Fire up the grill and break out the beer, the 4 of July is nearly here! Independence Day is the ultimate cookout day; family and friends gathered in the backyard, food, fun, and fireworks. Plus, the day wouldn't be complete without a cold brew (or three) to wash down all that grilled meat.
Here are a few pointers to help you make the most of your patriotic pairings.
To start off, you're going to want a good all-purpose beer, something flavorful enough to satisfy your beer-loving relations but non-offensive to the uninitiated. It should be fairly light weight, refreshing for a hot day and flexible enough to go with a wide variety of foods. Pilsners are extraordinarily versatile food-wise and fairly easy for even light-beer drinkers to embrace. Victory Prima Pils is one of the best you can get in the States. For something a little maltier and richer, go with Lagunitas Pils.
Brats and hot dogs call for lighter beers that won't overwhelm their somewhat delicate flavors. For beer, choose German and American wheat beers—weissbier and wurst is a classic combination in Germany. The fruity and spicy flavors from yeast in these beers help the sweet/smoky/spicy flavors of grilled sausages come through, as well as holding up against sweet and tangy toppings. American wheat beers often lack that spicy yeast character, but still offer the bready sweetness of wheat. With a clean, sharp profile Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen is one classic to try. From Germany, seek out Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier and Ayinger Bräu-Weisse.
Burgers require something a little beefier when it comes to beer. Some toasty caramel flavors will tie in nicely with the caramelized crust on the patty. Anchor Steam has the perfect profile; caramel underneath with woody hops on top. It'll tackle the beef, the toppings, and leave your palate clean in the end. For a pairing with a bit more zip try Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes in Oregon. It has the aggressive bitterness and citrusy hop flavors of an American pale ale with a slightly elevated caramel malt profile that recalls the English version of this style.
Smoked and Sauced
If you're planning to impress your guests with a rack of saucy ribs, you'll need to step up your beer game a bit, too. Tangy sauce, spicy rub, and a caramelized crust on the meat means a complex symphony of flavors that need super-flavorful beers to match. Celebrator Doppelbock is pretty much the perfect match. Toasty-caramel malt and background hints of dark fruit serve to pull out molasses and brown sugar flavors from the sauce. The beer also has a wee bit of roast that adds a pleasant element of smoke to the mix. Another great option is Pepe Nero from Goose Island, a black saison brewed with black pepper. You get smoke from black malts, fruit from saison yeast, and a spicy kick from black pepper for a perfect tie-in to the ribs.
Tackling slow-smoked brisket instead? Pair smoke with smoke by pouring Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen. This traditional German smoked lager showcases bacony flavors with underlying caramel malt and just a touch of spicy hops. It's hard to find a more meat-friendly brew.
Another great option for ribs or brisket is a tangy IPA. Choose one with a stronger malt backbone that will speak to the caramelization of the meat and the sweeter elements in the sauce. Founders Centennial IPA is ideal; it has nice caramel and biscuit-like malt underneath a bright foreground of citrusy hops. Bear Republic Racer 5 is another good option.
Don't Forget Your Veggies
Although some of us might like to try, we can't survive on meat alone. If you're grilling vegetables, wash them down with a smooth Vienna lager. Abita Amber and Metropolitan Dynamo Copper Lager both have malty sweetness up front that pairs well to the sweetness of grilled vegetables. A kiss of toast talks to the light charring.
As American as Apple Pie
After the grilling is done, I like to serve an all-American apple pie for dessert. To drink? Stouts offer a bitter contrast to the sweet pie, just like a cup of coffee does. I like a sweeter stout that still has the coffee-like roast, but with a touch of sugar underneath. Left Hand Milk Stout is a good choice. You could also try Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout. The oatmeal used in the brew gives a subtle creamy tie-in to the crust.
If you're feeling a little more adventurous, try an English IPA for a bittersweet contrast with your dessert. English IPAs have a little less hop and a little more caramel malt. That extra malt acts like caramel sauce on the pie while the hops provide a bitter, fruity counterpoint. Samuel Smith's India Ale is a great example.
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. He is the author of an upcoming travel guide to breweries in the upper Midwest, due out this fall from the University of Illinois Press. Follow him on Twitter at @aperfectpint