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How to Pair Craft Beer and Cookouts Like a Pro

Hilary Deutsch

May 30, 2017

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What better way to welcome warm summer nights filled with backyard cookouts, twinkling candles, and your closest friends and family than with a cold, refreshing beer? To find out how to match our favorite grilled items (juicy cheeseburgers, anyone?) with the proper brew, we consulted Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and 2014 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional. Read on to see his expert picks for the ultimate craft beer pairings.

Summer screams burgers. What’s your favorite brew to pair with a char-grilled cheeseburger?
You won’t be surprised to hear that I really like our Brooklyn Summer Ale and Brooklyn Lager, and we actually make Shackmeister for Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack locations. But a lot of IPAs are also good hamburger beers, too. There’s plenty of “cutting power” in those hops!

How about a simple grilled steak?
Amber lagers are good, but so are brown ales and porters. I think you always want some caramelized character in the beer to play along with the char on the beef.
 
Let’s talk grilled seafood. What would you pair with grilled lobster, shrimp, or a whole-grilled branzino? 
I’d go pretty Belgian. For lighter fish and more delicate dishes, the softly flavored Belgian wheat beer style is really almost foolproof. For more robust preparations, I’d step up to the saison style, which is very dry, peppery, and snappy.

Which type of beer would work well with fire-roasted vegetables?
German-style wheat beers, especially the darker dunkel-weisse type, are really good here. They have some tropical flavors but also have a subtle smokiness that would work great with the grilled flavors.

What about toasty homemade s’mores? 
That’s easy: a bourbon barrel–aged imperial stout. Imperial stouts are big, chocolatey, coffee-ish beers in the first place and then aging them in a bourbon barrel gives them these great vanilla and coconut notes on top. It’s hard to beat with desserts.

Finally, if you had to choose just one type of beer, an all-purpose brew for all your outdoor cooking needs, what would that be? 
I’d say that the Belgian farmhouse style, saison, is a great summertime all-arounder. But golden ales and traditional pilsners are also great. The rule here is to keep things light-bodied, dry, brisk, and not too strong. After all, a good barbecue lasts well into the night.

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Hilary Deutsch is digital media coordinator at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.