Choosing the Best Beer for the Barbecue

During the summer, it seems as though just about everything we eat gets tossed on the barbi first, and that’s not a bad thing because nothing says summer like the smoky and slightly charred aromas that emanate from perfectly grilled grub.  Beer is the best beverage to match with the mouthwatering flavours of the barbecue – even better than wine.  While a red wine would pair well, a big, alcoholic Zinfandel or Shiraz may seem a bit heavy in the hot summer sun (if we ever get any).  A cold beer would be perfect, but not that mass-produced brand – a premium beer.  It’s casual enough for a relaxed outdoor barbecue, yet special enough to show your guests that you care.  Beer works very well with any barbecued food, be it beef, pork, chicken, fish, or veggies.

Anyone who has stood peering at the seemingly endless wall of labels at The Beer Store can attest to the countless number of beers on the market today.  With so many different styles available, choosing just the right one for your barbecue can seem like a very daunting task, indeed.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  Many of the same rules you use when pairing food and wine can be applied here as well.  As a broad generalization, choose a lager for dishes that you would normally pair a white wine, and an ale when you would normally pick a red wine.

Beer and Barbecue Matching Tips:

  • Balance the weight:  Light tasting beer pairs well with lighter food and more robust beer is a better match with heavier food.  The crisp, clean flavours of a pilsner complement seafood dishes, such as a lightly grilled perch.  Rounder, more robust ales, such as nut brown ales and porters, are good matches with heartier barbecued ribs and steaks.
  • Take into account the hoppiness of the beer:  Think of the bitter hoppiness of the beer as equal to the acidity in wine.  Dishes that require a wine with crisp acidity would pair well with a hoppy beer.  For grilled salmon or other fish, try a best bitter.  The hoppiness in a beer can also be likened to the tannins in a red wine.  Just as tannins can cut through protein and fat, the bitterness of a well-hopped ale, such as an American brown ale, can easily slice through a medium-rare steak, and leave your palate feeling refreshed.
  • Match the flavours:  Beer is a great match for barbecued foods because of their very similar flavour profiles.  During the grilling process, juices and fats are reduced and caramelized directly onto the meat, intensifying flavours and taking on a smoky, slightly charred character.  Beer, especially ones made with darker malt, can have the same smoky, charred, caramel flavours.  For grilled chicken with a crisp, caramelized skin, try an amber lager or British brown ale.
  • Balance the flavours:  If you have an especially spicy sauce on your ribs, a beer that has some sweetness to it, such as a British porter, will help put out some of the fire.  If you like to top your burgers with a slab of salty blue cheese, then you can also look for a sweeter beer which can help balance the saltiness in the cheese.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and be a little adventurous!  Who knows what unusual combinations will turn out to be a hit at your table.?

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