What every cooler should hold on July 4
By Michael Austin June 29, 2012 11:12AM
Luis Gomez and Lindsay Byers camp out in the front yard while Herminio Posalos Jr. shows off a large cooler with water, juice, pop and beer along with lunch meat. | File photo
HAVE THESE ON HAND
Staropramen, Czech Republic
Sam Adams Light, Boston
Goose Island 312, Chicago
Updated: August 2, 2012 6:20AM
So many things say “Fourth of July party,” and “summer” all at the same time, but we only need to talk about one of them here: the cooler.
I grew up with an old school red one. It had a drain valve on one side and a chrome latch for the lid in front. The lining was white and bright, especially when it was filled with sparkling ice. When someone dropped the lid after plucking out a dripping can it went “whooomp!” All day long that red cooler went “whooomp!” That is one of the keys to a great summer party — a useful, reliable, overworked cooler.
If you can employ that same cooler party after party, year after year, even better.
Growing up, every family I knew had a cooler. The older ones might have been plastic inside, but outside they were metal, and as sturdy as bathtub. Until they started leaking. But even then they were good enough because filling a leaky cooler was better than pushing your refrigerator out into the backyard and running an extension cord to the garage. What would the neighbors say?
Eventually coolers went all plastic, and today they are so durable and reliable you can pass them down through the generations. An Irish friend of mine said recently she never had even seen a cooler until she moved to the United States. So I did a little research and it turns out that the guy who invented the “portable ice chest” in 1951 was from my hometown of Joliet. No wonder I have such fond cooler memories; the father of the cooler probably was a neighbor of ours!
Nothing against growing up in San Jose but I would much rather have fond cooler memories than fond software memories — are you with me there, friends?
Stock your coolers (water and soda in one, beer in another), and get your summer party started. I like to be faced with choices when I lift a cooler lid, and so will your guests. Mix it up, but not too much. If you need 48 beers, ice down four different 12-packs instead of eight different six packs. You want a nice variety — not a grab bag.
Instead of going all American on Independence Day, celebrate the cultures of the world that have made our nation what it is. Ice down some bottles of Bohemia, a refreshing Mexican lager you cannot find in most states but you can find here.
Introduce your guests to Chang from Thailand, Okocim (“O.K. Beer”) from Poland, Staropramen from the Czech Republic or Jever from Germany. Or track down a limited release of Newcastle Summer Ale (and save the Newcastle Brown Ale for the fall). None of these are craft beers but they are great hot weather party brews for sure.
If you absolutely must include a light beer, Sam Adams Light is the best one available. And it’s from Boston, which makes it extra appropriate at a Fourth of July party among all of those other foreign beers.
Just to be local, drop a dozen cans of Goose Island 312 into the slurry. You see it in bottles and on tap all over town. But cans? That’s a summer party staple. You might find people reaching past the bottles for a nice cold can, especially when it is a can of good beer. Attitudes on cans are changing. But the cooler endures, regardless of what it is cooling.
If you are going to be out in the heat and the sun, stick with lagers, Kolsches and crisp wheat beers for the most part. They will quench thirsts without overpowering anyone with alcohol. Enjoy your imported beers in honor of our great country of imports — almost every last one of us is an import somewhere down the line — and be thankful that while you get to drink fine beer from elsewhere in the world, you also get to live here.
Finally, make sure your ice supply is steady and abundant. Let your American cooler do what it does best. Keep those beers cold.
Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.