For lots of people, consuming a burger is a simple thing. And they keep it simple with what they drink — a cola, vanilla milkshake, or a PBR is all they need to be happy. But at a restaurant with a lot of beverage options, or when trying to decide which beer or wine to bring to a cookout there is ample opportunity for enhancement.
For a standard burger with ketchup and mustard, the variety of great pairing choices is endless, according to the drinking experts Eater consulted. So next time instead of reaching for what's nearest at hand, experiment with one of these beers, wines or cocktails.
Dave Coleman, co-founder of 3 Stars Brewing Company
"Obviously I love drinking beers and eating burgers. In fact, it's like my favorite thing to do and my favorite pairing, 'cause I crave burgers all the time. I would pair a burger with just about any beer, with the exception of a sour (just doesn't work great), but especially with a couple of our 3 Stars offerings."
Pandemic Porter (American Imperial Porter - 9.6% ABV)
"The roasted notes in the porter complement the meatiness and char on the burger balancing the smoke with a touch of dark sweetness. The standard lettuce and tomato would serve to cut through the dark fats and balance out the robust notes carried through both components."
Two To The Dome (Double IPA - 8% ABV)
"I would suggest a double burger here to complement the underlying notion of the beer. The bright citrus notes of the Citra hops would play beautifully with the meat and would provide a nice, smooth dry finish to wash down your tasty burger. Have a couple of each and let the afternoon by the grill turn into a riotous good time."
Greg Engert, Beer Director, Neighborhood Restaurant Group
"Burgers provide a key opportunity to utilize some brews that often pose pairing difficulties. Bitterness is the achilles heel of beer pairing, often overwhelming the flavors of the dish with which it is intended to sing. Since bitterness typically manifests itself in ales and lagers through the the impact of hops and roasted grains, styles showing hop intensity — be it Pilsner, Pale Ale or IPA — or roasty dryness — think Porters and Stouts — can cause pairing conundrums.
However, fatty, rich foods are up to the test, beyond merely standing up to bitterness. Burgers, with their beefy backbone and, hopefully, draped in sharp cheese and thatched in crisp bacon are unbeatable with such styles.
Two of my favorite brews for a burger specifically are Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Founders Porter.
90 Minute is more of an East Coast style Imperial IPA, meaning it has a malt sweetness that almost balances against the intense bitterness of Pacific Northwest hops. The bittering bite digs right into the burgers juicy interior, a cutting effect that simultaneously lightens the meaty richness while softening the hoppy bitterness. Malt sweetness dovetails with the beef's sweetness and contrasts nicely with the salty bacon.
Other notable hoppy brews for burgers: DC Brau The Public Pale Ale, Victory HopDevil IPA, Stone Arrogant Bastard.
Founders Porter possesses a roasty, drying, near peppery finish, with a hint of bitter cocoa; this quality allows the brew to equally cut into the richness of the burger. Meanwhile, the charred effect of the Porter complements the cooking of the burger's exterior, be it fried, seared are char-grilled. The chocolate and espresso notes of the brew are dynamite with the oozy, nutty cheese, and work just as beautifully with the savory bacon.
Other notable roasty brews for burgers: Devil's Backbone Schwartz Bier, The Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale, Bell's Kalamazoo Stout."
Brent Kroll, Wine Director, Neighborhood Restaurant Group
"Burger wines are generally medium-bodied, fruit forward wines with mild spice. The fat in the meat will soften the tannin in wine and make it appear much fruit forward. Here are a couple options.
Massaya red, Bekka Valley, Lebanon is an earthy medium-bodied grill wine from a warm climate. It has notes of dark cherry, leather, white pepper and smoke (offered at GBD, and Birch & Barley).
Qupe Syrah, Central Coast, California is a full bodied soft red that is very smooth on the palate. It has floral notes of violets with over ripe plums, black pepper and silky fruit driven tannin (offered at GBD by the glass)."
Tim Liu, Bar Manager, Scion Restaurant and Crios Modern Mexican
"Burgers are a really fun to pair with beer, because there really are so many options. You do want to make sure the beer is medium to full bodied, otherwise the burger will completely overpower the beer. Also avoid light, fruity beers like Hefeweizen or Witbier.
I normally start with something hoppy. The bitterness is good for cutting through strong flavors. But make sure the beer has a strong malt backbone as well. I suggest a hoppy Amber Ale like Troegs Nugget Nectar. If you happen to find yourself in upstate New York, Ithaca Cascazilla is another great option.
If hops aren't your thing, I would go with something that's a little bit more malty. No-Li Crystal Bitter is a personal favorite of mine. The delicate notes of bread, biscuits, and toffee mimic the subtle sweetness of brioche or potato bread.
If you are looking for something a slightly different, I suggest Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier. The Schlenkerla Helles is a lightly smoked version of a German Helles Lager. The beer has a subtle smokiness that kind of lingers in the background. It's the perfect amount of smokiness, much like any food that is cooked on a grill."
George Manolatos, Partner and Bar Guy, Cashion's Eat Place
"When enjoying a burger I always think of grilling out in the backyard with friends. Which is why I always go for a cold, crisp beer. Something like a Pilsner or Kolsch that will keep your mouth fresh for the next bite. If I had my choice it would be a Schlafly Kolsch, brewed in Koln, Germany. Another way to go is a classic cocktail. I may be biased, but I serve up a delicious Fig-Infused Barrel-Aged Manhattan that I highly recommend with a burger. The smokiness of the barrel-aged bourbon always pairs well with a good piece of grilled meat."
David Metz, Sommelier, Bourbon Steak
"I recommend a good quality Barbera. As a matter of fact, I had a grilled burger the other night with a bottle of Castello di Neive Barbera d'Alba Santo Stefano and it was fantastic. The weight of the wine (medium full-bodied) matched the weight of the burger. The well integrated, yet medium-level, tannins helped balance the fat in the hamburger without overwhelming it. This Barbera had notes of smoke, tar, and black earth, which echoed the flavors imparted by the charcoal grill.
Also, Barberas (when well made) can be spicy and smooth as well as mineral-laden so you feel like you're drinking a wine that has character. Not to mention, you can pick up a good one for around $20 a bottle."
Joe Quinn, Wine Director, Proof and Estadio
"Assuming we're keeping the burger simple, as condiments/toppings can really complicate things... There's usually going to be a beer next to my burger. If I'm thinking at all about the pairing, I'd make it a beer on the maltier side of things, not too hoppy, with enough body to stand up to the stack of beef and bread. Think Brooklyn's Lager. I suppose if we're getting fancy, a bottle-conditioned, malty Belgian dubbel could work really well — the roasty malt notes work with the char on the patty, and the yeasty notes from bottle-conditioning could complement the bread. Since burgers are so very American, I'd go with an American version like Ommegang.
For wine? I think my number one pairing would be really good Beaujolais (and yes, this exists. Lots of it). It's the ultimate 'fun' wine; it always has a lovely brightness and lightweight profile, and it's shockingly inexpensive for a wine that, at its best, is truly Great Wine. Serious Beaujolais, like the Morgon that Jean Foillard makes from the schist-and-granite hillside of Cote du Py, has it all for a burger: lots of acidity to refresh the palate against the burger's fattiness; bright, juicy fruit; a gentle, smoky earthiness.
My second choice would be a mature First Growth Bordeaux, such as a 1990 Margaux."
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