Beer goes with burgers. That's a no brainer.
But just the right beer with a particular burger to make them both taste better? Well, that elusive choice is a magical moment, especially if you're inclined to grab your same-old-same-old fall-back brew with that patty on your plate.
Smashburger founder Tom Ryan wants to change that. In six markets, including the Twin Cities, he and a local brewer have spent countless hours researching (that's what they call it!) so you don't have to. In the Twin Cities, that's been a partnership with Summit Brewing Co. where, with the expertise of Damian McConn, head brewer, and Tom's tastebuds (a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry), it's been an intense study in flavor, from citrus to caramel to hops and bitterness.
The result is a pairing of eight beer combos with Smashburger's beef and chicken sandwiches.
"Beer is the new wine," said Ryan (pictured, above). And he's ready for it.
The former McDonald's exec speculated that not a lot of people were passionate about eating burgers. His goal at Smashburger (where they actually do smash the burger on the grill) was to shake that up. "Beer and wine have always been part of the strategy. You can't have date night at Five Guys. A lot of people are looking for everyday sophistication. It's the next generation for burgers."
For brewmaster McConn, that's a reminder that, just like wine, beer can be enhanced by the food served with it. "Two plus two equals five," he said with enthusiasum as he and Ryan offered a sample of their combos. "Beer enhances the burger, but the burger brings out the beer, too."
Just like the local connection to a brewery, Smashburger offers at least one "local" burger in each of its markets and occasionally a salad. "We try to incorporate local ingredients as much as possible," said Ryan.
For the very messy Twin Cities burger ("People in Minnesota love cheese and onions," said Ryan about what he calls a "very indulgent burger," one that's the equivalent of a "hot dish on a bun" ), the match calls for Summit's extra pale ale, with its caramel malts and fruity hops. For the mushroom burger, it's Summit's Great Northern Porter. "The bitterness cuts through the fat," said McConn of the flavor that contrasts with the creamy Swiss cheese and mayo.
Who knew a burger/beer study could be so, uh, enlightening?
For the avocado club burger, it's a pilsener with a toasted malt and hop character that matches the smoked bacon, ranch dressing and avocado atop the beef. "One of the hottest ingredients now for mass market is avocado," said Ryan, who noted that "I think we all eat avocados because of our wives."
Then there's the Spicy Baja Smashburger, a burger topped with jalapenos, guacamole and pepper jack cheese, atop a chipotle bun (at top). "When the chef brings heat, the brewer brings hops," said McConn (pictured, above). That means a natural pairing of a Saga IPA, the hoppiest of the Summit brews, a blend of bitterness and tropical fruit hop aroma to tame the heat. "This pulls flavors out of the burgers that you don't find yourself. There's a tobacco-ey note in the chipotle bun when you drink beer with it," said Ryan.
The Denver chain, in 29 states, has gone international since its 2007 debut (its Minnesota entry was in 2009 in Golden Valley). Think you know burger variations? Check out these ways to change up the traditional patty. Makes me want to experiment at the grill.
Colorado: green chiles and melted Cheddar and pepper jack cheese with fixings (tomato, lettuce) and mayo on chipotle bun.
Orange County, Calif.: sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, baby arugula, Swiss cheese and truffle mayo on egg bun.
Los Angeles: Crispy wonton, fried egg, cilantro, cucumber, fixings and Japanese ginger dressing on black-and-white sesame seed bun.
Miami: Grilled Spanish chorizo, frita potatoes, Swiss cheese, the fixings and chipotle mayo on Cuban roll.
Georgia: bbq sauce, coleslaw and Pimina cheese on egg bun.
Michigan: chopped green olives, American cheese, the fixings on egg bun.
Brooklyn, NY: pastrami, Swiss cheese, pickles, onion and mustard on pretzel bun.
Oklahoma: fried pickles, pepper jack cheese, haystack onions, the fixings and ranch dressing on egg bun.
Dallas: grilled garlic jalapenos, bacon, Cheddar, haystack onions and BBQ sauce on egg bun.
They clearly think differently about burgers abroad. Here are the Smashburger international flavors:
Costa Rica: Chorizo, grilled Turrialba (local) cheese, refried beans, fried potato sticks and cilantro mayo on egg bun.
Kuwait: Hot pepper cheese, grilled jalapenos, yogurt cheese, baby spinach, tomato and cucumber on chipotle bun.
Calgary, Canada: Grilled onions, pepper jack cheese, bacon, fixings and Dijon mayo on kaiser roll.
Saudi Arabia: Halal beef with Saudi spices, Cheddar cheese, red onion, fixings, pickles and tahini space on chipotle bun.
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