The Fourth of July is the premier summer grilling holiday, but when you’re creating the perfect menu of burgers and ribs don’t overlook the beer. And I don’t mean just picking up a 24-pack of Budweiser’s red, white, and blue AmeriCANs and calling it a day. Instead, reach for a six-pack of craft beer.
Like many, I have approached a grocery store’s beer cooler awestruck and even intimidated by the seemingly endless selection of brands and styles. I enlisted the help of “Dr.” Bill Sysak, certified beer Cicerone (think sommelier) and beverage supervisor at Stone Brewing Co., one of the largest and most popular microbreweries in America, to create a guide to selecting the best beer for your holiday menu.
Hamburgers: Pale Ale
The balanced hop and malt ratio blends well with the flexibility of hamburger condiments. Pale ales have a noticeable and refreshing bitterness that stands out if your burger has lettuce, tomato or onion on it. Try Stone Pale Ale or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Steaks: Porter and Brown Ale
The heavy amounts of caramelized malt used to create porters and brown ales enhance the campfire taste of grilled steak. Sysak calls this the “comfort food effect”– the heaviness of the beer matches the heaviness of the steak. Look for Stone Smoked Porter or Rogue Nut Brown Ale. If you want something not as bold, Newcastle Brown Ale is a time-tested English alternative.
BBQ: Strong Ale and Amber Ale
Barbecue provides several options due to regional variations. Tomato-based barbecue sauces go well with American strong ales like Arrogant Bastard Ale, which Sysak says blends with the acidity of tomatoes. Vinegar based sauces from the Carolinas match better with mellower amber ales such as Stone Levitation Ale that provide a hop presence, but leave room for the vinegar bite to hit your palate.
Hot Dogs: India Pale Ale (IPA)
IPAs are known for their massive hop presence, with a strong bitter taste can add excitement to the typically bland hot dog and its condiments. Sysak says that IPAs can transform spicy foods, subduing the heat into a long-present cool burn on the back of the palate. So if an IPA is your selection, be sure to pick up some jalapenos and chili for your hot dogs. Try Stone IPA or Boston-based Harpoon IPA.
Veggies: Porters and Hefeweizens
Carnivores are not the only people who can enjoy a good pairing. Sysak recommends a heavy and complex dark beer for those who enjoy a meatless meal like a grilled Portobello sandwich. If you are dining on uncooked veggies, look for a German Hefeweizen like Spaten, Franziskaner or Erdinger Weissbrau. The prominent fruity tones of the wheat-based Hefeweizen will accentuate any vinaigrette dressing.
As with all things in life, don’t be afraid to experiment. There are thousands of microbreweries across the world, so don’t let one good beer or bad one limit your experiences. The Fourth of July is a great excuse to launch into the world of craft beers, so continue to enjoy beer and warm weather after the holiday is over. One disclaimer: Most craft beers tend to be much higher in alcohol content. Pace yourself if you start “experimenting” at noon.
Harrison Compton is an editorial intern at eHow Food and self-proclaimed “beer dork.” He currently attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.