How to pair beer with a barbecue, from steak with IPA to craft lager with mackerel

·5-min read
Fire and water: beer and barbecued food are a match made in heaven  (Oliver White-Smith)
Fire and water: beer and barbecued food are a match made in heaven (Oliver White-Smith)

This summer has been a capricious one – April showers in August, more hot-and-cold than a hostel shower – but when the sun’s out, the coals should be hot, the grill should be clean(ish) and the fridge stocked.

Beer is a given for a barbecue – though wine can be paired easily, too. But what to go for? Cheap lager has its place, but sometimes a little flavour is in order. The mystifying breadth of beer can be overwhelming to comprehend, though, so below, Joe Thomson, the founder of Firebrand Brewing Co, gives his tips for what to drink when.

Giving Thompson dishes to pair with is Ian Warren, the managing director of Philip Warren butchers, who supply some of London’s best restaurants, including Blacklock, Ikoyi, and the recently-overhauled, two Michelin-starred Kitchen Table. Philip Warren and Firebrand are neighbours, with their headquarters sat within two minutes of each other down in Cornwall.

From flat slabs of steak to corn on the cob, here’s Warren’s tricks for perfecting the food, and Thomson’s tips for getting the beer right. Come on barbie, let’s go party.

The meat


What to eat?

As a steak with super soft muscle and natural marbling throughout, barbecuing a rib eye at a high temperature really lets the cut shine. The fat melts beautifully, spreading throughout the meat to keep it juicy and super tasty. The rump cap (picanha) is also an excellent choice.

What to drink?

Beers that are more bitter beers go well with red meats, as they will balance out the rich flavours. Something dry and crisp is guaranteed to be perfect. With America arguably being the home of the great red-meat barbecue, go for an American-inspired beer.

If you’re going for one of ours, we have Firebrand West Coast Session IPA. Brewed just like how they do it in the American West, this one is full of tropical, refreshing flavours and has that dry, crisp bitterness that compliments a good bit of beef.


What to eat?

When we have chicken, we often go for thighs. We love a spicy marinade on this; we make ours using Gochujang paste, honey, soy sauce and lime.

What to drink?

You’ll want a sweeter pale ale to go with this, as sweeter flavours will compliment the spiciness of the chicken, especially as the flavours of the chicken will caramelize on the barbecue. A stronger beer is also the thing to go for, as it will cut through the spice and cleanse the palate. Anything that fits that profile should work; from ours, try the Patchwork Rocket Pale, which is full of pleasing melon, peach and pine flavours from a heavy dose of Apollo and Mosaic hops. Its sweet, malty base and smooth, clean bitterness will pair perfectly with the sweet, fiery chicken.

The fish

What to eat?

When I want a quick supper, we often grill mackerel on the barbecue with garlic, lemon and olive oil; get that comforting herbiness in there, with the lemon adding a bit of freshness, too. I like sourcing my fish from Cornish day boats.

What to drink?

Beach days are not complete without a lager, and luckily it’s the perfect beer to go with fish cooked on the barbecue. Of course, it’s a question of picking the right one - generally, craft lagers or even Belgian lagers have the freshness you’ll need to pair with the mackerel. Either way, the carbonation cuts through the oiliness of the fish, and it has that fresh taste which I like to think echoes the sea. In our stuff, we say the taste of the sea is never far away, since all of our batches are brewed using fresh Cornish spring water. In the Helles Beach lager, this works alongside Cascade hops for a fresh citrus taste which matches perfectly with fish.

The vegetables

Corn on the cob

What to eat?

The kids absolutely love a just-boiled corn on the cob, speckled with freshly milled black pepper and rolled in melted butter - but then again, so do we! Have some if you get the chance - now is the perfect time to enjoy some British corn.

What to drink?

Smething sweet and boozy is just as moreish, and makes the perfect accompaniment. More intense hop flavours will work well with the lighter flavours of non-meat dishes, but choose something softer so it is not overpowering. Brewed with pale malt and oats, something our Thundercloud New England IPA, with its cloudy haze and sweet mango aroma, is perfect.


What to eat?

This summer veg is a favourite in the Warren family as it lends itself incredibly well to the flames. Slice lengthways and griddle until soft, flipping once like a steak to get those pleasing charred lines. Simply finish with salt (no surprise, we like Cornish Sea Salt!), a glug of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a dusting of chopped mint or basil.

What to drink?

There are two routes here. A fresh lager should again do the trick here - just like with the fish, the crispness will cut through nicely but, if you’re in search of more flavour, just like with the corn, try something sweeter and boozier. If you’re opting for courgettes as you’re avoiding meat for the moment, maybe trying to stay a little healthier, barbecue season can often be the hardest time to stick to the plan but you’re skipping on the alcohol as well as the meat, there are now some great alcohol-free beers out there. My favourite are brewed by Big Drop Brewing, while Erdinger’s 0.5% is another good choice, and is available from most supermarkets.

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