American barbecue pairs well with beer, wine, cocktails, sunshine, and rain.
There’s something especially appealing, though, about drinking a cold beer with a plate of ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and the collards or cornbread that rightly accompany them.
Doug Psaltis, chef-partner of Bub City in Chicago and cofounder of the city’s annual Windy City Smokeout, loves to drink beer with his ‘cue. “You can’t have one without the other,” he says, likening both pitmasters and brewers to “American craftsmen.”
Although domestic barbecue traditions predate the modern craft brewing industry by more than a century, the pursuits share a commitment to process — you can’t rush smoking, and you can’t fake fermentation. Both inspire heartfelt devotion from their acolytes.
They have also recently evolved from regional pursuits into global phenomena. There are now American-style barbecue joints in London and Dubai. Burgeoning craft brewing movements are springing up everywhere from Portugal to Hong Kong to (wait for it) Belgium.
We asked 12 pitmasters participating in this year’s Windy City Smokeout to tell us their favorite craft brews to drink with their ‘cue. Their picks range from Berliner weisse-style beers to lagers to pale ales, with a strong emphasis on what’s fresh and local. Here are their picks.
“When I get the chance to sit back and enjoy what I’ve made, I usually go with a Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale. It goes great with our St. Louis ribs because it is crisp and light, with just a touch of hops. It finishes smooth and clean. And, just like Fox Bros., Sweetwater is an Atlanta favorite!” — Jonathan Fox, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, Atlanta, Ga.
“You need something refreshing to balance out fatty barbecue. Kellerwies by Sierra Nevada, or, if you’re an Austin local, Pearl Snap by Austin Beerworks complement our smoky, Texas-style beef cheeks with light, crisp flavors.” — Evan Leroy, Pitmaster, Leroy and Lewis, Austin, Tex.
“Well, I always say that if you eat what you love and drink what you love, your brain will find a way to make them go together. And frankly, if you’re sticking with beer and barbecue, it’s gonna end pretty well for you. That said, some pairings can elevate both. For me our St. Louis ribs with Scentinal IPA from Old Irving Brewing Co. is as good a match as there is. The ribs have a subtle sweetness, but are mostly a savory tangy style, which balances perfectly with Scentinal’s soft fruitiness and big hoppy flavor.” — Barry Sorkin, Smoque BBQ, Chicago, Ill.
“Of all the barbecue traditions, Eastern North Carolina whole hog is arguably the most subtle. It’s also the most delicious. Beers that are too hoppy, sour, or smoky would just overwhelm that balance of smoke, fat, meat, and salt. That’s one reason we love Carver, a sweet potato lager brewed by Fullsteam Brewing in Durham. It’s a smooth, slightly earthy lager that’s super easy to drink on its own … but the beer’s slight sweetness is a perfect pairing with smoked whole hog. It’s the modern equivalent of sweet tea..” — Sam Jones, Pitmaster, Sam Jones BBQ, Winterville, N.C.
“Mississippi’s own Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Ale pairs beautifully with our Mississippi-style ribs. It is sweet with a soft maltiness that’s brewed with roasted pecans. Our ribs are seasoned with our spicy dry rub and brown sugar, then slow-smoked with pecan wood, pecan hulls, and a little pecan nut … And you should know: Here in Mississippi we pronounce it “puh-KAHN.” — Leslie Roark Scott, Ubon’s, Yazoo City, Miss.
“We love lower gravity, sessionable beers that aren’t hop-forward and play well with others, beers that you can really get the hang of and have a few. One of our favorite pairings is Revelry Brewing Company‘s Gullah Cream Ale with our smoked dry rub wings with Alabama White Sauce. The tang of the white sauce plays incredibly well with the creamier texture of the beer. They both lay down an awesome contrast to the smoke and crunch of the wings.” — Aaron Siegal, Hometeam BBQ, Charleston, S.C.
“The kölsch from Twisted X Brewing pairs perfectly with Salt Lick’s smoked brisket burnt ends and boneless turkey breast. The floral aroma helps bring out the smokiness of the barbecue, and the precise balance of bitterness and sweetness complements the white and dark meat.” — Miriam Wilson, Salt Lick BBQ, Driftwood, Tex.
“The Raspberry Glow Up [from Folksbier] is the best pairing of beer and barbecue I have ever had. The sour, crisp, and acidity of the Berliner weisse-style beer cuts through the peppery-but-sweet bark and smoky, melt-in-your mouth fattiness of the beef rib.” — Billy Durney, Hometown Bar-B-Que, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“We have an exceptional local brewery in Phoenix called Wren House Brewing Co. Its American lager, Valley Beer, is crisp and light, refreshing but still full of flavor. It’s my go-to when hanging outside with family and friends while cooking up some ribs on the smoker. Nationally, the American lager champion is Coors Banquet.” — Scott Holmes, Little Miss BBQ, Phoenix, Ariz.
“Citra Ass Down IPA is one of our beers that pairs really well with our brisket. The sweet, malt backbone complements the smoke and any time you have something fruity it’s going to go together with the fatty parts and be delicious. Similarly, I would recommend Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. It shares many of the same characteristics.” — Jordan Delewis, Against the Grain, Louisville, Ky.
“Founders All Day IPA goes really well with Lillie’s Q pork shoulder. Pale ales are hoppy and can cut through the spices of our Carolina Dirt rub that is used on the shoulder. They also contain sweet notes which plays well with the sweet, natural flavor of the special pigs that we cook at LQ.” — Charlie Mckenna, Lillie’s Q, Chicago, Ill.
“Both Yazoo Dos Perros and Black Abbey Rose pair extremely well with every meat that comes off our pits. They pair well obviously because of the flavor, but also the reason for me is that I can continue drinking them while I’m eating. The styles of these beers lend themselves well with pork and brisket, and I can enjoy them like I’m having a glass of Coke or sweet tea.”— Patrick Martin, Martin’s BBQ Joint, Nashville, Tenn.