Sitting down to enjoy a tasty hamburger is one of life’s great pleasures, and cracking open a cold craft beer is another. When burgers and beer come together: magic. It’s a classic combination that can be enjoyed at sporting events and backyard parties everywhere. While there’s no shame in enjoying a burger from a cart and beer from a plastic keg every now and then, we prefer to do our taste buds justice with juicy, mouth watering burgers piled high with fresh toppings, and washed down with the best brews available.
We wanted to find out what some of the top beer and restaurant celebrities in the US had to say about the best beers to compliment our favorite burgers. We turned to authors, chefs, teachers, entrepreneurs, and the industry’s best bartenders to give us their expert advice on pairing beer with food. Check out this stellar list of the best beer pairings to enjoy alongside your favorite kind of burger, so the next time you fire up your grill or head to your favorite local restaurant, you can give your tasty burger the perfect companion.
Chili Cheese Burger
For a chili cheese burger, traditional lettuce and tomato are put aside, in favor of country-style chili, cheddar cheese, jalapeno slices, sandwiched into a buttered and toasted white bread bun. Ryan Newhouse, author of Montana Beer: A Guide to Breweries in Big Sky Country, and writer for Montana Beer Finder says you need a versatile beer to pair with all these strong flavors. “Obviously, there will be a spice-forward flavor from the jalapeno slices and chili, and the beef and cheese will give us not only saltiness and richness, but a much-desired umami taste sensation. This combination, for me, begs for a Sam Adams Boston Lager. This Boston Brewing Company beer is a classic Vienna lager, meaning it has low hop aromas, a clean lager characteristic, and a dry finish. The softness of Vienna or Munich malts keeps it from becoming overly sweet. Plus, there is history at work here,” Newhouse explains. “In the 19th century, several Austrian brewers relocated to Mexico, bringing with them the Vienna lager (also known as the Amber lager). The style became very popular with traditional, spicy Mexican dishes.”
“The cheese and beef in the chili cheeseburger pair well with darker roasted grains because of the food’s protein umami. Umami intensifies the taste of salt and sweet, so pairing a Vienna lager with cheese and beef makes the beer a touch sweeter and the cheese/meat a touch saltier, which then makes a match made in heaven.”
Ah, yes! The ubiquitous American bacon cheeseburger. Featuring a heap of crispy bacon and thick slices of American cheese, you can hardly taste the mayo and onions. For this beer pairing, we turned to Jon Richards, a Cicerone certified beer server and instructor for GS University: Beer 101 at The Greenville Growler Station in Greenville, SC. Richards says, “Most American browns have just enough roast to bring out a touch of smoke to pick up the charred flavor of the meat and just enough hops to cut through greasy food, this makes them a near perfect combination for your basic burger.”
“For this burger, I recommend Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale. It’s a medium-bodied, chocolatey brown with enough gusto to handle a burger; and the burger, especially the smoked bacon, will really pull the smokiness out of the beer and showcase it, helping to dry up the beer. There’s just enough bitterness and carbonation to cut through the richness of the burger and let the flavors of the meat and the bacon settle onto your tongue, and the beer isn’t afraid of the onions either; it’ll face down their sharpness and keep them from overwhelming any other flavor in the mix. If you can’t find Ellie’s Brown, then your favorite local brewer’s brown will probably do nicely. A lot of American brewers are starting to remember browns and doing a bang-up job while they’re at it.”
Grilled Onion Burger
Grilled onion burgers are a staple in roadside restaurants and greasy spoons everywhere, but they are slowly making their way onto more sophisticated menus as well. In addition to caramelized grilled onions, you’ll typically find melted butter, mustard, Swiss cheese, and, if you’ve stopped somewhere nice, a hearty wheat bread bun. Keith Wallace, author of Cooked & Forked: Four Seasons of Eats and Drinks, and president & founder of The Wine School of Philadelphia says the best beer would be Dale’s Pale Ale, made by Oskar Blues Brewery.
Wallace pointed out, “It works because it has a crispness that works really well as a counterpoint to the tang of the mustard. Its also got enough carbonation [to] refresh the palate after each mouthful of delicious beefiness. The onion, well, that doesn’t go well with beers that are too hoppy, which is why I opted for the Pale Ale, which has enough hops to give it a citrus and floral finish, but no more.”
Once merely a novelty of the 90s low-fat craze, turkey burgers have made quite a splash in recent years. For eaters looking to occasionally substitute red meat with poultry and fish, turkey burgers are a favorite. A ground turkey patty is commonly seasoned with salt & pepper, topped with romaine lettuce, tomato slices, and fresh red onion. You’ll usually find a yogurt dressing, maybe cucumber, and provolone cheese with a multi-grain bun. Chef Jonathan VanSleet of the hugely popular MexiBBQ kitchen and draught in Astoria NY recommends a wheat beer. The best wheat beer for this job is Blanche De Bruxelles, which he said is available at most places.
If you can’t track down this Belgian style ale, VanSleet recommends the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, which is a Hefeweizen style beer.
Even though they get a bad rap, veggie burgers done right are packed with farm fresh, local ingredients and a huge amount of flavor. Some of the most popular toppings include fresh spinach, fresh arugula, thick tomato slices, bean sprouts, and oil & vinegar dressing. Top up with a multi-grain bun and you’ve got lots going on in every bite. Paul Greenberg, co-owner and founder of the renowned American Social bar in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, recommends a lighter beer, “depending on the season.”
He compares the veggie patty to a turkey burger, suggesting, “…in the summer, enjoy a Saison / Farm House Ale. They are brewed in the winter and consumed in the summer and have a fruity aroma and flavor. Think of craft beers like wine, if the dish is lighter (chicken, fish or veggie based), consume something to balance out those flavors.”
Hickory Barbecue Burger
Less common than some of our other tasty burgers, the hickory barbecue burger, or “Theta Burger” as we call it in Oklahoma, is covered with grated cheese and hickory sauce, which includes the deep, rich flavors of smoked hickory wood. Our resident beer expert, Keith Winter, founder and CEO of HomeWetBar.com, says the best beer is Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro.
“The nitro used to carbonate the beer gives it a more creamy texture in the mouth, potentially offsetting any heat from the BBQ sauce, while this smooth drinking stout cleanses your palate of any lingering BBQ flavors,” Winter says.
Famous for its thick slices of fresh avocado, the California burger is a perfect pocket of grilled ground beef, fresh lettuce, tomato, and Monterey Jack cheese. Jackie Dodd, food writer and founder of The Beeroness, is the expert when it comes to creating delicious beer infused recipes.
Dodd writes, “The California Burger has great flavors, but most are fairly mild. Pick a light, summery beer that will match those mellow flavors. I always pair burgers with highly carbonated beer, the bubbles are cleansing on the palate, letting you enjoy each bite even more. For this burger I’d pick a Saison, and because it’s a California burger, we have to go with a California Saison. My pick is Green Flash Saison Diego.”
A recent breakout star in the burger world is the butter burger. Every restaurant has their own, special secret recipe, but you’ll usually find a collection of bold, breath-altering flavors. Even though the celebrity here is the oversized helping of melted butter, the supporting cast might include minced garlic, colby-jack cheese, cayenne pepper, and toasted white bread bun. Matthew Marksbury, co-founder of the online homebrew community Brewgr.com gave us a number of options to try. Beers you should be able to find anywhere include Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, “The classic Pale Ale with perfect balance and a tad of hoppiness will compliment your burger nicely,” Marksbury said.
An alternative would be Shift Pale Lager by New Belgium Brewing, “light, unoffensive and refreshing. It comes in a can.”
“Harder to Find Beers but Worth It if you can, [are] Mirror Pond Pale Ale by Deschutes Brewery, slightly malty and slightly hoppy, but just the right balance to wash down your butter burger, [and] Scrimshaw Pilsner by North Coast Brewing Co.”
For the adventurous foodie, Marksbury wants you to try any ale brewed with chilies. “These will work with the cayenne pepper in the butter burger to give your palette a workout,” he said. A few of his favorites are Chipolte Ale by Rouge Ales, Lips Of Faith, and Cocoa Molé by New Belgium.
The Classic Hamburger
Last, but not least, the good ol’ classic hamburger. Opinions may differ on exactly how a basic burger should be stacked, but for the most part, we expect a beef patty, ketchup, iceberg lettuce, a slice of tomato, pickles, and onions, on a white bread bun. Dave Delaplaine, Beer Program Manager for the critically acclaimed Roofers Union restaurant in Washington, DC, has two great suggestions for the best tasting beer.
“For the home-grilled backyard burger, I would have to go with a helles lager, in particular the Sly Fox Helles Lager from PA. It is incredibly refreshing with just the right touch of crisp hops to balance the rich meat and still keep you hydrated as you bake in the sun AND above the grill,” Delaplaine said. “For that gourmet burger we all have day dreams about, I like to take it up a notch… For me, I would like nothing more than a good sour brown ale or oud bruin (“old brown”)…The idea here, earthy and scrumptious to match the meat and a sour finish to cut into the high fat content (which is what makes every gourmet burger so delectable). I would go with the New Belgium La Folie. It is seasonal but made every year and amazing.”