Spring isn’t exactly cooperating here in the Northeast but elsewhere May marks the start of grills firing up all around the country. That’s right, it’s Grilling Month, and right around now you’re probably looking for impressive beers to pair with your pro cookouts. The great thing is, no matter what style you’re a fan of, there’s a beer to match up with steaks, ribs, lamb, chicken or whatever else you’re firing up. Lobster, perchance?
One of the best things about craft beer today is the amount of flavor you can fit into a single style. They’re not just stouts, IPAs or light lagers anymore – hybrid styles abound to the point where you can have your sweet, dark malt and drink your hops, too! These style-bending brews make pairing more interesting and exciting than ever before, not unlike what grilling does to food. Check out our favorite suds to pair with spring grilling fare.
Bells Brewing Company: Two Hearted Ale
The brand’s flagship IPA now comes in cans! It’s also one of my favorites to pair with steak or burgers thanks to its balance between malt and hops. This isn’t a hop bomb like some of the citrus-forward West Coast IPAs — restraint here is a thing of calculated beauty with sweetness from the malt and just a tickle of citrus, grapefruit and floral hops. At 7.5%, there’s enough bite to cut through beef’s fattiness, but it’s subtle enough to complement grilled vegetables as well.
Boulevard Brewing Company: Bourbon Barrel Quad
Don’t go into this bottle expecting a thoroughbred Belgian Quadrupel. Bourbon Barrel Quad is a whole different beast, with sweet notes like vanilla and toffee from the barrel-aging and fruitiness from cherries. At 11.8% this should sipped in small quantities with a hearty main course – I recently paired it with grilled lamb. Try this recipe on for size.
Anchor Brewing Company: Porter
The dark, flavorful porter style is perfect for sauce-slathered BBQ, but it’s not all that easy to find in a typical convenience store. Thankfully, Anchor is one of the few breweries in all 50 states, so this one shouldn’t be hard to track down. It’s a damn fine example of the style, with hints of chocolate, coffee, roasted nutty malt and just the right amount of floral hops. It’s a dark brew, but a tame one, at just 5.6% with a lighter mouthfeel than many porters, and is a great darker beer even for those who tend to keep it light.
Hanger 24 Craft Brewery: Altbier
Altbier isn’t a style we see too much, but this German brown hailing from Düsseldorf is a fine pairing for smoked meats and game. It’s definitely for those who prefer something lighter than a porter but still want hearty flavors to complement what’s on the grill. This one boasts plenty of flavor with toasted malt, hints of chocolate and caramel and a good hop presence.
Otter Creek Brewing / Wolaver’s: Otter Creek Citra Mantra
A major contender for most improved brewery in 2013, Otter Creek earned my #1 pick of the year with Double Dose DIPA, their collaboration with Lawson’s Finest Liquids. Leave it up to this revamped brewery to kick a lager into high gear with a massive dose of citra hops. Not much bitterness here, and a ton of tropical and citrus fruits all around. If you want something easy-drinking to pair with spice-rubbed meat, this is a great option.
Stone Brewing Company: Arrogant Bastard Ale
A classic dark American strong ale from the most intense brewery in all the land, Arrogant Bastard is a winning brew both to drink and to cook with. It’s got a sweet malt backbone and a bitter hop presence — nearly IPA territory. I’d take this for a spin with some spicy pork, but at 7.2% would also be tempted to put it up against the richness of a cheese-stuffed lamb burger.
Dry Dock Brewing Company: Hefeweizen
Not every cookout requires red meat, so if you’re having fish or shellfish, a hefeweizen is where you’ll want to look. This is a traditional German-style hefe, so look out for the dominant flavors of banana, clove, lemon and bready malt. At only 4.3%, you can drink it before, during and after the cookout. It’s a surefire crowd-pleaser that conveniently now comes in a can.
Three Floyds Brewing Company: Gumballhead
Sometimes I raise my fist in anger at the beer gods and yell, “Why is this only available in Chicago and Indiana?!” Gumballhead is plain and simple one of the most flavorful and easiest-drinking pale ales around, thanks to lemony citrus flavors here, mellowed by lots of wheat. It’s great with all kinds of grilled food from shellfish to chicken to burgers. Looking for an all-purpose pleaser and scavenger hunt-kicker all in one?
Russian River Brewing Company: Damnation
This American made Belgian-style strong golden ale stays true to this classic style with sweet fruity taste derived from Belgian yeast. You’ll get banana, apple, pear, lemon, pepper and some hop bitterness, too. What I like most is that it’s less sweet and more hopped than some of the more typical Belgian offerings – it’s also 7.75% ABV so it’s less boozy, too. I like the flavors of this beer with seafood. Try grilled salmon with a generous helping of grilled zucchini.
Maine Beer Company: Peeper Ale
With so much pressure to crank up the hops, it’s great to see a hop-centric beer company craft a delicate ale that won’t overpower your tastebuds to the point where you can’t taste your food. You can’t go wrong with anything from MBC, but Peeper, their crisp, dry American pale ale, is by far their most accessible and most pleasing. Get creative with shellfish, as the citrusy hops complement shrimp, lobster or scallops. At just 5.5%, you’ll find yourself wanting more than just one bottle – I truly wish this came in a six-pack.
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