Growing up, the only choice of drink to pair with the steak my mom prepared for dinner was a nice, tall glass of milk. As I got older, of course, that glass of milk turned into a glass of red wine, which has been the only beverage I’ve paired with steak ever since. But certainly wine and milk aren’t my only options, right?
Most definitely not. In fact, according to food scientist Brian Chau, beer is beginning to rival wine as the most popular beverage to wash down your red meat with. “Especially with the rise of microbreweries and the complexity of flavors based on each microbatch,” he tells me, “there are a lot of beers that can pair with the different flavor profiles of a steak.”
What Beer Pairs with Steak?
For starters, you can’t just throw any old beer next to whichever steak comes off the grill. “When looking at beers, you have different types of classifications — from lagers to IPAs to stouts to sours,” Chau explains. “Likewise, the type of steak from a sirloin to a New York strip to a ribeye to filet mignon all vary in flavors between the fat-to-protein ratio, the breed and the doneness or texture based on the cooking.”
For Kevin Ashford, World Beer Cup champion and head brewer at Figueroa Mountain Brewing, deciding which beer to pair with steak “all comes down to the preparation.” “Is the cut fatty like a ribeye, or lean like sirloin or hanger?” he says. “For fattier cuts that are seasoned simply, I enjoy a beer that’s bittersweet to break up the richness of each bite.”
Chau agrees with that sentiment. “The more bitter, dark, coffee-like, roasted and smoky flavors of a stout, porter or IPA are able to contrast well with heartier, meatier cuts of steak that are tough, more medium to well done, and with fat,” he says.
To that end, Chicago-based chef and restaurateur K.C. Gulbro loves to “pair porters or stouts with a fatty steak like a ribeye.” “I love pairing Sam Adams’ lager with a slow roasted plate of short ribs with a touch of spice and served over fondant potatoes with white beans,” he says. “The lager has enough caramel notes to go great with braised meats.”
For more tender pieces of steak cooked medium rare to rare, Chau says lighter lagers, sours, amber ales and fruity beers can complement the beef. “The steak should shine in the dish, and the beer should balance in delicate flavors,” he explains.
The same applies to steaks that might be “more aggressively seasoned — think chimichurri, spicy salsa, horseradish sauce and BBQ,” says Ashford. “The carbonation and dry bitterness of styles like pale ales, IPAs and pilsners help give your palate a break between each intense bite, and have ranging hop profiles that could really set off the seasoning.”
“A New England or citrus IPA, for instance, pairs nicely with a nice cajun rub on ribeyes,” Gulbro adds. “Whereas ales and pilsners will go well with a leaner steak like a New York strip or filet.”
Now that you’ve got the foundation of where to start, the best beer to pair with steak is the pairing you discover yourself by trying different combinations. “Experimenting with types of beer to types of steak takes time, since you’re learning to understand how you specifically like your steak and beer, much like how wine is paired with meals,” Chau concludes.
Luckily, we have many more options now than I ever did growing up, when the only real choice was between 2 percent and skim.