Gather the clan and fire up the grill, July 4th is here, one of the premier days of the year for back-yard barbecues. Whether you’re grilling on a grate, roasting on a spit or smoking low and slow, you’ll want the right beer to go along with it.
Let’s start with the basics. A versatile, all-around beer is a must for such a gathering — something with enough personality to appeal to beer fans, but that won’t offend your light-beer-drinking relations. Bent Paddle Brewing’s Venture Pils is a perfect choice. This golden, Czech-style lager from Duluth strikes a great balance between malty sweetness and hop bitterness — not too much of either. Delicate hints of citrus add some lively top notes. Its Pilsner is also a great food beer that will go well with most cookout fare.
Brats and dogs need a lighter beer that won’t overwhelm their somewhat subtle flavors. Wheat beers are just the thing. In fact, “weissbier and wurst” is a classic combination in southern Germany. German wheat beers have spicy and fruity yeast notes that pull out the seasoning of the sausage and stand up well to toppings. American wheat beers lack that fermentation flavor, but still have the sharp, bready, wheat sweetness that offers a nice contrast to the savory meat.
Crisp and refreshing with a moderately bitter hop bite, Shenanigans from Indeed Brewing Co. is a wonderful example of the American style. For a Minnesota-brewed German wheat beer, look for Schell’s Hefeweizen. Schell’s is celebrating that beer’s 30th anniversary this year with a special 12-pack release. The collection includes four different versions of the beer; the original 1984 recipe, the current recipe, a version made with rye, and a dampfbier — a barley beer fermented with wheat beer yeast.
Burgers want a beer with a bit more oomph and some caramel-toasty flavors to match the patty’s outer crust. The toasted malt flavors of Vienna lager make it the perfect pick. Again, you can turn to August Schell, in this case its Firebrick, which is a great example of the style. The lightly toasted caramel sweetness will go head-to-head with the burger and hold its own against the toppings. Gentle bitterness and a crisp lager finish make it a great palate cleanser. For something readily recognizable to your non-beer-savvy friends, pick up some Sam Adams Boston Lager, another good example of the style.
If you plan to impress with a rack of saucy ribs, pick a hearty, malt-forward beer to match. Celebrator Doppelbock from Germany is pretty much the perfect choice. It’s full-bodied and complex enough to match the symphony of flavor that comes from charred meat, spicy rubs and tangy sauces. Caramel and dark fruit notes pull out molasses and brown sugar from the sauce. A hint of roast latches on to the grill char. For something with a little less roast, look for Paulaner Salvator.
If you like your ribs dry-rubbed, pick Pepe Nero from Goose Island, a black saison brewed with black pepper. You get smoke from black malts, fruit from Belgian yeast and a spicy kick from black pepper for a perfect tie-in to the ribs.
Minnesotans love India pale ale. These bitter, hop-forward brews are another great choice for ribs. Examples with a stronger malt backbone and a focus on hop flavor over bitterness give a better tie-in to the meat without ramping up any heat from the spice rub. Moar, a Scottish session IPA from Bent Brewstillery in Roseville, is a solid choice. Hops dominate, with moderate bitterness and herbal and fruity flavors reminiscent of freshly peeled oranges. But malt hasn’t been forgotten. A base of lightly sweet toffee and biscuit provide grounding balance. At just over 4 percent alcohol, this one won’t make you woozy in the summer sun.
For after dinner, what’s more American than apple pie? There’s a beer for that, too. Porter offers a bitter contrast to the sweet pie, just like a cup of coffee does. But a touch of sweetness beneath that coffee-like roast keeps the bitterness from seeming harsh. Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery is a good choice. It’s plenty roasty, but the acrid black-malt flavors remain low, letting the underlying sweetness come through.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, drizzle that pie with caramel sauce and try it with an English-style IPA for a delightfully bittersweet combination. 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. Summit’s True Brit IPA is a go-to example with subtle caramel malt overlaid with spicy/herbal hops and low tones of orange marmalade.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.