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Beer Pairings: What to Drink with Ribs

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.

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[Photographs: Jessica Leibowitz]

Ribs come in nearly infinite variety (if you aren't familiar with the Serious Eats barbecue style guide, I highly recommend it). To start, you can choose between beef and pork. Then there are baby back ribs, spare ribs, and country-style ribs. Travel across the country and you'll find endless regional specialties; Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Texas, just to name a few.

No matter what kind of ribs you like, you'll probably want a beer to go with all that slow-cooked meat.When pairing ribs with beer, you want to reach for malt-forward beers that offer sweetness or roast. Crisp lagers are nice for their palate cleansing power, but super-bitter beers may harshly overpower the delicate flavors of the meat.

Taking inspiration from Sarah Chappell's recent piece pairing wines with ribs, I am basing my beer pairings on a simple distinction between spicy, dry-rubbed ribs and sweeter wet ribs.

Beers to Pair with Wet Ribs

Sweet and saucy wet ribs really sing with malty-sweet beers. Look for beers with caramel, toast, and dark fruit flavors to pull out the best of both the meat and the sauce.

Celebrator Doppelbock: Richly sweet, caramel-toasty malt blends seamlessly with the sauce bringing out nice molasses notes in the finish. Celebrator has subtle background roastiness that adds a welcome hint of smoke to the pairing. The alcohol comes off a bit harsh, but let the beer warm and that subsides.

Spaten Dunkel: A classic Bavarian dark lager, Spaten Dunkel is simple enough to complement without overpowering. It seems thin with dry ribs, but with wet ribs the tangy sauce and sweet caramel malt grab hold of each other and give a boost to both. Just enough hops and a crisp finish work to clear your palate.

Beers to Pair with Dry Ribs

Dry-rubbed ribs still want malt, but the dry spiciness can handle beers that are a little bit more crisp. Stick with more subtle beers though, as the spice rub flavors are actually quite delicate and can be easily overpowered.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest: I might take some flak for recommending this one over the myriad other Oktoberfest-style beers out there. All I will say is that I tasted it and the pairing was magical. Just the right balance of caramel malt and spicy hops picks up both the brown sugar and the spice in the rub. It kills the fat on the way out, leaving you ready for the next bite or another sip.

Köstrizter Schwarzbier: Sometimes called black pilsners, schwarzbiers have the crispness and balanced hops of that style with just a touch of dry roastiness. The dry beer was a perfect match to the dry ribs. Gently sweet malt and spicy hops touched both sweet and spice in the rub. That hint of roast worked with the grilled toastiness of the ribs.

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Beers for Both Wet and Dry Ribs

Certain beers have just the right combination of sweet, spice, and fruitiness to make a good match for a wide variety of rib styles.

Goose Island Pepe Nero: This beer is a black saison brewed with black pepper. It's got the familiar yeasty spice and fruit of a saison with a just a bit of roast. The black pepper gives it an extra kick. Paired with the dry ribs, the experience begins with a burst of citrusy fruit. Very quickly, though, the spices take over. The phenols and black pepper in the beer combine with the spicy rub to create a deliciously piquant feedback loop. The combination with the wet ribs brings out an angel's chorus of fruit. The slightly elevated malty sweetness of the beer is amplified by the sauce while the spices offer a gentle counterbalance.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen: Anyone who has ever tried and loved an Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier will know that it is an obvious choice to pair with any grilled meat. The meaty smoke of the beer works with both wet and dry ribs. The dry ribs emphasize that smoke. The wet ribs tone it down while pulling out the underlying malty sweetness.

What's your favorite beer to drink with ribs?

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.

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