Food & Drink

Brewers Recommend Their Favorite Beers for Summer Grilling

Cram your cooler with these brewer favorites.

Urban Roots summer grilling beer
Photo: Urban Roots; Illustration: Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Ah, beer and barbecue. It’s a matchup for the ages, a love story that knows no bounds, a thrilling romance of intoxicating flavor combinations worthy of a Tumblr-style ship. It’s creeping waves of melt-in-your-mouth, grilled meat deliciousness quelled by cascading waterfalls of refreshing carbonation and sharp, hoppy bitterness. It’s the very definition of summer.

“That’s one thing that I can say unequivocally: Beer and barbecue go together well,” says Sam Cruz, co-founder of Louisville brewery Against The Grain. Cruz and his crew have been serving up boundary-pushing craft beer alongside classic Kentucky ’cue out of their downtown smokehouse since 2011. “Two common flavors in barbecue are sweet and spicy. Beer by nature is slightly bitter, no matter what style it is. That bitterness cuts through the spiciness and complements the sweetness -- and helps it from becoming overwhelming or heavy.”

Across the country in California, Urban Roots Brewing & Smokehouse co-founder Peter Hoey shares Cruz’s devotion to this ultimate summertime pairing. “You can either complement or you can contrast,” explains the Sacramento-based brewmaster, delving into the combo’s more subtle nuances. “Complementing would be pairing a beer with lots of caramel flavor like a Red Ale or Amber with grilled or smoked meats to pick up on that caramelization. Contrasting would be pairing a hoppy pilsner or dry IPA with a fatty brisket -- the beer’s bitterness cuts through the richness of the fat.”

Finger-licking good as it may be, Hoey notes that the bond between beer and barbecue extends far beyond taste and mouthfeel. Grilling is an inherently communal and leisurely form of cooking, one tailormade for friendly afternoon gatherings. It’s standing around the grill and soaking up the hot sun with some buddies, flipping burgers or rotating dogs as you crack open another cold one.

“Beer for us has always been about community,” he says. “We wanted to keep with that theme and nothing brings people together like barbecue. It’s a social food to pair with a social beverage.”

Whether you’re sitting down at the picnic table for a massive meat fest or just starting to fire up the coals, a good beer can be a near constant companion -- but that doesn’t mean barbecue and brews are a one-size-fits-all scenario. In the same way that peppery Alabama-style white sauce makes a pulled chicken platter sing and tender burnt ends shine beneath a thick layer of Kansas City’s tomato-spiked finest, what you’re preparing heavily influences what you’re imbibing.

“If it’s going to be a long day of grilling, smoking, and hanging out, I’ll seek out a lower ABV but flavorful beer,” Hoey says. “Traditional German lager or session versions of traditional styles are the way to go for me, a classic that you can sip all day while minding your smoker.”

Cruz echoes that sentiment, pointing out that a lighter beer is ideal to quench your thirst while standing over a grill. Plus, you’ve gotta play it safe while dealing with hot flames. But once you’re ready to sit down and dig in, all bets are off.

“Then I’m going to have a four pack of Citra Ass Down on hand as my finisher,” says Cruz referencing Against the Grain’s robust and widely beloved hop monster. “It’s a big double IPA, but it’s not overly alcoholic in terms of flavor. It’s not overly sweet, not overly bitter, it’s just balanced. And it goes so great with wings.”

So dust off the old family Weber, season some choice meats, and cram your cooler full of these expert-recommended, grill-worthy beers.

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Against the Grain A Beer

American Lager, 4.5%
Louisville, Kentucky
“Of the beers that we brew, A Beer is my barbecue go-to,” Cruz says. “We call it a Super American Premium Lager -- it’s got just enough bitterness and hop floralness to make it crafty but it's also light and refreshing. It’ll wash down big flavors like Texas brisket or smoked turkey with white barbecue sauce and it leaves you less full so that you can consume more.”

Against the Grain Citra Ass Down
Against the Grain

Against the Grain Citra Ass Down

Imperial IPA, 8.2%
Louisville, Kentucky
Sticky, full-bodied, and glistening with ripe fruit notes, this badass IPA gets its potency from a whole boatload of Citra hops. The malt bill, a deeply layered blend of Munich, Pale, Vienna, white wheat, and oat, showcases all those juicy hops with gusto. Enjoy this guy alongside everything from Buffalo wings to tomato salads, skirt steak, and good ol’ fashioned beer can chicken.

Urban Roots 10° Czech Lager

Czech Lager, 3.9%
Sacramento, California
The porch pounder to end all porch pounders, Hoey describes this Euro-inflected low impact stunner as “built for sipping while minding the smoker for hours at a time.”

Urban Roots Like Riding A Bike
Urban Roots

Urban Roots Like Riding A Bike

American IPA, 6.2%
Sacramento, California
One of Urban Roots most popular releases to date, Hoey calls his West Coast-inspired creation “clean, crisp, fruity, and dank.” Think applewood smoked pork, fall-off-the-bone ribs, and sweet, sticky sauces.

Pilsner Urquell

Czech Pilsner, 4.4%
Plzeň, Czech Republic
“I’m a big fan of Pilsner Urquell,” Cruz says. “It's a delicious lager, one of my favorites.” The Czech brewing giant laid out the blueprint for the Pilsner style more than 175 years ago and continues to hit it out of the park. Pair with sausages, cured meats, potato salad, soft pretzels, and other Eastern European-inflected winners.

Victory Prima Pils

German Pilsner, 5.3%
Downingtown, Pennsylvania
According to Hoey, this old-school craft favorite slices through fatty brisket and other slow-and-low delights like a razor sharp machete. “Light but full of flavor, it will stand up to smoked meats while refreshing your palate for the next bite.”

Miller High Life

Adjunct Lager, 4.6%
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
“If we’re talking American beers, domestic, the macro stuff, I can get down with Miller High Life all day long,” says Cruz, giving the Champagne of Beers its due. “Now that’s a good grilling beer.”

Russian River Pliny The Elder

Imperial IPA, 8%
Santa Rosa, California
“Beers are iconic for a reason,” states Hoey. “This beer set the standard for DIPA and it’s a great choice for assertive, spicy barbecue.” Aggressive in the best way possible, this coveted California legend rolls deep with fiery hot links, thick steaks, and sauce-laden ribs.

Cigar City Jai Alai IPA

American IPA, 7.5%
Tampa, Florida
Hoey describes this canned Floridian crusher as “citrus-forward and balanced, a bigger beer for fighting back the heat of spicy wings or hot barbecue sauce.”

Modelo Especial

Mexican Adjunct Lager, 4.4%
Mexico City, Mexico
Craft beer might have Cruz’s heart, but this ubiquitous Mexican bubbler has his shelf space. “I have to say, my all time favorite, what I always keep stocked in my fridge, is Modelo Especial,” he admits. “I love it with a lime. It’s just great.”

Allagash White

Witbier, 5.1%
Portland, Maine
“Classic, approachable, but complex,” says Hoey of this bright and cheery New England wheat beer. “Pairs great with lighter fare like grilled chicken or anything with citrus.”

Boulevard Tank 7

Saison, 8.5%
Kansas City, Missouri
Hoey deems this trusty midwestern farmhouse ale “nuanced, fruity, and spicy.” Rich and boozy enough to handle big hitters like saucy pulled pork and plump cheeseburgers, the style’s signature effervescence makes it a fit for more delicate options like chicken kebabs and grilled veggies.

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Meredith Heil is originally from St. Louis, now lives in Chicago, and in between has been to all 50 states (that's feet on the ground, none of that airport BS). She enjoys reading about, thinking about, talking about, writing about, putting on events about and drinking about craft beer.