Serious Entertaining: Our Favorite Beer Pairings for a Late Summer Feast

Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.


There are few things I enjoy more than a good beer and a good summer barbecue, and there's no time like August to enjoy them both together. If you're entertaining between now and Labor Day, or just grilling for a few friends, having the right beer to complement your dishes can really take your cookout from plain old good to truly outstanding.

Here's our best take on a well-paired late summer feast.

Beer-Steamed Mussels with Wheat Beer

Beer-Steamed Mussels with Bacon

[Photograph: Marvin Gapultos]

Mussels are a great light starter, and these mussels are conveniently steamed in a refreshing beer that complements them perfectly. Witbier, or Belgian-style unfiltered wheat ale can be flavored with citrus (such as orange peel) and coriander. As a result, these fruity beers are perfect for washing down shellfish, tempering any intensity from the garlic and Dijon in the mussels, while adding a nicely sweet dimension to the flavor. Hoegaarden is one readily available option, but you might also be able to find Ommegang Witte from Cooperstown, New York. Or you can go German-style with a Hefeweizen, a beer style that's especially delicious with the bacon that spiffs up our mussels dish. Try Franziskaner or Hacker-Pschorr.

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Zucchini and Pesto Pizza with Pilsner

Zucchini & Pesto Pizza

[Photograph: Carolyn Cope]

This crisp and zesty zucchini and pesto pizza goes perfectly with the most simply crisp beer style of all, the pilsner. Czech pilsners offer uniquely refreshing hop bitterness, which balances the oily depth of flavor and light intensity of the pesto in this recipe. Pilsner Urquell is the quintessential pilsner, but the freshest beer is local: try your city's best brewery, or go with Pennsylvania's Victory Prima Pils for a slightly hoppy take on the style—it's one of our favorites. We also recommend Lagunitas Pils, which has a richer malty body to complement the pizza's crust.

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Main Course: Bacon Cheeseburger with IPA

Bacon Cheeseburger

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

A good, meaty bacon cheeseburger deserves an equally intense beer. Enter the India Pale Ale. IPAs are loaded with hops, and are sometimes intensely bitter as a result, but also full of other flavors: citrusy, floral, grassy, and herbal to start. The hoppiness of a good IPA complements nearly every flavor the burger provides on its own—the smoky sweetness of the bacon, the creamy tanginess of the cheddar and the sauce (Thousand Island-style mayo in this recipe, or my personal favorite, barbecue sauce) and the savory juiciness of the burger itself. Most craft breweries these days produce at least one IPA, so you should have lots to choose from. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA is a solid standard, though lucky folks in the Midwest and a few other states can drink delicious Bell's Two Hearted. California has Pliny the Elder, Massachusetts the resiny Ipswich IPA, and we could go on and on...

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Dessert: Coffee-Hazelnut Cocoa Coffee Cake with Stout

Coffee Coffee Cake

[Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

Now that you've run the gamut of flavors from refreshing and fruity to bitter and savory, you can finish off with this bold, nutty, and slightly sweet coffee-hazelnut cocoa coffee cake for dessert, which goes beautifully with stout. This beer style is are known for its smooth bitterness, not unlike dark chocolate or coffee—it's the result of roasted malt, not a ton of hops. A dark beer at the end of the meal ties up all the flavors from the previous dishes nicely, just as a slice of cake or a good cup of coffee would. A sweeter milk stout, like Left Hand Milk Stout or Keegan Ales Mother's Milk matches exceptionally well with desserts. If you're looking for something more intense, ramp it up with Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout, or The Abyss from Deschutes. Want to live on the edge? Try a smoked beer, like Stone Smoked Porter alongside your dessert.

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