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Before you fire up the grill for a backyard barbecue, be sure to stock the cooler with great beer. It's fun to explore the different tastes available and pair them with steaks, ribs, chicken, or whatever else you're cooking, even if that’s just a few hot dogs or burgers.
There are two theories to pairing beer with classic barbecue fare: complement the food with sweet malts or contrast it with crisp hops. Both approaches work well, and some beer styles are a better fit with certain types of food. From well-crafted ales to refreshing lagers and fantastic fruit beers, give one of these bottles a taste.
Here are the best beers for your barbecue.
Best Overall: Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale
Brown ales are among the most versatile beers for barbecue food pairings. The nutty, caramel taste that is signature of this style is an excellent complement to the smoky, sweet, and spicy flavors common in grilled foods. Give this a try with the maltiness of Old Brown Dog from New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing Company.
A staple from the early days of America's craft brewing scene, Old Brown Dog is a favorite for smoked and grilled meats. The 6.5 percent ABV beer has a sweet caramel base, subtle hoppiness (30 IBUs), and bold flavor that will punch right through any food. Highly recommended with ribs, sausages, and steaks, this brown ale’s pleasant nuttiness makes it ideal for veggie burgers and poultry, too.
Best Lager: Founders Solid Gold
Many backyard chefs enjoy an ice-cold lager while they're working the grill. After all, it’s often a multi-hour affair and good excuse to drink a few cold ones with family and friends. While you can go with one of the big names, why not stock your cooler with something new? Founders Solid Gold is a perfect way to break that routine.
This gold lager takes the taste of the average American beer to new heights. At 4.4 percent ABV and 20 IBUs, it's refreshing, crisp, and clean, but crafted to meet the demands of today's beer lovers. It's as barbecue-worthy and drinkable as any other lager, though the taste stands up to its “premium” label. If you enjoy the well-regarded All Day IPA, give this Michigan brewery's lager a chance.
Best Ale: Fat Tire New Belgium Amber Ale
Right behind a brown ale, amber and red ales are an ideal match for your favorite grilled foods. It’s an especially nice pairing with anything that’s been sitting in a tasty marinade. A good choice is Fat Tire. It’s a staple on the U.S. beer market, very easy to find, and a no-fail choice when grilling season is in full swing.
Fat Tire is a flagship brew of New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. Featuring the brewery’s house ale yeast, three hops varieties, and four types of malt, each drink is an enjoyable balance of malt, hop, sweet, spice, and fruit. At 5.2 percent ABV and a pleasant 22 IBUs, Fat Tire is a crowd pleaser.
Best Pilsner: Pilsner Urquell
If brats, hot dogs, or spare ribs slathered in homemade barbecue sauce are on the menu, pilsner is the way to go. When it’s time to pick up a six-pack, go straight for the original with Pilsner Urquell. Highly rated among beer connoisseurs and adored for its thick white head when poured into a glass, it’s sure to bring the taste and feel of a beer garden into your own backyard.
This Czech pilsner defined the style, and the beer’s recipe has remain unchanged for almost two centuries. Saaz hops give it a bitterness balanced with sweet malt, and it has a refreshing zest that’s ideal for summer. At 4.4 percent ABV, the golden pilsner is sessionable, so you can enjoy its crisp taste right through dessert.
Best Wheat: Ommegang Witte
Perfect for a ribeye, grilled fish, or anything you want to toss in the smoker, Ommegang Witte is a fantastic find in the beer cooler. The New York brewery has done an excellent job with this interpretation of a classic Belgian witbier. It’s a great beer for food and a really nice match for spicy barbecue rubs and sauces.
This bottle-conditioned beer is brewed with malted and unmalted wheat, and limits the hops to Hallertau Spalter Select. With just 11 IBUs, it’s barely hoppy and the profile is light and crisp, which makes it very approachable and a good alternative to lagers. Like other witbiers, it includes orange peels to accent the sweet wheat background with citrus, and hints of coriander spice ensure it’s anything but boring.
Best IPA: Shipyard Monkey First IPA
The hoppiness of an IPA is a perfect contrast to grilled foods. Whether you like your sauce or rub tangy or spicy, it’s a great style for the barbecue. An ideal flavor match for the char on everything from steak to a rack of ribs, the universal appeal of Shipyard Monkey Fist IPA will make your cookout better.
This well-rounded beer from Portland, Maine, is a delight to drink on a hot summer day. It's filled with flavor, including a nice hint of citrus and tropical fruits that plays well against the sweet grains and bitterness from a trio of carefully selected hops. Not too hoppy or heavy (6 percent ABV and 50 IBUs), this copper-colored IPA is one that almost any beer drinker will thoroughly enjoy.
Best Dark: Deschutes Black Butte Porter
On a hot afternoon, you may be thinking twice about drinking a dark porter, but it's one of the best styles for any meat, no matter how you cook it. That said, it's fantastic alongside the deep char from a grill's fire.
A top choice in this style comes from the Bend, Oregon, brewery of Deschutes. Its Black Butte Porter is a beer to marvel at, with delicious chocolate and coffee notes against malty cream. It’s crafted with a combination of Cascade and Tettnang hops and five malts, including chocolate and wheat, which really shape the beer’s deliciously complex taste. This porter weighs in at just 5.5 percent ABV and 30 IBUs, so it’s actually quite soft when compared to others. While you might want to choose something lighter while cooking, crack open a bottle when you sit down to feast.
Best Lite: Kona Light Blonde Ale
For a low-calorie beer, Kona Light Blonde Ale is an ideal summertime choice. You'll definitely want to serve this beer with grilled seafood or veggie kebabs. It pairs best with any light fare and is a real treat alongside grilled fruit. Toss some pineapple or watermelon on the heat and enjoy a relaxing, refreshing meal.
Light Blonde Ale is brewed on Hawaii’s Big Island with pale and caramel malts. It also features a trio of hops and real mango to give it an intriguing tropical island touch. The bitterness is extremely low (18 IBUs), and the ale is a light and refreshing 4.2 percent ABV. With just 99 calories and 4 grams of carbs, it’s a feel-good beer, too.
Best Fruit: Schlafly Raspberry Hefeweizen
Bring fruit and barbecue together with the taste of a really nice fruit beer. For warm weather, it’s hard to beat Schlafly's Raspberry Hefeweizen. The seasonal beer screams summer and can be a great complement to any barbecue food, as well as the traditional side dishes.
This pink beer is not a gimmick. It's brewed as a hefeweizen and plays off the German tradition of great wheat beers. Its underlying sweetness is perfectly accented with delectable berries. Unlike many fruit beers that just add flavoring, real raspberries are fermented directly into the mix, so you get a true taste of the tart fruit. It's also very light, boasting an ABV of 4.1 percent and just 16 IBUs, with no overpowering malt or hoppy flavor to distract from its yummy fruitiness.
Best Non-Alcoholic: Paulaner Non-Alcoholic Weizen-Radler
There’s little argument that beer and barbecues are a natural fit. On the contrary, there might be times when a beer sounds good, but you’d prefer to skip the alcohol. For these occasions, Paulaner Non-Alcoholic Weizen-Radler is sure to please.
Produced by one of Germany’s best-known breweries, the taste is everything you’d expect from a radler. It’s made by combining the brewery’s famous hefeweizen—brewed with hops and malts, just like any other beer—and lemonade. Paulaner states that it contains less than 0.3 percent ABV. Merging the sweet and malty wheat with the tartness of citrus fruits and adding the right amount of carbonation creates a refreshing, fruity beverage that won't make you miss the alcohol.
There's a barbecue-worthy beer for every drinker and all summer to explore the options. If you prefer ales, start out with Smuttynose Old Brown Dog (view at Drizly), but get adventurous and try Deschutes Black Butte Porter (view at Drizly) with that prized cut of meat. On the other hand, lager fans can't go wrong with either Founders Solid Gold (view at Minibar Delivery) or Pilsner Urquell (view at Drizly).
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Colleen Graham is a food and beverage writer with over a decade of experience writing about cocktails, beer, and wine. She is the author of two books and spends much of her summer outside at the smoker with a refreshing beverage in hand.