Matches Made in Heaven

Pam George

Pam George

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Fire up the grill, then crack open these craft beers

Be it a barbecue, picnic, or crab feast, nothing goes with our favorite summer foods like beer. And why settle for a pedestrian selection when there are so many craft beers that can enhance the experience? We went to the experts to get pairing tips for some popular summer staples.

Backyard Burgers

Burgers and dogs dominate most outdoor festivities. For a grilled beef burger, try Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, suggests Aimee Garlit, the “off-centered” microbiologist at the Milton-based brewery. “The chocolate notes in the malt profile stand up well to the rich meatiness of a cheeseburger, while the prominent hop character balances these two assertive flavors for a refreshing finish,” says Garlit, who spends the bulk of her workday in the brewery’s quality lab.

Edward Mulvihill, owner of Peco’s Liquor Store in the Bellefonte area, which is known for its craft beer selection, would go with Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. “Just like when pairing a burger with wine, you need something big and bold to cut through the grease of a good burger,” he says. “I like a nice IPA, preferably one that is less citrus and more hops.” But not just any IPA (India pale ale) will do. He prefers one with a higher alcohol by volume (ABV); anywhere from 6.5 to 7.5 percent is ideal, he says.

Robbie Jester, executive chef at the Stone Balloon in Newark, likes 16 Mile Brewing Company Amber Sun with his burger. Named for the amber-colored sunsets around the East End Lighthouse on the Delaware Breakwater, the beer has caramel, roasted and earthy notes.

For a turkey burger, which has a milder flavor than its beefy counterpart, Garlit recommends a light, tart beer like Dogfish Head Festina Peche. “The peach featured in this brew provides a little sweetness to complement the savory burger,” she says.

To add oomph to what can be a lean turkey patty, many people add barbecue sauce, grilled jalapeños, and fried onions. If that’s the way you like it, give Bellefonte Brewing Company Pennyhill Porter a try, says John Medkeff, author of Brewing in Delaware. True, it’s a porter, which is usually more palatable in cooler weather, but it has perceptible chocolate and coffee overtones without being an excessively heavy-bodied ale, he explains.
(Bellefonte Brewing Company recently opened a taproom at 3605 Old Capitol Trail in Wilmington.)

Along those lines, Ben “Gumbo” Muse, operating partner and craft beer coordinator of the Two Stones Pub restaurants, recommends Evolution Lot #3 IPA with the Two Stones turkey burger: two patties topped with applewood-smoked bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, fresh guacamole, and roasted garlic mayonnaise. “It delivers a punch with a blast of citrus that ties the whole burger together,” he says.

Wonderful Weiner Roasts

Hot dogs are as much a mainstay as burgers—but you can eat a lot more of them. To go with them, try Stone Brewing Stone Go To, a 4.5-percent ABV IPA. “It’s an awesome way to brighten them up, wash them down and get you ready for round two,” Muse says.

For grilled sausages, which have more heft flavor-wise, consider Dogfish Head Chicory Stout—particularly if you’re eating a Spicy Espresso Brat, a collaboration between Dogfish Head and Hans All-Natural, says Lindsey Timberman of Wilmington, who with Eric Roberts writes a blog on Or, choose a German lager.

Muse suggests Victory Prima Pils, a pilsner. “It’s another fool-proof classic,” he says. “Sharp hops don’t linger. It has super clean malts. It’s really hard to go wrong with those two together.”

Summer Steaks

When you think steak, you think red wine. In the heat, however, red wine can weigh heavy on the palate. Iron Hill’s Kevin Davies, director of culinary operations, and head brewer Tim Stumpf vote for Iron Hill Pig Iron Porter. (Bring your growler to any of the Iron Hill locations.)

Crab and Lobster Pickin’s

Steamed crabs are a summer mainstay. “When our family does crabs, the table gets loaded with Old Bay, drawn butter, and lots of corn on the cob,” Muse says. Understandably, he likes 2SP Weiss Wit, made by the 2SP Brewing Company, an offshoot of Two Stones Pub.

“It gives you a tart counterpoint to the richness of the butter and sweetness of crab,” he says. “Plus, it’s an incredibly refreshing beer for outdoor drinking.” (The AVB is 4 percent.)

Since steamed crabs are the state dish in Maryland, Jester would reach for National Bohemian Beer, better known as Natty Boh. It’s light, but anything you drink will wind up tasting like Old Bay anyway, he says. Mulvihill is excited about the new Flying Dog Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale. “A fantastic ale brewed with Old Bay spices,” he says. “What could pair better?”

With an ABV of 6 percent, Mispillion River Brewing Company Reach Around IPA goes down well with crabs. “It’s a nicely balanced, sessionable American IPA that pairs well with spicy Delaware Bay crabs,” Medkeff says. (Session beers are clean-tasting lower-alcohol beers that are highly drinkable. You can have multiple beers within a reasonable time with a much lower risk of getting drunk.) “Reach Around is malty enough to cleanse the palate with the crisp taste of malt and floral hops,” he says.

Eric Williams, one of the owners of Mispillion River Brewing Company, also suggests Mispillion River Brewing Company Space Otter Ale, an American pale ale. “It’s light; it’s 5 percent ABV.”

Brett McCrea, founder of 16 Mile Brewing Company, likes to pop the top of 16 Mile Blues’ Golden Ale. “It’s very light and very easy to drink, and there are very refreshing citrus notes,” he says. “It pairs well with seafood.”

As for lobster, Dogfish Head recently opened Chesapeake & Maine next to its brewpub, and lobster is the star. Garlit says Dogfish Head Namaste, one of the brewery’s lighter offerings, has notes of clove, lemongrass, and orange peel, which provide a nice counterbalance to the richness of lobster with drawn butter.

Muse and Mulvihill like Allagash White, a low-alcohol witbier with citrus and spice. Other options include the super hoppy Dogfish Head Hellhound on My Ale, especially if you like lemon on your lobster, Medkeff says.

Picnic Poultry

Grilled, fried or mixed with mayo, chicken is versatile because it can be served warm or cold. For grilled chicken, Garlit likes Dogfish Head Biere de Provence. “This Belgian saison was brewed with boatloads of culinary spices that are often used to season poultry and fish – bay leaf, marjoram, chervil, and lavender,” she says. “It’s a natural choice to pair with grilled chicken. Its floral nose and thirst-quenching qualities complement this dish.”

Fried chicken requires a libation that can cut through the dominant flavor of the crisp skin yet still complements the meat. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a “no-brainer,” Muse says. “It’s sharp and grassy, but super clean and approachable.”

For chicken salad, try Iron Hill Crusher, a session IPA that the brewpub offers in 16-ounce cans.

With all the choices out there, pairing beer with food is fun. Offer guests a flight with small glasses of these suggested beers and vote for your favorite. But in the end, the rule is the same as it is with wine and food pairings: Drink what you like.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.