Tips for Pairing Beer with Burgers

What pleasure in life could seem any simpler than a beer and a burger? If only it were that easy! While a well-paired beer and burger combo may be about as close to heaven as it gets, it’s so easy to completely miss the mark when making pairing suggestions to your patrons. There’s an understandable reason for that; on the one hand, some beers have far too much flavor and will therefore drown out the rich, meaty flavor of the burger, while, conversely, anything too light (less than medium to full bodied ) will be totally overwhelmed by it.

As a rule, then, try suggesting that your patrons start off with something hoppy like a Pilsner, Pale Ale or IPA, since the burger will stand up well to all that bitterness; for instance, suggest that they might try Two To The Dome, DC Brau The Public Pale Ale, Victory HopDevil IPA, Stone Arrogant Bastard, or an Amber Ale like Troegs Nugget Nectar, just to name a few.

If your customer is not into the hops, however, then malty is the next option, since the sweetness that’s inherent in malt is a good match for the meaty sweetness of the burger. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA or No-Li Crystal Bitter are two good choices.

Think Summer (Somewhat)

While eating a burger inevitably stirs up thoughts of the approaching warm season (will it ever get here?), be careful to stay away from summer favorites like witbiers and hefeweizen, which literally pale in comparison to the flavor of the meat. Similarly, beers with a sour flavor should also be avoided. You have it right, though, if you’re thinking cold – as cold and carbonated is the way to go if you’re looking to prime the tongue for each new bite. If all else fails, an ice-cold Kolsch or Pilsner (it keeps coming back to the Pilsner, doesn’t it?) should do the trick. If your patron just isn’t a beer drinker at all, however, then fear not – an ice-cold classic cocktail will do, too.

Go Smokey

Another winning flavor combination is the burger with a roasty brew – some examples being the dry and peppery Founders Porter with a hint of cocoa or Pandemic Porter, The Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale, Devil’s Backbone Schwartz Bier, or Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout. Smokey is great as well, so why not try Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier?

Speaking of smokey, if wine is more of your customer’s thing, then a good quality, medium full-bodied Barbera like Castello di Neive Barbera d’Alba Santo Stefano is a great selection. Generally speaking, in fact, medium-bodied, mildly spiced, fruit forward wines pair well with burgers, since the fat in the burger tends to soften the wine’s tannin. For example, then, you might have your customers try Qupe Syrah (Central Coast, California) or Massaya red (Bekka Valley, Lebanon).

No Red Meat? No Problem

We’ve covered non-beer-drinkers, but what about all of the burger outliers who don’t do red meat? Chicken on the grill can go lighter, with Southampton’s Double White Ale being a good option. Ommegang’s Hennepin and Pretty Things’ Jack D’Or or Saison Dupont go well with chicken as well. If the patrons in question are swearing off both meat and poultry, no worries; there’s no need to suffer in the beverage department. Lighter works well here too, with Booulevard Brewing Unfiltered Wheat, Bell’s Oberon Ale, and hefewizens definitely being in the running.

Failing all else, if you lack confidence in the burger-beverage pairing department, you know by now that a sommelier is your go-to person when it comes to wine, but don’t forget that with so many unique and complex beers available today, a cicerone will do just the same when it comes to beer.

Josh Saunders