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The Best Beer Pairings for Super Bowl Snacks

Editor's Note: We're trying to find the best beers to drink with our favorite foods. Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew is here to help.

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[Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner, and that means all-day parties with friends, food, and most importantly, beer. When picking your Super Bowl suds, remember that you're likely to have a few and you don't want to burn out too early. Session beers are the way to go. Save the high-test super-beers for another day, and choose brews with a high drinkability quotient. Beers that are too heavy or too hoppy will fill you up and fry your palate. Plus, you'll want to have something around for those who aren't into the craziest new release.

To assemble the ultimate Super Bowl spread I surveyed my Facebook friends for their favorite game-day treats. Here are their top recommendations and my beer picks to go with them.

Wings, Wings, and More Wings

Really Good Oven-Fried Buffalo Wings

[Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Wings are pretty universal on Super Bowl day. If you're going with hot Buffalo-style wings, you can read my recommended beer pairings for these saucy sizzlers in an earlier post.

I'm an even bigger fan of simple fried wings without the Frank's hot sauce. For these, you will want a lighter beer with a good malt and hop balance to both pick up the crispy skins and clear away the grease. Munich helles is a great choice—like a more malt-forward version of pilsner, the helles style highlights soft, bready, sweetness offset by spicy hop flavor and just enough bitterness. The best examples have hints of toast that make them delicious with the crispy fried skin. American pale ale would be another good option. Bright, bitter, and dry as a bone, these beers bring a hoppy contrast that washes your palate clean.

A few beers to try:
Munich Helles: Weihenstephaner Original Premium, Paulaner Premium Lager, Stoudt's Gold Lager
American Pale Ale: Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale, Oscar Blues Dale's Pale Ale

Sausage, Sauce, and Smoke

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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

Lil' Smokies smothered in barbecue sauce or whiskey-dosed ketchup are another Super Bowl favorite. The sauce and smoke demands something with a bit more heft and maybe some caramel, toast, or roast flavors. Don't go too heavy on the roast, though. An acrid stout will blow these beauties away. An American-style dark lager is a great choice. It's got a bit of caramel sweetness to balance the sweetness of the sauce. Bitterness and hop flavors are low, but the crisp, lager finish will do the job to clear your palate.

For a similar beer with a bit more body, try a Munich dunkel lager. The darker cousin of the Munich helles, it is similarly malt-forward, but favors bread-crust over bread. To bring in just a hint of roast, you could also crack open a Schwarzbier. Often called a black pilsner, Schwarzbier sets off the graham-cracker malt and spicy hops of its golden sister with a light touch of coffee from roasted malts.

Finally, while some won't want to drink this all day, a classic German rauchbier would be a fantastic match for sausages (or any slow-cooked or barbecued meat you might be serving.)

A few beers to try:
Dark American Lager: Shiner Bock, Beck's Dark
Munich Dunkel: Paulaner Alt Münchner Dunkel, Capital Dark
Schwarzbier: Köstritzer Schwarzbier, Kulmbacher Mönchshof Premium Schwarzbier
Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen, Spezial Rauchbier Märzen

Multi-layered Mexican

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[Photo: Adam Kuban]

Some form of chips and dip made almost everyone's party-food list. Since I'm aiming for the ultimate Super Bowl spread, I opted for the deliciously-decadent 7-layer bean dip. My top beer pick for this dish is a German-style hefeweizen. It's hard to beat the wheaty-sweet, banana, citrus, and spice flavors of this style with the flavors of Mexican food. Plus the high carbonation will wash away the thick beans, cheese, and guac.

A pilsner or American-style lager is also a good choice for drinking with dip. Pilsner has a bigger flavor and a stronger bitter kick to stand up to this hefty dip, but the lighter lager will do the trick for those who want something less intense. For a simpler guacamole dip without the layers, but one that is sure to impress your friends, try making this edible guacamole stadium.

A few beers to try:
Hefeweizen: Ayinger Bräu Weisse, Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
Pilsner: Trumer Pils, Avery Joe's Premium American Pilsner
American Lager: Modelo Especial, Miller High Life

Going Haute?

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[Photo: Kristen Swensson Sturt]

My friend chef Erik Jacobs of Wanderlust Pizza in St. Louis suggested a build-your-own bruschetta bar for an upscale Super Bowl gathering. He recommends including a range of ingredients like roasted tomatoes, balsamic braised onions, black-olive tapenade, crispy pancetta, cheeses like Parmigiano, chevre, Gorgonzola, and a variety of herbs. (Sounds like quite a party!)

Here again, pilsner would be a great match. It works with a wide variety of food flavors, giving ultimate flexibility for a build-your-own buffet. The combination of subtle malt sweetness and spicy hops goes well with fresh herbs (especially basil) and lighter cheeses. For something with a little bit of toasty flavor to pick up the crostini and some of the darker-flavored toppings, try a Vienna lager. Or you could go Belgian, which offers yeasty fruit flavors and spice to pick up the sweetness of tomatoes, onions, and nutty cheeses.

A few beers to try:
Pilsner: Pilsner Urquell (only in cans), New Belgium Blue Paddle Pilsner
Vienna Lager: Negra Modelo, Metropolitan Dynamo Copper Lager
Belgian Pale Ale: De Koninck, Ommegang BPA (a touch higher in alcohol)

Extreme Indulgence

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[Photograph: BBQ Addicts]

One of my informants said that the ridiculously decadent Bacon Explosion is a Super Bowl essential at his house. Bacon wrapped in sausage wrapped in bacon, smothered in barbeque sauce and then smoked—how can that possibly be bad? It can't.

This monumental mass of pork requires a hefty beer with some serious palate cleansing potential. A hoppy IPA will do the trick. Boldly bitter and loaded with tongue-scraping hops, IPAs still have a sturdy enough malt base to stand strong against the weighty dish. Residual sugars give a sweet complement to the sauce and pull out any sweetness in the meat. But be careful, IPAs will pack a higher alcoholic punch.

Hefeweizen is another option, since it's wonderful with bacon's sweetness and will offer citrusy brightness to the dish. Rauchbier would be a perfect pairing to the smoke. But why not get the best of both worlds with a smoked wheat beer? Aside from complementary flavors, it's got that mouth-filling wheat beer body that will stand up to this meaty loaf.

A few beers to try:
IPA: Odell IPA, Founders Centennial IPA
Smoked Hefeweizen: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen

What food are you going to serve during the Super Bowl? And what beers will you be cracking open?

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. Follow him on Twitter at @aperfectpint

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