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Hoops on Hops: Beers for the summer barbecue

Grilled chicken pairs well with a classic Hefeweizen, Belgian wit or Gose beer. File / News Tribune

Now that Grandma's Marathon has come and gone, summer in Duluth gets rolling. Barbecue season is open for business (although like many, I tend to grill year-round). There's nothing like the smell of a barbecue grill to spell summer, so I'm going to highlight some styles of beer that go well with typical backyard fare.

As I've often said before: if you like a certain beer, then that beer is the right choice for your grill-out. "Always drink what you like best" is my motto. If you're looking for something new, I'm offering some pairing ideas that you can try out.

The quadfecta of grilling in my mind is beef, fish, pork and chicken. That being said, I have grilled these along with breakfast, pizza, veggies — and even popcorn. So, nothing is off limits here. Let's start with the classics.

Burgers. The all-American meal off the grill is a good place to start. I am a big fan of Pale Ale with my cheeseburger. The balanced hop and malt notes accentuate the grilled meat along with the ketchup, mustard, lettuce and tomatoes on your classic burger. I'm getting hungry writing this, honestly. In fact, it will be burgers at our house for dinner tonight.

Steak. For steak, I like to pair a nice lager beer (a Pilsener is my go-to), but Helles lagers or Vienna lagers are also great. A crisp and dry lager beer cleans the palate and says "Give me another bite of steak" perfectly.

Fish. I'm going with walleye here, as it's my favorite, and an amber or brown ale is the ticket. Slightly sweet, malty and just perfect with the buttery lightness of the fish. Slightly charred — or not — it's a great balanced pairing. Salmon is also a great fish for grilling. Whether you like it with traditional butter and parsley or maybe a teriyaki marinade, a lighter bodied or even fruited wheat beer would be delicious with salmon, as it draws on the distinctive flavor of this fish.

Pork. This meat is sweet and succulent, so the beer needs to be dry and full-bodied. My choice is stout, ideally an Irish stout. Porter is also a good choice for pork.

Chicken. Grilled chicken is a family staple in our home, and my go-to here is a classic Hefeweizen. Belgian wit, and Gose are also great complimentary flavors for fowl.

Veggies. For corn on the cob, a good old-fashioned American lager is a great choice. We have a constant debate at our house over the merits of Coors Banquet vs. Grainbelt Premium. Try them both and others. Let me know what you think; I'd love to hear the feedback. Baked potatoes on the grill are wonderful with an amber lager or a Munich-style lager. Green vegetables such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts and even spiced green beans are a great complement to a nice hoppy IPA.

Now let's look at some unordinary grilled meals.

Breakfast. Breakfast on the grill calls for a breakfast beer. For me, pancakes, eggs and bacon are all about fruit beer. Apricot, peach and mango beers all pair perfectly with these foods. Substitute one for orange juice, and you're good to go.

Pizza. On the grill, pizza calls for a hoppy beer choice, no doubt. IPA, double IPA, Imperial pale ale, and of course, session IPA or pale. Just make sure there are plenty of hops to enjoy your slice with.

Chili and Goulash. It's fun to make a pot of something on the grill, so take your choice, hotdish works here, too. We did a lot of this style of grilling during July 2016 when most of Duluth lost power (for six days!) because of the huge storm that raked through Duluth. I'm going to pick a black lager, schwarztbier or imperial stout with these dishes because the flavor of the food is the star, and the big, bold beer needs to stand up to these flavors.

I'll end with the craziest grill choice ever, again an idea that cropped up in July 2016: popcorn! Fresh and buttery on the grill, try it! The kids loved it, and it was great fun. The beer: Mexican lager, Tecate, Dos Equis, etc., are just a perfect match.

Happy Grilling y'all. I love summer in Duluth.

Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at dave@hoopsbrewing.com.

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