July 4th is one of the ultimate days of the year to fire up the grill for an old-fashioned cookout; good friends, good fun, and good food in the backyard. Nothing’s better at a cookout than beer. It’s the perfect social drink and it pairs oh so well with all those barbeque favorites.
Let’s start with a good all-purpose beer. Pilsner is your perfect choice. Crisp and refreshing, it won’t weigh you down on a hot July afternoon and it’s familiar enough in color and flavor that even light beer drinkers will go for it.
Pilsner is super versatile with food. It’ll work well with everything from brats to ribs. You can’t go wrong with a pilsner. As a starting point, try Victory Prima Pils, Lagunitas Pils, or North Coast Scrimshaw.
What about basic foods like hot dogs? Dogs and brats are lighter foods in both flavor and weight, so pick a lighter beer to wash them down. German and American wheat beers are good picks. These snappy summer ales feature the bready sweetness of wheat. The American versions are clean and sharp, not too dissimilar to American-style lagers.
The German wheat beers, or hefeweizen, are a bit heavier duty with wonderful banana and clove flavors from special strains of yeast. Either one will balance the sausage while standing up to all the toppings. For a good American wheat look for Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat. Sierra Nevada Keller Weiss is a widely available German-style wheat beer.
A cookout isn’t a cookout without burgers. Here you can go with a beer that’s a bit beefier (ha…get it?). Some toast and caramel flavors bring a nice complement to the char on the patty. On the lighter end you could try a dark American-style lager like Shiner Bock. For an even better match choose a German-style altbier. Alaskan Amber is a great example.
Alternatively you can hit the burger with hops. American Pale Ales are light-weight, but loaded with the citrus and pine flavors of American hops. Hops will meet your favorite burger toppings one-to-one and wash away the grease to leave your palate clean for the next bite. The original and still classic example is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Lagunitas New Dog Town Pale Ale is another of my favorites.
Getting a little bit fancier
One of my favorite grilling treats is sausages and peppers. The beer pick should have enough malt sweetness to partner with the sweet onions and peppers, but some hoppy spice to tie into the sausage. I’d go with a Vienna-style amber lager. Toasty caramel flavors and spicy German hops make this a perfect match. My favorite Eliot Ness Amber Lager from Great Lakes Brewing Company. For something more widely available pick up some Negra Modelo.
BBQ ribs anyone? I can’t get enough of their saucy, fall-off-the-bone goodness. These are great with American IPAs. Bright bitterness, citrusy hops, and underlying caramel malt bring complement and contrast to the pairing. And the hops will amp up the heat in a spicy sauce.
You can also turn to the dark side here. Try a roasty American brown ale. Roasted and caramel malt flavors pick up the caramelized crust on the meat while zingy American hops zero in on the sauce. And there’s enough bitterness to scrub it all away at the finish.
To finish things off
Let’s not forget the apple pie. Stouts and coffee beers are the go-to for this most American of desserts. They offer a bitter contrast to the sweet, just like a cup of Joe. I like a slightly sweeter stout that still has the coffee-like roast, but also has a bit of sweetness underneath. Left Hand Milk Stout is a good choice. You could also try Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. The oatmeal used in the brew gives a subtle doughy tie-in to the crust.
Coffee beers are usually stouts or porters with real coffee added to give them an extra java kick. Coffee stouts tend to be brewed on a more local scale. You’ll have to ask at your favorite beer store what is available near you.
What is your favorite Fourth of July food? What beer goes best with it?