Thinking Drinkers: pairing off the BBQ

Sun’s out, buns out. British summertime has begun and that means it’s barbecue season. By rekindling our innate relationship with fire, barbecuing reconnects us all with our prehistoric ancestors. Before TVs, radiators and microwaves, there was only fire. Man gawped at fire, heated himself with fire and cooked animals (and maybe a few vegetables that didn’t require running after) using fire. 

In fact, without fire, man would have been in a whole lot of trouble. Today, man still loves fire but doesn’t see as much of it as he’d like to. Fire only makes fleeting, less essential cameo appearances in modern life – romantic candles, Olympic torches, hippy jugglers, that kind of thing.

But man’s inherent love of fire burns bright, and man still loves eating animals (and maybe a few vegetables). This is why man loves to barbecue. Man is a natural-born griller. The art of barbecuing has seriously upped its game recently. People no longer simply bung bargain-basement bangers or a bovine knuckle in a bap. Everything from asparagus and sardines to koftas and Camembert now grace the nation’s grills. People make marinades, they scatter smoky wood chips amid the coals - and some even have salad. Things have got posh.

With the food getting fancier, so too should the drink. It’s time to broaden one’s horizons beyond a crate of cooking lagers and bottles of barely-chilled blush. Brewers and winemakers often boast that their wares go brilliantly with barbecued food but what does that mean? 

It falls upon the retailer to point to more bespoke pairings while, ideally, raising spend per head. But what goes well with what? Thankfully, we’ve got some suggestions for you.  

Let’s begin with a burger. It’s got to be a beer. Something with fresh fruit flavours, a touch of sweetness and a rapier of bitterness to carve through not just the meat but the array of exploratory toppings (sweet gherkins, jalapenos, relish). A West Coast IPA has all these. Lagunitas IPA is the epitome of the style. Steeped in Centennial hops with a bright bitterness, it is imported fresh and refrigerated (crucial) from the States.   

Steaks don’t suffer delicate drops gladly. While porters and stouts complement the crisscross of caramelised sweetness (we like Fierce Brewing’s Peanut Riot), Belgian dubbels such as Chimay Blue and Flemish reds (Rodenbach) also segue with steaks superbly. Wine-wise, you can’t go wrong with an Argentinian Malbec. 

A Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon lends itself perfectly to lamb. Daring drinkers can replicate the sweetness of redcurrant with a funky, fruity lambic kriek like Boon while the Mad Hatter Brewery in Liverpool has created a Tzatziki Sour using yoghurt, cucumber and mint soaked in Ouzo. It’s a bit weird but it works. 

Up for some sausage action? Reach for the beers of Germany. Your classic Cumberland or Toulouse works well with a Rothaus pilsner while herbed and spiced sausages suit a weissbier such as the classic Schneider Weiss.  

Chicken provides a tabla rasa on which tongsmen can express themselves via marinades. For dry-rubbed drumsticks or breasts spangled with herbs and spices, a dry, herbal and hoppy saison steps up to the plate. Brew by Numbers from London and Burning Sky from Sussex are both saison specialists. 

King prawns brushed with garlic butter are tremendous with Westmalle Tripel, while meaty tuna and salmon steaks call for a Sancerre or a Chenin Blanc with a little bit of oak and acidity. For lightly smoked mackerel, a whisky Highball using a smoky Islay single malt such as Caol Ila or Lagavulin lengthened with soda water is sensational.

The pairing possibilities are endless, so push them within outlet and make the most of potential solar-powered sales.  

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