Buffalo Wild Wings is getting into craft beer. The wing shack/sports bar extraordinaire has teamed up with Red Hook Brewery to create a new in-house beer brand called Game Changer. I know, the Brewers Association says that Red Hook is only “crafty,” but screw them. I’ll call them craft for now. In the promotional video below Red Hook Brewmaster Matt Lickleider calls Game Changer a “sessionable” and “approachable” pale ale. Although I can find no mention of it on the B-Dub website, the new brew launches today (July 15th) at restaurants across the country.
The PR firm that works with Buffalo Wild Wings offered me the opportunity to stop in and sample Game Changer with some wings, so I took them up on it. I don’t claim to be a marketing professional. In fact, I downright suck at it. But I would like to offer some advice. Choose carefully which products you recommend for comparison to your own. I was sent a sampling sheet that suggested tasting Game Changer alongside a “domestic light” and an “I.P.A (or similar).” My quick glance at the tap handles revealed Bell’s Two Hearted as the one and only IPA available, although I later saw that they also had Fulton Sweet Child of Vine. Two Hearted is one of the best American-style IPAs made. Game Changer didn’t stand a chance.
“Sessionable” and “approachable” are both good words to describe Game Changer. When the bartender set down my pint he said, “It looks like a mix between [Grain Belt] Nordeast and a pale ale.” That’s a pretty accurate description of the beer’s overall profile. The light-amber ale has very subtle aromas that are mostly of floral/resiny cascade hops. A bit of caramel malt is barely noticeable underneath. The beer seemed thin, perhaps even a bit watery. The level of bitterness was medium at best, with light floral/resin hop flavors on top. Malt was equally subtle and lightly sweet, with caramel and toasty notes.
Flavor-wise I put Game Changer a notch above the Budweiser sample I tried next to it. (I couldn’t do a light beer. What’s the point?) In terms of body and aroma the two were about on par. Of course it paled next to Bell’s Two Hearted. But then as a sessionable and approachable pale ale, that was to be expected.
How did it stand up to wings? I sampled three wing sauces; Hot, Thai Curry, and Sweet BBQ. Game Changer was the best of the three beers with the Sweet BBQ wings. The subtle caramel in the malt worked with the sweetness of the sauce and the two felt about evenly matched. With the hot wings it really depends on what level of intensity you’re after. Game Changer toned down the heat a bit compared to the IPA, which set my head on fire (in a good way). The hot sauce verges on overpowering the milder beer, however. I didn’t find Game Changer to be a particularly good match to the sweet and spicy flavors of the Thai Curry wings, which surprised me. Perhaps more hops would have helped.
My overall impression of Game Changer is that Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Hook hit what they were aiming for. They’ve delivered a beer that gives light lager drinkers a more flavorful and “darker” option. It’s not a bad beer at all, but it has to be evaluated for what it is. Beer dorks looking for a gob-smack of flavor will be disappointed.
Is it a real game changer? No. But if you just want an easy-drinking beer that will let you knock back several pints during the UFC fights, then Game Changer might be a decent choice.