beer

My friend most prone to host a bottle share is also an aspiring pit master.

Bert Mattson.jpg

Bert Mattson

He’ll smoke meats most months but recently supposed that the real prime cooking weather is upon us. I’ve dabbled in the smoldering arts. Half the fun for me is in building the hardware, from a whole-hog roaster to an Argentine grill to a smoker with digital controls.

When I abandon an experiment, often I offer him the best parts. He tends to trump my generosity by seizing such occasions as an excuse to put something over cinders. The confluence of a bottle share and outdoor cookery is a feast for the senses and a form of enforced relaxation.

An array of craft beer and the opinion-laden process of cooking over coals inspire ample opportunity to plunge past small talk to the meat of matters.

Pairing beer and barbecue (and grilled food) isn’t necessarily an automatic home run. Though the merger is a relatively safe one, the payoff is in the details. Large fatty cuts, suitable for long slow cooking over indirect heat, sister to beer styles differently than leaner slices slapped directly over white-hot coals. In the final products, there are divergences in texture, assimilation of smoke and usually seasoning ... all of which influence the marriage.

Something streaked or capped with snowy fat, rendered lazily over hours at low temperatures, generally imparts a richness that can bear, and even be elevated by, a beer with a degree of bitterness. The “bark” — a crunchy, sweet and salty crust that crackles when cut — that forms on larger cuts of meat ideally reveals steaming and succulent layers of marbled meat beyond. The bold flavors cultivated in a smoke chamber can stand a bold beer. To contrast or complement is the question, and the answer isn’t set in stone. Stout can echo some of the signature savory qualities in a brisket, and even the velvety mouthfeel.

But should you add a degree of spice, it may clash, altering the calculus. Something with a glaze or rub (with salt and spice) might benefit from the contrast introduced by a beer with some residual sweetness. The same sort of meat trimmed of some fat, sliced thin and cooked quickly over high heat might even benefit from a beer with some acidity.

With all these variables at play in the cooking process, and the nuances that modern brewers are building into beer, it begins to become a reality that a bottle share broadens the opportunity to find a winning combination.

The spectrum stretches from sizzling-hot grilled shrimp po’ boys paired with the likes of Deschutes’ special release citrus-forward, bitterness-retrained Neon Daydream Hazy Ale to spice-rubbed, smoked beef short ribs with a sampling of Minnesota-made Maibock to a platter of burnt ends and eggs with a breakfast brew like Oskar Blues’ Hotbox Coffee Porter in the lazy morning after a long brisket cook.

Gather outside, share, be safe, and search for that home run. Seize the season for grate companionship.

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