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Grilling Up Great Brews

Summer is on its way, vaccinations are well underway, and masks are going away! It’s certainly high time to get back to a little bit of normalcy and what better way to do that than to host a cookout with friends and family! When you start planning the menu, it’s probably easier to simply stock the cooler with cheap American beers such as Bud Light or Coors, but with all the hard work that goes into perfecting your medium-rare NY strip or fine-tuning your smoked baby back ribs into something that would be a contender on Top Chef, shouldn’t you have a beer that complements and enhances your grill-master cuisine? Well, hold on to your basting brushes kids, and read onwards for some brew suggestions to elevate your entire backyard BBQ experience.

Beef – Steak, Burgers, Brisket

Beef is notoriously rich in fatty goodness. (Haven’t you noticed that everything your physician says to limit your intake of is always the BEST eats?!) A marbled ribeye is one of the best cuts of meat that can be simply seasoned with a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, thrown on the grill and ultimately savored with each bite. While burgers may be a little more complex with a smorgasbord of potential additions to make it uniquely your own with cheeses, condiments, veggies, etc. When grilled, beef becomes a little charred, whether it be by charcoal or propane and this chemical process adds to the overall richness and complexity in the flavoring of the beef itself. Then there’s brisket, which is usually dry-rubbed with a multitude of spices and smoked at lower temps than a grill, but for a longer duration of time. Brisket, when prepared correctly, is extremely tender, smokey and flavorful.

Brews of choice: Schwarzbiers, Smoked or Roasted Porters and Stouts, Brown Ales. Dark and roasted malts help to intensify the charred flavors found in grilled and smoked beef while bringing balance to the richness of the fatty juices.

Brew to try: Smoke & Dagger by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, MA), 5.6% ABV; a self-proclaimed brew that is “cloaked in mystery,” this black lager contains notes and flavors that are more often found in the aforementioned brews of choice; smoke, a roasted chocolate flavor, maltiness, with a smooth, slightly dry finish.

Pork – Ribs, Roasts, Bacon, Pulled, Sausages

Many pork dishes in the summer are served smokey and sweet. Pork is also quite savory and rich due to the fact that it contains a high fat content. Ribs can be slathered with barbeque sauce or simply dry rubbed with a spice mix. Pig roasts, especially in relation to whole pig roasts, are done slowly in order for the flavors to build and meld into something quite delicious. Bacon can be added to ANY of your summer dishes, including vegetables and summer pasta or potato salads, sausages lend their own encased spicy flavors, and pulled pork is simply a staple around these parts here in CNY.

Brews of choice: Smoked Porters, Tripels, Dunkelweizens, Marzens. Smoked porters impart an added layer of complexity that allows for building and layering with the different flavors and richness of the pork itself, while other malty brews tend to dance cheek-to-cheek with the various sauces and spices used.

Brew to try: Maredsous Tripel by Abbaye de Maredsous (Breendonk, Vlaanderen Belgium), 10% ABV; this Belgian Tripel is golden-bodied, yeasty, has slightly floral notes, and is smooth on the palate with a warming finish. I personally brought this beer back with me from Bruges, Belgium, however, this can be found in specialty beer shops in the greater CNY region and beyond.

Chicken – BBQ, Jerk, Wings, Marinated

Chicken as a whole is a milder meat. If pairing with barbequed chicken, it’s best to choose a brew based on the sauce you use as it will provide the best and most complementary pairing. Jerk chicken and wings are going to offer up a spicy heat, and marinated chicken normally has a different spectrum of flavors that may include bright herbs and spices with sometimes a bit of a citrusy zing thrown in as well.

Brews of choice: Saisons, Goses, Farmhouse Ales, Amber Ales, Helles Lagers – these will pair well alongside of your spicier sauces and jerk seasonings by keeping the heat in check while not overpowering the mildness of the meat itself. In addition, they’ll also enhance the delicate flavors present in marinades. Ambers with their malts, compliment the barbeque sauces used in conjunction with the chicken meat.

Brew to try: Hennepin Farmhouse Saison by Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY), 7.7% ABV; this beer is fairly complex with coriander, ginger, orange peel and grains of paradise used to spice the brew. It’s funky, fresh, effervescent and dry on the finish, making this a prime selection to compliment all of your grilled chicken dishes.

Seafood – Shrimp, Clams, Mussels, Oysters, Fish, Lobster

There are so many options when it comes to seafood in the summer from both freshwater and the ocean. Grilling any and all of the above either on skewers, wood planks, beach fire bakes, eating raw, or simply popping them in a pot on your grill burner, lends a whole new level of experimentation to your summer barbequing experience. Seafood with their delicate flavors should only be politely enhanced by the brews we drink.

Brews of choice: Pilsners, Kölsch, Helles Lagers, Witbiers, Hefeweizens, Sours. All of these brews tend to be on the lighter side and not overly hoppy. Some add a little citrusy acidity to your sweet meats. We finish many fish and seafood dishes off with a spritz of a slice of lemon, therefore think of your accompanying beer as achieving the same result.

Brew to try: Peach Kolsch by Stoneyard Brewing Company (Brockport, NY), 5% ABV, this Kölsch is refreshingly light with very subtle earthy peach notes. A perfect pairing for gobbling up all the creatures of the sea.

Veggies & Veggie Burgers

Don’t worry vegetarians and vegans, I got you! It’s not always all about the meat! Grilling vegetables is one of the best ways to bring out different flavors within the veggies themselves. Corn, asparagus, zucchini, portobellos, peppers, onions, potatoes – the list goes on and on. You can lay them directly on the grill, wrap them in foil, or saute them in a grill pan. There are so many options, including the addition of seasonings. Veggie burgers are sometimes plain, sometimes spiced and much like an actual beef patty, can be dressed-up a variety of different ways. Overall, veggies are versatile, but you’re going to want a beer that doesn’t overpower the mild earthiness of them.

Brews of choice: Pilsners, Helles Lagers, Witbiers, Belgians, American Pale Ales, Hefeweizens. All of these options compliment the mildness of the veggies. If you’re grilling stronger flavored veggies such as mushrooms and onions, or a veggie burger with all the fixins’, American Pale Ales are an even better accompaniment.

Brew to try: Saranac Pale Ale by Saranac Brewing/F.X. Matt Brewing Company (Utica, NY), 5.5% ABV; this classic American Pale Ale is a go-to for summer all on it’s own, but pairing it with your veggies, especially your stronger flavored ones, is even better. The brew is malty, hoppy and crisp with a balanced medium body.

I hope your stomach is growling and your mouth is watering now that you’re completely beer-educated for those backyard get-togethers! So, drag that grill out of the depths of your garage, sweep off your deck and patio, dig out the koozies in your kitchen drawers and have a tasty, fun, and safe summer ahead! Cheers!

Kristin Merritt
Just a brief introduction that I’ve joined the Table Hopping crew as your new craft-brew-loving gal who will be bringing you your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope that I can give a few recommendations for your grocery lists, event suggestions and local hotspots for an afternoon out with friends or planning a date, and if not for nothing, perhaps enlighten you with some random knowledge that you can amaze your teammates with at trivia night – or at least give you and your pals a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! I have some mighty large shoes to fill that my friend and fellow Syracuse Women of Craft Beer member (& founder), Gloria Rakowsky, left for me, but I hope that my style (and shenanigans) will keep all y’all coming back for more each month. Cheers!