately the rate of one beer or glass of wine per hour. That translates to about one and a half ounces of your typical hard alcohol.

Of course, you have to be careful with those estimates. Those 22-ounce pilsner glasses at your neighborhood sports bar don’t count as one beer, you dig? That’s nearly two. And, more importantly, that one-beer-per-hour rate is for one 12-ounce beer at about 4 percent alcohol.

So, kind of like many bars will put more than a shot of tequila in your margarita to ensure you get drunked-up enough to buy more, drinking a single bottle of even Corporate Light isn’t fool-proof. Miller Lite, for instance, checks in at 4.5 percent ABV. And if you buy it on draft, you’re likely getting a 16-ounce pour, minimum.

I’m not going to do the math, but even at one per hour, after a couple of games, you’ll be pushing it a little.

But craft beer is the craze now, and you know what that means – higher alcohol levels to accompany bigger flavor profiles. IPAs are all the rage right now, but if you knock back four or five of those at 7 or 8 percent each, you’re flirting with disaster.

And imperial IPAs are even bigger. For instance, a beer like Fifty West Brewing’s Punch You In The EyePA checks in at 9 percent alcohol. It isn’t named solely for its bitterness. Many imperial and double IPAs stretch into double digit ABV percentages.

So, do you sacrifice your taste buds and drink the cheap corporate swill? Or, heaven forbid, a “near beer”? You may not have to.

For one, some beers that may seem heavy aren’t high in alcohol content. Your old friend Guinness Stout, one of the more popular beers in the world for generations, isn’t an alcohol overload. It checks in around 5 percent ABV in America and Canada, but actually has less alcohol content in many countries. That’s not a beer most people drink quickly.

In addition, if you can get your hands on mild, English-style ales, you don’t have to resort to swill. Blond ales, many brown ales, many saisons and, of course, craft lagers and pilsners fall into the “session” category, checking in between 4 and 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. (And if sour or wild beer is your thing, a handful of those fall into the session range – they just aren’t always readily available at sports bars.)

Of course, there are always the so-called “session IPAs” that are picking up steam for those days of long hours and lots of beers. Hopheads can get the bitterness they crave in a light version of an IPA that falls into that 4.5-ish area. One of the best I’ve had is Founders All Day IPA, a nicely balanced ale registering at 4.7 percent ABV that will at least come close to satisfying that IPA craving (it’s 42 IBU).

Of course, you may be better off just drinking soda if safety is truly your goal. But if your team loses and your bracket goes to crap, you may just need to drown your sorrows in a few pints. If that’s the case, reaching for something under 5 percent ABV and sticking to two or three is a good call. (Cabs or designated drivers don’t hurt either.)