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Brews & BBQ

Summer is officially here and it’s time to fire-up that grill and invite friends and family over for a cookout! When you start planning the menu, it might be easier to simply stock the cooler with inexpensive 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 brisket into a meal that would rival any contender on Top Chef, shouldn’t you have a beer that compliments and enhances your grill-master cuisine? Well, hold on to your basting brushes kids, and read onwards for some brew suggestions that will elevate your entire backyard barbeque experience.

Beef: Steak, Burgers, Brisket, Short-Ribs

Beef is notoriously rich in fatty goodness. 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. On the flip-side, burgers may be a little more complex with the addition of a smorgasbord of cheeses, condiments, veggies, and more to make it uniquely your own. When grilled, beef becomes a bit charred, and whether it be by charcoal or propane, 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 temperatures than a grill, but for a longer duration of time. Brisket, when prepared correctly, is extremely tender, smokey and astoundingly flavorful. 

Brews of choice: Schwarzbier, Smoked/Roasted Porters and Stouts, Brown Ales. The dark and roasted malts in these beers 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 of smoke, chocolate, and roasted malts, with a smooth, slightly dry finish. 

Pork: Ribs, Roasts, Bacon, Pulled, Sausages 

Many pork dishes in the summer are served smokey and sweet. Pork, just like beef, is quite savory and rich due to the fact that the meat typically 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 cooked low-and-slow in order for the flavors to simmer into pure deliciousness. Bacon can be added to ANY of your summer dishes, including vegetables and pasta/potato salads. Sausages range from mild to spicy, with their own unique blend of spices. With pulled pork just simply being a staple around these here parts in CNY. 

Brews of choice: Smoked Porters, Dubbels, Tripels, Quads, Dunkelweizen, Marzen. Smoked porters will impart an added layer of complexity that allows for different flavors to build upon and compliment the richness of the pork meat itself, while the rest of the aforementioned brews will harmoniously dance cheek-to-cheek with the various sauces and spices utilized during grilling. 

Brew to try: Three Philosophers by Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY), 9.7% ABV; A blend of a Belgian Quadrupel with an authentic Belgian kriek, this rich, chestnut-brown colored beer contains a lightly sweet maltiness with touches of caramel and cherry flavors. 

Chicken: BBQ, Jerk, Wings, Marinated

Chicken, overall, is a milder meat. If pairing beer with barbequed chicken, it is best to choose a brew based on the sauce you use as it will provide the best and most complementary pairing. Jerk chicken and Buffalo-style wings are going to offer up a spicy heat, while marinated chicken typically 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: Saison, Gose, Farmhouse Ales, Amber Ales, Helles Lager. All of these will pair beautifully with spicier sauces and jerk seasonings by keeping the heat in check while not overpowering the mildness of the chicken meat itself. Additionally, they’ll also enhance the delicate flavors present in herbed/citrus marinades. Ambers, with their maltiness, will compliment any barbeque sauces used with grilled chicken. 

Brew to try: Hibiscus Gose by Big aLICe Brewing Co. (Long Island City, NY), 4.6% ABV; Created with Hibiscus flowers, this crisp and refreshing pink-hued brew is tart, floral, and earthy with finishing notes of salt and coriander. Bonus: Big aLICe has a taproom in Geneva, NY with 16 draught lines and an array of cans to take home (including this one!).

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-or-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 its delicate flavors, should only be “politely” enhanced by the brews we drink. 

Brews of choice: Pilsners, Kölsch, Helles Lagers, Witbier, Hefeweizen, Sours. Each of these brews tend to be on the lighter side and not overly hoppy and some add a little citrusy acidity to your sweet seafood meats. Just as we finish-off many fish and seafood dishes with the spritz of a lemon wedge, think of your accompanying beer as achieving the same result. 

Brew to try: Buenaveza Salt & Lime Lager by Stone Brewing (Escondido, CA), 4.7% ABV; This Mexican-inspired beer is crisp, clean, and refreshing with a tickle of lime and sea salt. It’s mild and unobtrusive, with a dry finish.

Veggies & Veggie Burgers

Don’t worry all you vegetarians and vegans out there, I got ya! It is not always all about the meat! Grilling vegetables is one of the best ways to enhance different flavors within the veggies themselves. Corn, asparagus, zucchini, portobellos, peppers, onions, potatoes…the list goes on and on. You can place vegetables directly on the grill, wrap them in foil, or sauté them in a grill pan. There are limitless options, including the addition of seasonings and spices. Veggie burgers are sometimes plain, sometimes spiced and much like an actual beef patty, can be dressed-up in 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 these options compliment the mildness of vegetables. If you are 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 with their more prominent hop notes. 

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 its 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.

My bet is that your stomach is growling and your mouth watering now that you’re completely beer-educated for your next backyard BBQ get-together! Pull out the koozies from your kitchen drawer, slap some meat on that grill, and have a tasty, fun, and safe summer! Cheers!

Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging 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 to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!