With the June gloom somewhat dissipating and the Fourth of July around the corner, barbecue season is officially upon us. Summer is when beer really shines. The hot weather and long days make a cold, sparkling beer extra appealing. Fortunately, beer goes just as well with barbecue as it does with summer. Barbecue can get personal and more than a few chefs and grill hobbyists have gotten in arguments about the best way to barbecue. Between preparation styles (dry rub, marinade, etc.) and cooking method there are countless variations on barbecue. This also means that there are a wide range of beers that can pair with barbecue, depending on how it is prepared. The roasty, charred flavors of barbeque naturally lend themselves to darker malts since the two share many similar flavor compounds. Two of the most classic American craft beers, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam, have a caramel malt character that pairs very nicely with barbecue. Anchor Steam was recently canned for the very first time, making it even easier to bring with you to a beach barbecue.
For something a little more special, seek out a rauchbier. This family of smoked beers originated in Bamberg, Germany, and get their intense smokiness from beechwood trees being used to dry the malts over open flame. For some people, drinking rauchbier with barbecue can be overkill on the smokiness, then again, barbecue is not known for its subtleties. Smoked beers are hard to sell so most brewers don’t produce one. If you look around often times the only true rauchbier you will find in town is Aecht Schlenkerla. They produce several varieties, of which the Märzen is the most common. It pours a light mahogany color and has an almost bacon-like smokiness that accompanies an apparent maltiness. These flavors just beg to be served alongside baked beans and sweet-tangy baby back ribs. During the winter months they produce a stronger Ur-Bock, as well as an even stronger doppelbock. They also produce a smoked lager and hefeweizen, however those are a little less common on beer shelves.
Fish typically goes with light lagers and ales however the extra flavors from grilling usually requires a little more intensity in the beer. Kettle soured beers like gose or berliner weisse make for an interesting combination. Their sharp acidity compliments the fish while standing up to the flavors from the grill. Try a garlic and herb-rubbed mahi mahi or a salmon in a lemon-dill and mustard marinade with Captain Fatty’s Calypso Cucumber Sour. Barbecued chicken goes particularly well with wheat beers. American-style wheats like Bell’s Oberon Ale can make a nice accompaniment to grilled chicken that is spice rubbed or lightly marinated. If there is a sweet barbecue sauce on the chicken, try something richer and darker like a dunkelweizen.
Pork goes better with amber-colored beer styles and the richer character of beef lends itself to darker beers like porter or stout. These dark ales can sometimes be a little heavy on a hot day and I typically prefer a dark lager like a dunkel or schwarzbier, with barbecued beef. Figueroa Mountain’s I Dunkeled In My Pants is an award winning dunkel that would go well with barbecued beef ribs (even if the name might not evoke an appetite). There is plenty of wiggle room with these pairings. Draughtsmen Aleworks Mas Macho is a Mexican amber lager whose lighter malt character makes it a nice match for the spices of carne asada. Of course a light lager like pilsner will always be welcome at a barbecue. The brisk flavors and light bitter bite of pilsner can help cleanse the palate and will also be at home with the usual cast of side dishes found along the table. Chips and dip, coleslaw, macaroni salad, corn-on-the-cob, all of these traditional flavors will go well with any lawnmower beer.
The leisurely pace of summer lends itself to day drinking, but as to not be a total lush, it is sometimes best to stick to light drinking, low alcohol beers, if you are going to spend the day drinking in the sun. Usually these beers are referred to as lawnmower beers, which is not a specific beer style, but rather a collection of beers that fit this bill. This can include anything from light lagers like pilsner to session IPAs. Of course there are plenty of ways to lighten up a beer to make its alcohol content less impacting.
A shandy, or radler (“cyclist”) as it is known in Germany combines beer with soda. The classic combination is half part part pilsner and half part carbonated lemonade however there are countless variations on the theme. Hefeweizen is often used and grapefruit soda has become as (if not more) popular as its lemon counterpart. Stiegl is one of the biggest producers of bottled radler and makes two versions of it, one with lemon and one with grapefruit. Out of the two, the grapefruit variant is by far more popular.
When cola is used it is referred to as a diesel. A brummbär (grouch) is a porter or stout mixed with cola. These are some of the more traditional combinations but with the wide range of flavors being produced in the beer industry these days there is far more fun to be had. An American IPA and grapefruit soda makes for a little twist on the classic shandy. The citrus in the hops will accentuate the soda flavors with the bitterness helping cut the sweetness of the soda. You can always get more experimental and blend ginger ale and saison for a spicier concoction or even get esoteric and weird with it by combining a Belgian-style dubbel and Dr. Pepper. The shandy family of drinks are incredibly refreshing and at around 2.5% ABV it is easy to drink during the day without getting sluggish in the afternoon.
Another common way to lighten up a beer is to add fruit juice. Brass Monkey is the classic and combines lager and orange juice (Sunny D and a 40 oz of Mickey’s if you want to get technical). Now if the name Brass Monkey gets you humming an old Beastie Boys tune, it is important to note that they were not actually singing about the beer drink. Brass Monkey is also the name for equal parts vodka, rum, and OJ. The Heublein Company began bottling and selling Brass Monkeys as a pre-mixed cocktail at a time when packaged blended drinks wasn’t really a thing. It was this drink that Beastie Boys were immortalizing in song. The Heublein Company no longer exists however the Brass Monkey brand is now owned by the monstrous beverage conglomerate, Diageo (think Guinness, Smirnoff, Ciroc, Johnny Walker, Tanqueray, Crown Royal, and Captain Morgan’s to name only a few).
The Brass Monkey cocktail isn’t well known today but the beer and OJ mix remains as popular as ever. Just as with shandies, there are many ways to blend these two. Both hops and yeast contribute fruity esters to beer, so there are a lot of natural pairings that can be made between fruit juice and beer. Guava juice and Sierra Nevada Tropical IPA will produce a more exotic beverage. Watermelon puree and wheat beer or a blonde ale can make for a hydrating blend. When adding fruit juice to beer it is usually best to keep the beer at about 60-80% of the blend as compared to the 50-50 ratio found in shandies. The flavors are more concentrated in fruit juice than soda and because juice lacks carbonation (unlike soda) adding too much will overly flatten the beer so not much is needed. Whether it is grilling a rack of ribs or just sitting outside and soaking up the sun, beer makes the perfect accompaniment to summer.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, June 27, 2018