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Nothing says summertime like a seaside crab or lobster bake (or, as far as I'm concerned, why not both?). Fresh seafood, salty air, and plenty of classic dishes and desserts make for the kind of evening you don't want to ever end. You'll need something to drink alongside this summer fare—how about venturing beyond the ubiquitous lime-slice light beers often found filling up beach coolers? Here are some beer pairings that will seriously punch up your seafood feast.
Beer for the Main Event: Lobster
Sure, lobster can be served all fancy on a white tablecloth, but it's also at home back on the seashore in a simple bath of butter. Lobster is inherently rich and succulent—it calls for a beer that can emphasize its elegant qualities, without ever overshadowing or overpowering them.
Partner your lobster bake with wheat-based beers like a lemony hefeweizen or Belgian wit. Both styles leverage offer citrusy acidity, allowing you to forgo that squeeze of lemon that you've become so accustomed to as a shellfish accoutrement. These bright beer styles won't overpower the flavor of the lobster: they'll provide a match rather than an opponent.
If You're Making Crab
While lobster is arguably the hotter crustacean commodity, there is a population, myself included, that sometimes prefers cracking into fresh crab legs. Crabmeat, from body to claw, is sweet and satisfying with a fresh saltiness from the sea.
For simply prepared crabs, dry Belgian or Belgian-style saisons are a natural fit. A spicy yeast character rounds out the flavor of the sweet crabmeat and citrus notes cut through the richness when dunked in drawn butter.
If you're going with a garlicky crab preparation, an American IPA will provide plenty of bright, contrasting citrus and tropical flavors as well as herbal notes to complement the garlic. The hop wallop will also assist in lifting the any buttery or oily sauce from the palate between bites.
If your crab packs a paprika or peppery kick, an IPA's zingy hop profile will help it shine. Be wary if it's extra spicy, though, as hops can emphasize heat; best to stay away from Double IPAs in this case and focus on stellar single versions instead.
Beer for a Bowl of Mussels
Whether you're bulking up a lobster feast with mussels or steaming them on their own, mussels are a natural choice for beer pairing, since a classic recipe includes steaming them in beer. A Belgian Witbier or Hefeweizen is often employed in the steaming, but we encourage you to try a twist on the classic: a light and tart Berliner Weiss. The wheat-based beer is typically in the 3% ABV range, and it handles the mussels delicately, allowing the bright, slightly puckering lemon flavor of the beer to leaven the shellfish's salty flavor.
Don't Forget Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob is a must for a true New England style seafood party. Stock up on cream ale to mirror the corn's sweetness—it will wash down a little salt and butter effortlessly, bite after typewriter-style bite. If you're looking for contrasting refreshment, the floral and citrus fruit-forward hop profile found in an American Pale Ale will be the spice to the corn's sweetness, creating delicious balance.
Should you decide to grill your corn, consider something with a malt-focused character like an ESB or brown ale. The caramel flavors that arise on the grill will warm to the caramel malt component of the beer, while the corn's intrinsic brightness offers contrast.
If you're experimenting with something more exotic, like a chili-lime corn recipe, try a local pilsner brewed with citrusy American hops. The essence of lemon-lime from the aromatic hops will match the citrus zest flavors, drawing out a bit of pleasant spice.
On a Sweet Note
If your evening is wrapping up with slices of watermelon and a seed-spitting contest, bring back those hefeweizens and witbiers. The delicate fruit can be easily overpowered, but it adds a lovely layer of complexity to these beers.
Arguably the perfect American dessert, strawberry shortcake leverages the seasonality of fresh berries, the brightness of the pound cake or biscuit, and the buoyancy of whipped cream. To drink: get your hands on a bottle of gueuze for a killer combination. The beer's mouth-watering tartness complements the fruit while helping to cut through the buttery biscuit. The gueuze offers puckering citrus flavors that are perfect for a palate cleanse between bites piled high with fresh whipped cream.
Can't find a gueuze? A case can also be made for introducing a chocolaty oatmeal stout. Its smooth, silky body and notes of coffee, cream, and cocoa make this a unique couple, calling to mind juicy chocolate-covered strawberries.
A good old-fashioned Whoopie Pie is the classic finishing touch to a New England seafood bake. These chocolate confections are stuffed with a creamy vanilla filling that will make you feel like a kid in a cake shop. They're also surprisingly delicious with beer. Consider gathering a few options for everyone to try. A Baltic porter in the 6 or 7% ABV range is a great partner for the pie: the beer has flavors reminiscent of chocolate, vanilla, and raisins, plus a creamy texture that echoes dessert.
For a more unusual pairing, try a Flanders red ale, a slightly sour style that'll remind you of sour cherries and caramel, adding a wow factor to your chocolatey Whoopie Pie. If you're feeling adventurous and want a to mimic a s'mores-like flavor for your lobster bake finale, bring a rauchbier or smoked porter to the party. The chocolatey cake, vanilla filling, and smokey malt character of the beer collude, confusing your mouth into tasting the essence of the classic roasted marshmallow and chocolate sandwich.
Are you having a lobster bake before summer's end? What beers will you bring along?
About the Author: Stef Ferrari is a Brooklyn-based Certified Cicerone, food writer/photographer, and author of a forthcoming beer industry guidebook with Wiley & Sons Publishing. Find her on the web and on Twitter at @stef_ferrari.