Drinks

What beer is the perfect pairing for barbecue?

Aug. 30, 2013 at 1:47 PM ET

Reuters/The Salt Lick BBQ
Reuters/The Salt Lick BBQ
Beer expert Jim Galligan talks to chef Adam Dulye about craft beers that are perfect for a Labor Day cookout.

King of the Grill. The Baroness of Barbecue. Sultan of the Smoker. Khaleesi of the Grease-y.

If you go by any of these titles, chances are you’ve set the warm-weather cooking bar pretty high in the past. But some well-chosen craft beers can take even the best Labor Day cookout to the next level, making it a royal success.

“There are so many great beers out there that can bring out the best in simple, fresh ingredients,” chef Adam Dulye told TODAY.com.

Dulye should know. He’s the culinary consultant for the Brewers Association, handling beer and food pairing duties for major events like SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience as well as the Farm to Table Pavilion at the Great American Beer Festival. Dulye (pronounced Doo-lee) is also the co-owner and chef at San Francisco’s Monk’s Kettle and Abbot’s Cellar, two establishments where beer is an integral part of the dining experience.

Dulye recommends keeping things light but flavorful.

“I love cooking dishes and serving beers that make people feel satisfied, but not bogged down,” he said, offering up a trio of beers along with some food pairing suggestions that should help you manage to do just that.

Firestone Walker Pivo Hoppy Pils (5.3 percent ABV)

“Pivo Pils is light and toasty like a classic pilsner, and it’s also floral and has a spicy hop bite,” Dulye said of this aromatic German Pilsner brewed with bergamot zest and lemongrass.

Related story: 5 American beers for your Labor Day barbecue

“There are so many ways to go with this beer depending on what’s fresh and local. You can do halibut or king salmon lightly grilled with a little lemon, which will work perfectly with the delicate touch of this beer,” he advised. “Or a salad of Dungeness crab and tomatoes would shine with Pivo Pils. If you don’t have the crab, heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella and fresh basil would be amazing — leave off the vinegar and let the beer provide the finish for you.”

Firestone Walker only distributes Pivo Pils west of the Mississippi, but don’t fret — Dulye said Victory Summer Love, a lemony and bright blonde ale, is a superb stand-in that’s widely available in the eastern part of the country. Dulye also noted that Summer Love works terrifically with a wedge of watermelon or cantaloupe topped with a thin slice of prosciutto for a pre-meal treat.

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA (7 percent ABV)

This might very well be the best widely available IPA in America, with its rich caramel base and its juicy hop finish that features notes of mango and apricot and peach.

“This beer has an amazing tropical hop note,” Dulye said, “which will pair perfectly with grilled shrimp or salmon.”

Because it has a lighter mouthfeel and won’t hold fiery capsaicin oil on your palate, Dulye also noted that Sculpin IPA works wonderfully well with more peppery provisions.

“This beer is great with spicy rubbed chicken,” Dulye said. “Or take some veggies and baste them on the grill with some Fresno chili pepper butter.”

If you think Sculpin and spice sounds good, you might also keep an eye out for Sculpin IPA with Habanero Peppers, a special edition of the beer that can be found on tap.  

Dale’s Pale Ale (6.5 percent ABV)

If heirloom tomatoes, Dungeness crab or Fresno-chili-basted whatnot sounds too fancy for your cookout, don’t despair — chef Dulye didn’t neglect the classics.

Dale’s Pale Ale is what I think of as a perfect American barbecue beer,” said Dulye. It’s a terrific all-rounder, blending an earthy malt profile with a piney hop bite and a touch of grapefruit citrus on the finish. “When I think of this beer, I think of the standards — a fat burger or a juicy steak on the grill,” he said.  

Culinary imagination isn’t required to make your barbecue more flavorful — you just need a little help from your pal Dale. The fact that it comes in cans means you can take it along anywhere your weekend grilling adventures might lead.

Wherever that may be, if Labor Day finds you lording over a hot grill, make the most of it with some of these awesome beer and food pairings that your guests are sure to enjoy. Tell us, what’s your go-to barbecue beer?

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