Memorial Day Weekend traditionally signals the unofficial start of summer, but this year it feels even more significant. After nearly 15 months of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things are finally beginning to return to normal. This year’s Memorial Day gatherings won’t just herald the beginning of any old summer; they’ll kick off our post-pandemic Hot Vax Summer, and for many of us it will be the first thing resembling a party we’ve attended since March of 2020.
That means the pressure is on to make your Memorial Day cookout memorable, and to do so you’ll need to make sure your beverages are on point — for your guests, sure, but also to keep your own thirst quenched while you’re manning the grill. With that in mind, we asked some of the most trusted beer professionals we know to weigh in and tell us their go-to beers for when they’re grilling. Their picks run the gamut from pilsners and hefeweizens to lagers and Kölschs, but they’re all crisp and refreshing enough to keep you cool while you toil away in the sun making sure that meat is cooked to perfection. Check out their choices below.
Kevin McGee, CEO of Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Sudwerk Brewing Co. Backyard Hero
Style: Light American Lager
Summer grilling is something I probably do way too much of. Part of the overage of grilled foods at my house is because I just like hanging outside with the dogs (and the cat) and a beer. The beer is an essential part of the experience, and this summer I’m reaching for Backyard Hero by Sudwerk Brewing Co. out of Davis, California. They’ve been making legendary lagers for over 30 years, and their Backyard Hero is an object lesson on what a good American-style lager should taste like. Everything Sudwerk makes is completely dialed in — as a brewer, when you taste through their beers it is readily apparent the skill and precision their brewing crew has, and a beer like this, where there’s almost no margin for error, is a great expression of that talent. Crushable, flavorful and has a pic of a grill on the label. Perfect.
Jason Santamaria, co-founder of Second Self Beer Company
Maine Beer Company Tiny Beautiful Something
Style: Pale ale
This time of year, you can find me outside multiple days a week grilling on my Big Green Egg. To me, there is no better way to kick off a grilling session than with a beer in hand. It’s hot in Georgia, so I like to stick with something lighter but with some hop and punch to cut through the smoke in my face. My choice is Maine Beer Company’s Tiny Beautiful Something (5.5% ABV) because it’s light, crisp, hoppy and just goes down easy.
Eric Warner, head brewmaster at Karbach Brewing Co.
Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
Style: Amber lager
Nothing goes better with grilled meat than an amber lager. The Devils Backbone Vienna Lager is the perfect beer to enjoy while wiping the sweat off your brow over the grill or to pair with barbecue. If you don’t believe me, just ask the experts: This beer is one of the most decorated and award-winning beers out there, having won multiple medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup.
Galveston Island Hefen-A Hefeweizen
This is a super-secret, insider beer but the Hefen-A German-Style Hefeweizen from Galveston Island Brewing in Galveston, Texas, is the perfect brew for the onset of summer and grilling. Made with an authentic, German-style wheat yeast, Hefen-A is great on its own or with grilled meats, poultry, chicken, seafood or veggies. You’ll have to travel to southeast Texas to get your hands on it, though: this up-and-coming brewery only distributes within 150 miles of the brewery.
Pfriem Family Brewers Pilsner
One of my favorite styles to drink at a backyard barbecue is a pilsner, and one of the very best in America is from Pfriem Family Brewers in Hood River, Oregon. It’s a spot-on interpretation of a German-style Pilsner that reminds me of being in Germany, and for good reason: It’s hopped 100% with German hops. You’ll have to travel to Oregon or Washington to get this one, but that’s a beautiful part of the world this time of year!
Jason Oliver, brewmaster at Devils Backbone Brewing Co.
Goose Island 312
Style: Wheat ale
Goose Island 312 is a great beer to have when grilling out. It is especially good with a grilled Caesar salad. Split a romaine lettuce heart in half, spray or drizzle with a touch of olive oil, place both halves on a hot grill for 10-20 seconds or so per side. Toss a few lemon slices on the grill too for a few seconds as well. Squeeze the lemon over the flash-grilled romaine and serve with Caesar dressing and a cold Goose Island 312. That’s good living right there!
Stephen Hale, founding brewer at Schlafly Beer
Ah, the joys of balmy temperatures and a return to cooking outdoors; what a treat. Since Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer season, what a fabulous time to celebrate with a beer that reflects the idyllic pleasantries of being outdoors and relaxing with friends, food and fine beer. It’s not easy to narrow down to one beer, or even a particular style, but one of my favorites for this type of ambience is Witbier — a classic style from Belgium that has many fine examples to be found around the world. Available in limited areas, I like to rely on my friends traveling back from Maine to bring me some Allagash White, one of the finest examples of the style that I’ve encountered (disclosure: I’m a native New Englander). Witbier as a style is just so delightful, a fabulous beer to pair with food or just have on its own. Closer to home, find your favorite version and enjoy the barbecue grilling season!
Matt Brynildson, brewmaster at Firestone Walker Beer
There Does Not Exist Brewing Sowing the Sun
When I’m firing up the grill or smoker, I’m not in the mood for a heavier IPA. It’s a time when I like beers for drinking, not thinking — beers that are easy on the palate and super refreshing. This is why I keep going back to Sowing the Sun, a Kölsch by There Does Not Exist — it’s just this refreshing, simple, awesome local beer. Another universally amazing beer for grilling is Allagash White; it’s a classic. You can’t go wrong with either of these when the sun is out and the grill is hot on Memorial Day weekend.
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