Summer BBQ: Choosing and Pairing the Perfect BBQ Beers

The classic grilling season in Germany is during the summer. Although the available heat for grilling also makes winter barbecuing attractive, it remains the exception. Lively barbecue parties in warm weather demand the provision of chilled drinks, with beer topping the list for Germans. It almost seems like an inseparable connection: hot summer days, evening barbecues, a cold beer in hand. Surely, everyone has their preferred beer type or brand, which adds a higher demand to the preparation of a barbecue. Knowing or asking guests about their preferences is a manageable aspect.

Non-alcoholic beers and beverages should not be absent as some guests may arrive by car. Safety and responsibility should always be the priority at any barbecue. If needed, planning for taxis or a volunteer driving service should be considered. Providing overnight accommodations is also a solution. The operation of the grill, or even grilling itself, should be carried out by individuals who remain responsive and capable, as alcohol-induced recklessness leads the statistics of barbecue accidents.

Beer is not just beer.

Similar to the preferences of barbecue guests, beer types also differ. Barbecue beer should cater to these preferences but should also complement the grilled foods. The right beer plays an important role in a successful barbecue evening. Beverage discounters are generally well-stocked, offering everything from light to heavy, mild to bitter, and pale to dark beers. Thus, there’s a suitable beer for every grilled dish. While personal taste always prevails, there are good recommendations for the right barbecue beer:

Pilsner (Pils): The Bohemian city of Pilsen is the namesake for the widely distributed Pilsner. Modern refrigeration techniques from the mid-19th century facilitated the widespread production of this popular beer. The comparatively high hop content gives Pils its characteristic bitterness, refreshing taste, and fine to strong bitter notes. The high hop content results in a creamy foam head. Pils typically has an alcohol content ranging between 4% and 5.2%. As a barbecue beer, it complements lighter dishes like roasts, steak, poultry, or salad. However, Pils doesn’t pair well with fish dishes due to the combination of fish oils and the bitter hop aromas not creating a good overall flavor. Typical Pilsner glasses are known as “Pilstulpen.” The thin-walled glass narrows downwards, ensuring the Pils head or foam remains for a long time.

Kölsch: The term “Kölsch” was first marketed by the Sünner brewery in 1918. This light, top-fermented beer had been produced by the brewery since 1906. Kölsch is made from water, barley malt, and hops, sometimes with small amounts of wheat malt. Kölsch is closely associated with the city of Cologne and is mainly found in the Cologne area. The average alcohol content of Kölsch is around 4.8%. It’s known for being a “quaffable” beer with a subtle aroma and fruity notes. Recommended as a barbecue beer by our barbecue expert team for Mediterranean-spiced fish, roasts, poultry, or sweet desserts. Traditional Kölsch glasses (Stangen) with a capacity of 0.2 liters are suitable, although in gastronomy, larger 0.5-liter Kölsch glasses are more practical.

Altbier: The name of this top-fermented beer refers to “brewed in the old traditional way.” It has an alcohol content ranging from 4.5% to 5%. The higher proportion of roast malt accounts for the darker color of Altbier. Altbier is preferred in the Lower Rhine region. Depending on the brewery, Altbier can have varying levels of hopping, resulting in a mild to distinct hop aroma. The bitter and quaffable taste of this beer pairs well with heartier dishes such as game, spicy cheese, as well as roasts, steaks, and fish. Altbier glasses resemble Kölsch glasses or Stangen but are slightly thicker. Due to Altbier’s rapid foaming, the small capacity of a traditional Alt glass of 0.2 liters is ideal, although larger glasses are commonly used in gastronomy and are sometimes mockingly referred to as mustard glasses.

Weissbier (Wheat Beer): Wheat beers are mostly top-fermented and brewed from wheat or wheat malt. Primarily in Southern Bavaria, the term “Weissbier” is used synonymously with wheat beer, although they can also be brewed from barley. Among wheat beers, there are non-alcoholic, moderate beers with an alcohol content of 5-6%, and strong beers with over 8%. A distinguishing factor between wheat beers is their filtration. There are cloudy Hefeweizens, where the particles are not filtered but settle in the fermentation vessel or bottle. On the other hand, there’s filtered wheat beer, also known as Kristallweizen. Originally a summer beer in Bavaria, it is now popular throughout Germany. The fruity sweet aroma makes Weissbier a good choice as a barbecue beer. It’s considered nutritious and therefore pairs well with lighter dishes such as poultry, salads, vegetables, sweet desserts, or meat and fish dishes enhanced with sweet marinades. However, it’s advised against pairing Weissbier with heavy dishes like game or beef. Weissbier is served in tall, curved glasses with a capacity of 0.5 liters. The shapes of these glasses vary considerably.

Export Beer: Due to its bottom-fermenting construction, Export beer has a longer shelf life. This makes it better suited for transport over long distances, hence the term “Export beer.” It can be light or dark in color. The sweet malty taste with a fine caramel note makes dark Export beer a barbecue beer suitable for steak, salads, and poultry. The alcohol content usually hovers just above 5%. Traditionally, Export beers are served in a glass mug with a handle.

To properly enjoy beer, temperature is crucial, as no one likes beer that is too warm or too cold. Beer is typically stored between 4-7 °C, with the optimal drinking temperature ranging between 5 and 8 °C. Weissbier is an exception and is served between 8-12 °C. Sudden temperature fluctuations can adversely affect the taste of beer, so it should not be rapidly chilled in the freezer.

Weissbier glasses come in various shapes nowadays but are always tall, curved glasses usually holding 0.5 liters. When pouring, it’s best to do it slowly as Weissbier tends to form a strong head.

Beer is not just for drinking

While beer is primarily served as a beverage, it can also enhance the taste of grilled foods. When used as a grilling additive, beer can make meat juicier and tender. Although most of the beer evaporates from the grilled food, it leaves behind a bitter taste. Here, we particularly recommend beer types with delicate flavor notes. Dark beer and malt beer are good choices for barbecue marinades. When grilled, they provide a sweet, delicate note to lightly seasoned grilled foods. This is due to the caramelization of sugars at high heat. Beer with a spicy taste should only be used for heavy or heavily spiced meat. It’s important to achieve a balanced combination so that the flavors harmonize well together.

Bottle or keg?

The choice here primarily depends on the quantity consumed. If only a small amount of a particular beer is to be tasted, a 5 or 10-liter keg might not be worth it. Bottles or cans are more practical in such cases, with bottles preserving the original taste better. Except for bottle-fermented beers, freshly tapped beer from a keg always tastes better. An issue when choosing between a keg or bottle can be refrigeration. Bottles can be conveniently chilled in almost any refrigerator due to their smaller size, whereas kegs might pose problems due to their dimensions and take more time to chill. Cooling boxes usually only accommodate small 5-liter kegs. If there’s no refrigerator at the barbecue site, ensuring good insulation for the cooled keg is essential to keep the barbecue beer adequately chilled during grilling.