Brewers Recommend Their Favorite Beers for Summer Grilling
Cram your cooler with these brewer favorites.
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 worthy of a TikTok duet. 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 grill-worthy beers.
American Lager, 4.5%
“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.”
Imperial IPA, 8.2%
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.
Czech Lager, 3.9%
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.”
American IPA, 6.2%
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.
American Wheat Beer, 4.4%
Real agave syrup adds a little pep in the step of this crisp, smooth Colorado-born crusher, which weighs in at a sessionable 4.4% ABV and drinks as bright and sparkly as it pours. An earthy, citrusy edge and subtle, cereal-laced sweetness means this bad boy is a surefire bet with grilled vegetables, barbecue chicken, smoked turkey, and similarly easy-breezy backyard fare.
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.
German Pilsner, 5.3%
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.”
Tarboro, North Carolina
Goses, with their fruity, puckery start, even-keel booze level, and ever-stunning kissed-by-the-ocean dry, salty finish, are pretty much every cookout’s top scorer. North Carolina’s Tarboro Brewing kicks this sucker up a notch by dumping a full 13000 pounds of fresh-off-the-vine watermelon into the mix, cranking the tang up to 11 and producing a surprisingly luscious mouthfeel along the way. Stick to the apps with this one—we’re talking caprese salad, corn-on-the-cob, chips and dip, the works—as the fruit is quite pronounced.
Adjunct Lager, 4.6%
“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.”
Brooklyn, New York
Saisons were traditionally brewed to quench the thirst of hardworking farm laborers in the French-speaking region of Belgium, and while you’re probably not harvesting your own corn stalks or slaughtering your own sows nowadays, you can still get in on this lemony refresher. Threes’ version is a white-capped thing of beauty, imbued with delicate cracked wheat and an infectious peppery aroma that keeps you coming back for more. Pair this with hefty plates of pulled pork, saucey rib tips, fatty beef brisket, and anything else that falls on the huskier end of the barbecue spectrum.
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.
American IPA, 7.5%
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.”
Imperial IPA, 10.5%
Brooklyn, New York
There’s no shortage of high and mighty hop-goblins on this list, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t throw in a shout out to this Jay-Z-inspired double IPA icon from famed Brooklyn outpost Other Half. A whopping 10.5% ABV can push even the most seasoned imbiber into the danger zone quick, so take your time letting all those delicious verdant flavors and fragrances breath and develop between bites of pulled chicken or pork sandwiches, grilled steaks, meaty burgers, and spicy hot links.
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.”
“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.”
Oatmeal Porter, 7.5%
If you’re smoking something slow-and-low (as you should be), it’s a good idea to reward your efforts with a stunner of a beer that’s at once approachable, soothing to the palate, and deeply complex. Enter Boston-based Trillium and its outstanding signature porter, a silky, medium-bodied web of chocolate, roasted malt, stone fruit, espresso, and lightly spiced tobacco that only gets better the longer it lingers in the glass—much like that pork butt you’ve been prodding for the past eight hours. Crack one of these next to anything smoky, from bark-laden brisket to whole hog barbecue and even a scoop or two of ham hock-infused beans.