Is hard liquor for tailgating?

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JACK DANIEL’S is coming to town Monday in search of America’s best tailgate party. Which, given the pre-game scene outside the Vet, is like trying to find a clean towel at an orgy.

It could get a little messy.

Wandering through the parking lots before kickoff – especially on a Monday night, when fans have a good 72 hours to get liquored up – is reminiscent of the Do Lung bridge scene in “Apocalypse Now.” It’s mass confusion, a sea of green-painted aborigines toked up on alcohol and testosterone. And, yes, some of them have live ammunition.

At its best, it’s pure Philly. At its worst, it’s pure Marcus Hook.

OK, low blow. But I am concerned about the well-being of the crew from Lynchburg, Tenn., trying to single out the best group of tailgaters among the pros on the Jetro lot. What is the criteria? Most sour mash consumed?

John Barrett, the distillery’s official “whiskey professor,” says he’ll be looking for groups that exhibit “creativity, team spirit and food-and-drink preparation, especially using Jack Daniel’s whiskey with food.”

The distillery picks a winner in each NFL city, and the two conference winners get to go to the Super Bowl with their teams.

I find it strange that a whiskey company is sponsoring this contest for two reasons:

Technically, public alcohol consumption is illegal in Philadelphia. Of course, official malfeasance at PGW notwithstanding, that’s the most overlooked law in town. (Reminder: To avoid arrest or embarrassing bottle confiscation, keep your booze in an unmarked cup.) And Barrett assures us that Jack is perfectly good in food recipes. “It’s almost vanilla in character,” he says.

But more to the point, tailgating isn’t really a hard liquor event. Whiskey at football games is for the flask, to be smuggled into the stadium.

Outside, in the parking lot, the appropriate beverage is beer.

Flowing from a keg or cracked open from a sixpack, beer is the NFL’s official lubricant of pre-game festivities. Under the shadow of Joe Brown’s giant football sculptures, I’ve drained Pottsville’s Yuengling from a can and sipped Belgium’s Chimay from a goblet. And – between the inevitable group cheers of “E-A-G-L-E-S!” – they both tasted fine.

Beer goes perfectly with almost anything on the grill, or just a bag of chips.

And it is a beverage of moderation, which goes a long way toward setting the proper team spirit.

No preaching here, friends. But drunkenness just ruins a good time for everyone else.

That said, I turned to Russ Stephenson, aka Tailgate Russ, for further advice on this matter.

The man’s credentials as the undisputed king of asphalt cuisine were certified earlier this season when the city Department of Licenses and Inspections blocked his attempts to host a 1,000-guest tailgate party in the Vet parking lot.

Known for lavish affairs that include couches, wide-screen TVs, masseuses and plenty of kegs o’ beer, Russ says there are five basic elements of a successful tailgater:

  1. Clear skies. “If you’ve got terrible weather, it throws a monkey wrench into all your plans,” he says. There’s nothing worse than drinking out of a soggy cup. That’s why this Monday night (forecast: possible showers), he’s headed to the protection of I-95, where the elevated highway behind the F.U. Center offers ample dry space.
  2. Good people. “You want folks who are into having a good time,” says Russ. “There’s an old saying, ‘In the parking lot, we’re all on the same team.’ “
  3. Guests who contribute. “And I don’t mean just having people kick in 10 or 15 bucks,” he says. When guests have a stake in the party – an appetizer, a folding table – they feel they’re a welcome addition. Here’s a suggestion: Everyone brings a favorite six-pack – something brewed within 50 miles of Philly.
  4. Music. “That’s the key to any party,” says Russ. A live band, DJ, boom box – it doesn’t matter.
  5. Food. Keep it simple, says Russ. “I’ve got 4 basics: U-15 shrimp [the big boys] brushed with barbecue sauce; boneless chicken breast marinated overnight in Wishbone Italian dressing; beef fillet marinated in Jamaican jerk season and pork tenderloins soaked in Goya’s Mojo Criollo, a lemony herb marinade.

“Tie some fresh rosemary around the tenderloin,” says Russ. “It looks like you’re grilling weed, which leads to a lot of stories around the fire.

“When you pull it off the grill, cut it all into bite-size pieces, so you can eat it with your fingers. Don’t worry what the girls say.”

As for beer, Russ brings along a cooler of Bass and Guinness to make his own black-and-tan.

“I love the microbrews,” he says. “But what I’ve found is the masses like their Coors Light and Bud.”

In any case, figure on 35 people per keg.

And one other thing: Beat the Giants!

 Beer radar

Now that cops apparently have the Beltway sniper(s), on a completely lighter note, it may be time for them to start looking for the serial suds-swipers. In a trend that is sweeping Dixie, young suspects run into takeout shops, grab a six-pack, then flee while shouting, “Yahoo!” Stores from Augusta, Ga., to Austin, Texas, have reported thefts…

Thanks to the DN’s ink-stained Dan Wiggs for alerting me that the University of Northern Colorado Fightin’ Whites intramural basketball team now has an official brew. The team, whose name is a swipe at sports teams that use Indian nicknames (e.g. Braves, Redskins), toasts its victories with Fightin White Wheat from Smiling Moose Brew Pub & Grill in Greeley, Colo.

New on area shelves: Samuel Adams Winter Classics 12-pack, with Old Fezziwig and Cranberry Lambic. Also, Victory V-10, a Belgian-style dubbel in 25-ounce bottles, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale and (already?) SN Celebration Ale.

Look also for Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, whose label this year commemorates Queen Elizabeth’s 50th year on the thrown, with a crown floating above a foamy pint of ale.

 Calendar

Tomorrow – Gemini Dance Projex fund-raiser at Yards Brewing (2439 Amber St., Kensington), features food, DJ, dance performances and beer. Not sure what to think about this one: It’s either Michael Flatley tipsy on Love Stout or Danny & the Juniors’ “Let’s go to the Hops.” Time: 7 p.m.-midnight. Tix: $25. Info: 856-310-9250.

Oct. 31 – Halloween costume party at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (3 W. Gay St., West Chester). Prizes for best costumes and $2 pints of fresh beer. Time: 9 p.m. Info: 610-748-9600.

Nov. 1-2 – Semi-annual Valley Forge Brewery Collectibles Show at Kimberland Fairground Pavilion. Spend your kid’s college tuition fund on empty, rusting cans. Or pick up that antique opener for your wife’s birthday. Afterward, celebrate bargains and concoct explanations at Sly Fox Brewing at nearby Pikeland Village Square. Times: 2-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Tix: $5. Info: 610-439-8245.

Nov. 2 – American Homebrewers Association’s 4th Annual Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day. Beware of dreaded hop boil-overs.

Nov. 2 – Weyerbacher Brewing grand re-opening. The Lehigh Valley craft brewery moved up the road into a bigger facility. Tours, tutored tastings and fresh jugs of draft at 905-G Line St., Easton. Time: Noon-4 p.m. Tix: Free. Info: 610-559-5561.

Nov. 2 – Open house at Heavyweight Brewing. Get a taste of the Joisey brewery ‘s 2002 version of Old Salty Barleywine, a 10.3 percenter sitting in the tanks since last April. Hours: 1-4 p.m. Tix: Free. Info and directions: 732-493-5009.

Nov. 8-9 – Planet Buzz mead-tasting. Book an E-Savers flight to Chicago for a weekend of honey dipping. Mead – and ciders – are the feature of this first-ever commercial mead competition hosted by Redstone Meadery at the Second City’s Black Orchid Showcase and Lounge. Info: 800-229-1832. Tix: $19, $24 at door.

 Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Stewart’s Old Percolator Coffee Porter.

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