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 fallback brew to go 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 head brewer Damian McConn and Ryan's taste buds (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 eight beer combos with Smashburger's beef and chicken sandwiches.
"Beer is the new wine," Ryan said. 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," he said. "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 enthusiasm 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," Ryan said 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," McConn said of the flavor that contrasts with the creamy Swiss cheese and mayo.
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 jalapeños, guacamole and pepper jack cheese, atop a chipotle bun. "When the chef brings heat, the brewer brings hops," McConn said. 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 St. Anthony).
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste