Editor's Note: We're trying to find the best beers to drink with our favorite Serious Eats recipes. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.
More Beer Pairings
A good burger will complement a wide variety of beers from pilsners to porters. But attention paid to ingredients and preparation can reveal the secrets to finding the perfect pairing. The toasty, browned crust on the beef and the sweet caramelized onions give these sliders a couple of flavor hooks to help you narrow down the selection of brews.
I like lagers with this recipe. Sliders are deliciously greasy, and the clean, crisp finish of a lager is palate cleansing. That clean character also allows the malty and hoppy flavor matches to shine. I prefer lagers with some toasty and roasty notes with this dish. A bit of residual sweetness is nice, but be sure it's balanced with some hops. The spicy flavors of European hop varieties add a nice herbal complement and work better for me with sliders than citrusy American hops. Whether lagers or ales, beers with some dark fruit character really make the onions pop.
Baltic porter is a perfect match to this recipe. It's got everything you need. Dark chocolate and lightly acrid roast pick up the meat and provide some palate cleansing bitterness. Caramel and raisin flavors perk up the onions. Baltic porters are typically fermented with lager yeast, making them crisp, clean, and refreshing. For something similar to Baltic porter but a little lighter, go with a German Schwarzbier or black lager.
European amber lagers have the toasty notes, sweetness, and balancing spicy hops that make them splendid matches to the dish. Düsseldorf Altbier and Vienna lager both work well. Cold fermenting ale yeast and extended cold-conditioning gives the classic Düsseldorf ale a bright, lager-like crispness. Its toasty, toffee sweetness is offset by assertive spicy hops and a hint of roast. Vienna lagers are a bit sweeter and subtler with more balanced caramel and spice flavors.
If you choose ale, go with an English-style pale ale. Pick one that is slightly malt-forward. The caramel malt and touches of biscuit do well with the beef and onions, while assertive bitterness washes away the grease. Grassy/herbal English hops provide a refreshing complement to the dish's richness.
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Michael's Beer Picks
Carnegie Stark Porter : This Swedish delight proved the best pairing of all in my taste tests. Lightly acrid roast picked up the browned meat. Caramel and raisin flavors made heavenly music with the caramelized onions. Really, I heard the angels singing.
Sinebrychoff Porter: A classic of the style from Finland, it boasts bolder roasted character with hints of licorice and herbs. The dark fruit flavors remain, so it does the job with both the beef and the onions.
Sprecher Black Bavarian: To go lighter than the porter but with similar flavor profile, try this German Schwarzbier from Wisconsin. The malt leans to caramel and bread crust with only moderate roasted flavors. It's balanced by spicy hops and a crisp lager finish.
Great Lakes Eliot Ness Amber Lager: This Vienna-style lager sports mild caramel malt with a sharp toasty background, with none of the toast of an Alt. Spicy hops just keep it balanced and bitterness is moderate. This was the best pairing of the amber lagers. The caramel flavors blended seamlessly with the caramelization of the onion and the meat. The browned crust on the meat pulled out the beer's toasty overtones.
Zum Uerige Alt: One of the few authentic Düsseldorf Altbiers available in the US. If you can find a fresh bottle it's heavenly. Caramel and toasty malt with hints of dark chocolate way in the background really picked up the deeper toast notes in the burgers. Medium-high bitterness and spicy/herbal hops together with dry finish countered the grease, but there's still enough residual sweetness to provide the onions with a good match.
Alaskan Amber: Another in the Altbier style, this one is a bit maltier, with bigger caramel notes and less of the background roast. Moderate bitterness still keeps it refreshing, but it will do more to bring out the sweetness of the onions.
English Pale Ale
Summit Extra Pale Ale: The flagship beer from St. Paul's Summit, EPA is a 2010 World Beer Cup gold medal winner. It has gentle caramel sweetness balanced by floral English hops. The bitterness offers a counterpoint to the grease and sweet onions, while the caramel malt provides a complement.
About the Author: Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is the lead educator and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts beer tastings for private parties and corporate events. His beer musings can be read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, his own Perfect Pint Blog, The Hop Press at Ratebeer.com, the City Pages Hot Dish Blog, and in respected national beer magazines.