Choosing the best beers for barbecue
Barbecue and beer. For millions of American diners, it’s a match made in heaven. But while it seems easy enough to order a beer to wash down your baby back ribs, those seeking just the right pairing can get confused by the dizzying selection available these days. To cut through the clutter, we’ve asked a pair of barbecue experts to share the beer-and-barbecue combinations that unlock the best of both.
Since not all barbecue is the same, the first step in choosing a beer is to consider what’s on the plate, according to Erin Ward, corporate beverage director of Virgil’s Real Barbecue, which has locations in New York, Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
“Our barbecue has all that great dry rub spice, and the barbecue sauce is on the side,” she says. “I think about how the different beer flavors interact with the flavors of not only the rub and sauce, but also the meat, whether it’s brisket, pork ribs or chicken.”
As a starting point, Ward recommends a light, crisp lager such as Braven Brewing Company’s Bushwick Pilsner, a popular choice at Virgil’s Times Square location.
Those who want to get adventurous can opt for darker beers like Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout.
“I love that combination,” Ward continues. “Brown ales and stouts have a sweeter, rounder component that goes hand in hand with the sweetness of the sauce and the caramelization of the smoked barbecue.”
While the IPA category is increasingly popular, it’s also more complicated than ever, with brewers producing everything from entry-level crowd pleasers to big, bold imperial versions.
“IPA can be a very intense flavor that can cause a fight in the mouth if it’s overly bitter,” Ward says. “I like to find something that has a bit of malting, which helps soften the herbaceous quality of heavy hopping.”
Shane McBride, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Pig Beach, echoes that sentiment.
“Everybody wants these super-alcoholic IPAs, but I try to stay away from the heavy-duty, juicy ones,” McBride says. “I try to keep everything under six percent ABV just to keep people lucid.”
Pig Beach exclusively features draft beers produced in New York State, including a custom collaboration with Interboro that’s sure to match the barbecue on offer.
“They make a beer for us called Back to the Grill that’s only available here,” he says. “We went through the brewing process together.”
As the weather gets warmer, people’s tastes in beer change as well.
“Sours are a fun category for the summer,” Ward adds. “Fruit-based beer and barbecue work really well together because it has the sweetness and sourness that cuts through the fat.”