I’ve always had a weird relationship with ping pong. I never liked it as a kid. It was too sedentary, too focused on minutiae like “eye hand coordination.” In high school and college, I grew quite fond of Beer Pong, but still never bothered with the paddles. The only “sport” I was interested in was consuming as much Busch Light as possible.
But in the last few years, I’ve matured and fallen deeply, desperately in love with the game of ping pong. I started playing it in the back of a dive bar near my house, and spent months getting my ass kicked by a variety of men, women, boys and girls. But something clicked that first night I played. It was a social endeavor, with lots of trash talking, but also really, really hard. Like golf, but without the funny pants.
Honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I love ping pong. Is it the ritual? The repetitive motion and mesmerizing bounce of the ball? Maybe I love ping pong because it’s the perfect balance of sport and drinking game; you are a better ping pong player if you’ve imbibed a certain amount of beer. Exactly how much beer? Depends on your constitution.
Can ping pong be a mistress? Because I dream about it. I sneak off in the middle of the night to play on my table in the garage. I bought a robot that hits me balls. So I can practice my back hand. Am I cheating on my wife with ping pong? Maybe. I’m too deep into my obsession to care.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my love for the sport because the craft beer world is now producing beers crafted specifically for ping pong, aka “the beautiful game.” (Editorial side note: Soccer has been referred to as “the beautiful game,” but we all know that ping pong is the more perfect sport.) Okay, these beers aren’t specifically brewed for pong, but they all have a strong “pong vibe,” and in some cases, actually feature ping pong on the label. So I’m running with it. So without further ado, three new “ping pong beers.”
Deschutes actually sent me a ping pong paddle with this beer and suggested I “pair it with fun.” DaShootz is a bohemian pilsner through and through, the kind of refreshing and crisp brew that “flows like wine” out of the taps in the Czech Republic. It pours pale yellow with lots of bubbles and has a mild sweetness on the front end with an almost frothy mouthfeel. Then the hops kick in for a layer of lemony bitterness and a super dry finish. If you love Czech pilsners, do yourself a favor and track down this beer. It’s an excellent example of the style, perfectly straight forward with nothing cute to get in the way. And get this: it’s only 4%, which means it’s basically a performance beverage.
Ping pong, co-ed softball, masters soccer…whatever your mistress, er, hobby, Harpoon brewed Rec. League to be your sporty companion. It’s a hazy IPA but totally sessionable at just 3.8% and practically diet water with just 120 calories. It smells like a hazy IPA, with that mellow fruit cup nose, and it looks like a hazy IPA, so you think you’re in for a sweet, New England-style treat. But the beer is actually very light on the palate, to the point of being watery. There is a fruity element in the sip—mostly grapefruit, but again, it’s weak and comes off as watered down grapefruit juice. But the deeper I get into the can, the more I appreciate what Harpoon is doing. I think most of my initial disappointment comes from the fact that the beer looked and smelled like a stereotypical New England IPA, when in fact it’s a session IPA. The question is, when you’re in the mood for a “light” beer, do you reach for an IPA? Or do you go for a pilsner or kolsch or even adjunct lager? That’s the issue I’ve always had with session IPAs, and while a session hazy IPA is a fun concept, I’m still struggling with the same concern. I want my IPAs to knock me on my ass and I want my session beers to be lagers or wits or farmhouse ales…but maybe that’s just me.
And here we have a true Ping Pong beverage, or at least one that was inspired by the beauty of two athletes battling it out on a glorified picnic table. While wearing short shorts and sweatbands. Shacksbury brewed this cider in collaboration with Modern Times, in a super hipster East Coast/West Coast mashup. The collaboration was inspired by the “Ping Pong diplomacy” that eased the Cold War tension between the US and China back in the day. The idea of a “cider for beer drinkers” is a bit pedestrian at this point in craft beer history, but that is indeed the case with Ping Pong. It’s dry hopped with Citra and Amarillo and has a super fruity nose. And when I say “fruit,” I don’t mean apples. I mean fruit liked “Fruit Striped Gum.” It pours a super pale, almost white, yellow with no head (because it’s a cider). It’s unfiltered, gluten free with no added sugar. Basically, all that’s in this beverage is apples and hops. The body is light and it’s “Champagne dry,” without any of cider’s signature sweetness. There’s a nice herbal quality to it, not in a juniper gin sort of way, but in an earthy, grounded way. And then it’s all swept away with a super dry finish that disappears on your tongue. It’s 6.5% abv, so we’re not talking about anything sessionable here, but it’s certainly light in body and easy as hell to drink.