Summer is one of craft beer’s best seasons, and the food of choice is simple, easy to fix, and even easier to eat. We’re talking burgers—traditional or sliders, meat or veggie—it’s a handheld meal between a sliced bun, brioche, soft pretzel, Kaiser roll, or even fresh leaf lettuce. The possibilities for your next burger are endless!
Americans love burgers, and increasingly, burger restaurants are embracing craft beer. On the West Coast, Eureka! Gourmet Burgers and Craft Beer is serving beer from Lagunitas, Tioga-Sequoia, Rogue Ales, and Hangar 24. Beer fans in Michigan are enjoying Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burgers and drinking draft beer from Bell’s Brewery Inc., Founders Brewing and Shorts Brewing Co. Down South, Hopdoddy Burger Bars in Texas feature breweries like (512) Brewing Company, Live Oak, Real Ale and St. Arnold—and there are hundreds more creative burger restaurants popping up across the country. Here are my top picks for burgers and beer pairings to seek out during a summer road trip, or to make at home.
Classic Beef Burger | IPA
The key to a delicious beef burger is a freshly ground (quarter-inch grind), hand-formed patty that is not pressed while cooked. The burger should be juicy on the palate and have a loose texture to meld with melted cheese, caramelized onions and other toppings.
At Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Chicago, Ill., Mindy Segal serves an award-winning burger (pictured above) made from grass-fed beef, and topped with aged Widmer’s Cheddar, crisp bacon, and a perfectly oozy fried egg—all perched on a garlicky bun. An IPA such as Alpha King from Three Floyds Brewing Company in Munster, Ind., makes the match sing. Other IPAs to try:
- Lagunitas Brewing Company | Petaluma, CA | IPA
- Devils Backbone Brewing Company | Roseland, VA | Eight Point IPA
- Ithaca Beer Co. | Ithaca, NY | Flower Power IPA
- Sixpoint Craft Ales | Brooklyn, NY | Bengali Tiger, IPA
Lamb Burger | Amber Ale
Lamb is a terrific choice for a burger, with its rich and almost gamey taste that is perfectly accentuated by smoked peppers and grilled onions. At The Farmhouse in Emmaus, Pa., the “lamburger” arrives with a glistening mound of crumbled feta cheese mixed with fresh parsley tabbouleh. A house made herbed yogurt smeared over the brioche bun serves as a tangy alternative to mayonnaise on this creation. Manager Ryan Sabo describes the flavors as “inspired by Mediterranean tradition, and pairs best with the Toasted Lager from Blue Point Brewing Co., that brings a malty balance to the grilled lamb and seasonings.”
At the Fish Tale Brew Pub in Olympia, Wa., the New Zealand lamb burger arrives topped with roasted red peppers, tzatziki, garlic-cucumber yogurt sauce, and is served on grilled Italian bread and paired with their very own Organic Amber Ale. Other beers to try:
- Bell’s Brewery, Inc. | Kalamazoo, MI | Amber Ale
- Breckenridge Brewery | Denver, CO | Avalanche Ale
- Rogue Ales | Ashland, OR | St. Rogue Red
- Anderson Valley Brewing Company | Boonville, CA | Boont Amber Ale
- Full Sail Brewing Company | Hood River, OR | Amber Ale
Walnut Burger | American Pale Ale or Dunkel
At the Trempealeau Hotel in northwest Wis., the vegetarian choice is a hearty walnut burger, made with ground walnuts, organic garlic, grated Cheddar and mozzarella cheese, and a mix of spices and tamari to heighten the savory nuts. These are best cooked on a flat-top grill or skillet perched over the barbecue, as the walnut patties are a bit crumbly. Served on a sliced roll with seasoned mayo and fresh alfalfa sprouts, these pair well with New Glarus Brewing Co.’s Moon Man Ale, or Sprecher Brewing Company’s Black Bavarian, which has a roasted malt and nutty finish that melds with the walnut burgers. Other beers to try:
- Mother Earth Brewing | Kinston, NC | Dark Cloud, Munich dunkel
- Sly Fox Beer | Phoenixville, PA | Dunkel Lager
- Smuttynose Brewing Company | Portsmouth, NH | Shoals Pale Ale
- Great Lakes Brewing Company | Cleveland, OH | Burning River Pale Ale
Salmon Burger | Kölsch or Summer Ale
This year’s harvest of Copper River sockeye and King salmon is huge, and fresh fish will be available into July. According to the fishing experts at the Copper River/Prince William Sound Association, Alaskan King salmon is the highest in omega-3 fish oil, with a rich, buttery texture that makes it perfect for burgers. Six Row Brewing Company in St. Louis, Mo., serves their salmon burger with chipotle aioli on thick grilled sourdough bread, and their Kölsch makes a spritzy accompaniment. Other beers to try:
- Alaskan Brewing Company | Juneau, AK | Summer Ale, Kölsch
- Magnolia Pub and Brewery | San Francisco, CA | Kalifornia Kölsch
- Steamworks Brewing Co. | Durango, CO | Colorado Kölsch
- Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen | Bellingham, WA | Kölsch
Recipe: Smoky Salmon Burgers
This recipe is adapted from the original by Mark Bittman, and uses the Savory Salmon Rub from Copper River’s Talkeetna Condiments Company. These burgers are cooked on seared wood planks for smoky flavor. Bonus: the plank will keep the tender burgers from falling apart on the grill.
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless salmon, semi frozen (frozen one hour)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp sweet onion, minced
2 Tbsp roasted red pepper, minced
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs or panko crumbs
1 Tbsp Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 Tbsp Savory Salmon Rub (or seasoning blend of brown mustard seed, turmeric, granulated garlic, lemon zest and cracked black pepper to taste)
Alder wood or cedar plank, soaked in cold water, at least 30 minutes
Nonstick cooking spray
Cut the salmon trimmings into 1-2 inch chunks and put 1/3 pound into a food processor fitted with the metal cutting blade, and add the mustard. Cover and pulse machine until the salmon becomes pasty.
Uncover the food processor and scrape sides. Add remaining salmon chunks, minced onion and red pepper. Cover and pulse the food processor several times, just until the salmon is chunky and mixed with the pasty blend, with bits of salmon about 1/4 inch in size. Do not over process or the burgers won’t stick together.
Use a spatula to scrape the mixture into a bowl, and mix in the bread crumbs, parsley and seasoning blend. Cover and chill one hour. Use your clean hands to shape the salmon mix into four patties. Place the patties on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover and chill for at least one hour.
Prepare the grill to 375°F and soak your wood plank in water for at least 30 minutes. Drain the wood plank and place it on the hot grill and let one side char black. Remove plank from grill, turn it over and spray the charred side with cooking spray, then place salmon burgers on the hot blackened wood.
Put the plank on the grill, cover and cook 8-10 minutes, or until fish reaches 140°F internal temperature. The salmon fat will turn white and oozy. Place burgers on toasted buns or cleaned lettuce leaves. Top with shaved cucumbers and sesame seeds, or sliced tomato and red onion. Pair with an Alaskan Brewing Company’s Summer Ale.
Lucy Saunders is the author of The Best of American Beer & Food, and explores craft beer and cuisine from her home in Milwaukee, Wis.