Spring is almost here, we’ve survived another winter! It’s time to celebrate by rolling the smoker or grill out of the garage, putting some flesh to flame, and cracking open a cold beer. For this week’s Craft Beer Friday were going to pair some of the world’s best barbecue styles with some of our favorite beers.
This list isn’t complete. We could go on for thousands of words — traveling down a rabbit hole of rare IPAs and regional barbecue styles. But this is a good starting place: the low and slow, pit smoking, fire grilling styles of barbecue we all know and love.
Memphis style barbecue focuses on pork with dry rub that’s sweet and spicy. The meat is slow roasted in smoke and often finished on the grill, giving it a deep char.
Irish Red Ales lean to the sweeter side of the hop. You’ll get a slight roasted feel to the malts that work really well with deeply roasted and fired meats. Flying Dog’s Lucky SOB has an ABV of 5.5 percent and a pretty low IBU at 28. You’re getting a well-balanced beer with a sweetness and clean finish, perfect for the big flavors of Memphis.
Classic Mexican Barbacoa is deeply pit roasted lamb (although you’ll find plenty of beef, pork, and even fowl). The meat is wrapped in banana or agave leaves and cooked low and very slow. It’s often served as a “make your own” taco event. The meat is spiced with sour and spicy salsas and best served on blue corn tortillas, which really tie the whole meal together.
The nuanced flavors of the meat and the grandeur of the salsas means you need a big beer like a Belgian Dubbel. The Dubbel has a very strong burnt and dark sugar taste, accentuated by a level of spiciness that meshes with an acidic meal. Ommegang’s Abbey Ale is the top of the heap when it comes to American brewers crafting Belgian beers. It has a dried fruit, spice, and slightly sour notes, and clocks in at a whopping 8.2 percent ABV.
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EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA
We’ll just focus on the famously and miraculously pit-cooked whole hogs you’ll find in eastern parts of North Carolina. The vinegar-based sauce that lathers the hog as it slowly transform into protein bliss has a deep tanginess, with layer after layer of earthy spice.
An American Brown Ale feels like a good match here. Brown ales work really well with slow-cooked proteins and offer a malty sweetness that pairs well with the sour and tang of a vinegar forward dish. Dogfish Head’s Indian Brown Ale is an amalgamation of Scotch Ale, IPA, and Brown Ale all in one bottle. Add is some American barley and brown sugar and you’ve got a wonderfully balanced, sweetish-malty beer that compliments all that tang.
South Carolina’s pit-cooked hogs are the great outliers of American pit cooking. It’s that mustard-based sauce that makes this version of barbecue shine bright.
Mustard and pork reminds me of Germany. So a crisp, wheaty, yeasty Hefeweizen will do the trick here. Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier is brewed at the Weihenstephan Monastery Brewery — which has been brewing beer off-and-on for over 1,000 years. The smoothness of the yeast and wheat offers a perfect counterpoint to the fat of the hog and spice of the mustard.
Across the Pacific in the Philippines, you’ll find a wonderful tradition of slow roasting pigs over the fire and constantly basting said pig with its own melted fat. Need I say more? Okay, similar to Mexican Barbacoa, Lechon is served with an array of sour and sweet sauces, spicy slaws, and well-cooked rice. If you haven’t had Lechon (and love all things porcine), go on the internet right now and find the nearest joint to your house!
A nice American Amber, or Red Ale makes a lot of sense with a dish as complex as Lechon. Often pale lagers are served with this in the Philippines, but the dish deserves a little more complexity. Lagunitas Lucky 13 Mondo Large Red Ale is a big beer with 8.8 percent ABV and has a slightly sweet maltiness to it, without an overly hopped taste. The beer also reveals a very, very slight sourness — which pairs well with plate of Lechon with all the fixin’s.
Any meat really slowly cooked and then seared on grill that’s slathered in sweet and tangy tomato-based sauce is Kansas City barbecue. It’s likely the most classic example and duplicated barbecue around the US and the world. The sauce is where this style truly shines. The umami of the tomato blends with the tanginess of vinegar and the deep sweetness of molasses for a very visceral experience.
American Porter is a great beer in general and a perfect pairing here. The grains are roasted and offer a complex flavor from coffee to chocolate to molasses in every sip. Anchor Porter is one of the best American porters on the market. The beer has “specially roasted pale, caramel, chocolate, and black malt” and is hopped to give you a very quaffable beer that is rich, thick, darkly sweet, and malty.
Again, Texas has a lot of styles to chose from, so we’re going with Central Texas’ barbecue of beef with a sweet and spicy dry rub — slow cooked and smoked to delectable perfection. Throw on a couple slices of Wonder Bread, a bowl of spicy beans, some slaw, and potato salad and you’ve got yourself a classic American meal.
A crisp and bright Czech Pilsner is the way to go with central Texas barbecue. You want a beer that shines but doesn’t overpower the meat. Shiner 101 Czech Style Pilsner is a great example of a Czech Pils to begin with and you can drink it all night long (ABV of 4.6 percent). The pilsner offers a light malt, high hop beer that’s easy to drink and easy to pair with a kick ass barbecue.
Pork shoulders and ribs are seared on the grill and slathered with a sweet tomato-based sauce in St. Louis. It’s classic grilling barbecue. It’s straight fire to meat with a brown sugar tomatoey barbecue sauce caramelizing and locking the tender meat in with all its juices and succulence.
A classic german style beer just feels like St. Louis. So let’s go with a Kellerbier here. These are unfiltered and often unpasteurized natural beers, made in huge vats in old German cellars, giving each one a distinct flavor. St. Louis’ own Schlafly White Lager is a decent example of the classic Kellerbier. There are tiny hints of sour and spice in an otherwise lager-type beer that’s very drinkable.
It’s simplicity washes down the fire-y St. Louis style barbecue perfectly.
Kentucky barbecue comprises various red meats, chicken, and pork slow-cooked over hickory. It’s doused in a vinegar based sauce with a lot of tang, earthiness, and a little spice.
A decent Stout that amps up the flavor of roasted malts is the trick here. When fire meets your meat, you want fire to meet your grains as well. Hickory Stick Stout has a soft feel to it. The roasted malts give the beer a smooth cacao sweetness and finishes with a strong, roasted coffee edge. It’s best imbibed while standing around that smokey hickory fire.
Any backyard barbecue will certainly have some guests that don’t eat meat, so be prepared for the vegetarian, vegans, and pescatarians at your party. It’s always good to smoke and grill haloumi, smoke some oysters or salmon, and maybe even slather tofu or seitan in some spicy and sweet barbecue sauce.
An American IPA is the safest bet because it’s a crowd pleaser. IPAs are hugely popular in America and the moment, and they’re almost always vegan friendly. Sierra Nevada’s Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop IPA is made using ‘wet’ or fresh hops that go directly into the beer within 24 hours of being harvested. This means all those natural oils and resins are still present in the flower when it goes into the pot. It’s hoppy with a pine edge and goes down easily with pretty much anything — so you’ll be covered serving fire-grilled cheeses or smoked oysters.