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Industry Pros Suggest What to Drink With Burgers

In honor of Burger Week, we've surveyed industry insiders all about burgers, and we're sharing their responses all week. Up now: What is the perfect beverage pairing for a burger?

Alec Riveros"We do a lot of bourbon [at Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar], but I think spirits in general can be a little tricky to pair with food. The heat of any spirit coupled with any type of spice accentuates the spice of the dish. So, I’m going to stick to beer with the pairing. For me, the darker the better: brown ales, malty lagers, stouts, porters, barrel-aged beers.

Belgian-style beers, too. They aren’t focused on hops; they tend to be a little more balanced, a little rounder. [Somerville brewery] Aeronaut is making a saison-style beer, Saison of the Western Ghats. They’re just down the street from us; we’re lucky to be one of the few restaurants that has it on draft. I think that’s a great pairing. Again, you don’t have that bitter component of an overly-hopped beer. Typically, saisons will have some type of spice — coriander, orange peel, or different types of spices. I think that adds some complexity that works well with a burger.

[Allagash Brewing Company] is always being careful not to be too boozy, too rich, or too sweet, because that takes away from the food. We have the Curieux; that would be the one I recommend from barrel-aged beers.

Tying into how important I think texture is with food, texture in beer is also very important. We serve Old Rasputin, a Russian imperial stout, from North Coast [Brewing], on our nitro line. It’s a very creamy style of beer. That’s a good pairing for one of our burgers. The maltiness that really works well." —Alec Riveros, director of operations, Alpine Restaurant Group (Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar, Painted Burro, Posto)

Carl York"Burgers, man. They're delicious. They're also rich. I tend to go against the grain on this. I like light, acid-driven wines. I'll always remember reading this thing [chef] Jeremiah Tower wrote about how burgers and REALLY good Burgundy are beautiful companions. He's right. A really good bottle of Vosne-Romanee or Pommard (something with the density and the tannin in Burgundy-land) and a burger is special. On the Craigie menu right now, I'd opt for 2008 Pommard 1er Cru Pezerolles from Michel Lafarge. At Kirkland, I'd drink what we do best: Rustic red wines. Best choice of the moment is Chateau Vincens 'l'Origine' Cahors made from malbec in southwestern France." —Carl York, beverage director, Craigie on Main, Kirkland Tap & Trotter

Dominga Ruiz-de JesusDominga Ruiz-de Jesus' go-to burger pairing is the classic Belgian trappist beer Orval. "It's mild and tasty. It won't distract from flavors in the burger and it quenches your thirst." Any beverage she has alongside a burger needs "crispness, to cut through the fattiness of the burger meat or cheese." —Dominga Ruiz-de Jesus, beer buyer, The Butcher Shop

Eric Loring"The Seaport Honey Ginger IPA [a collaboration with Long Trail Brewing Co. made with honey collected from the Seaport Hotel’s rooftop beehives], for me, is the perfect companion for our TAMO Burger. The crisp acidity cuts through the lush beef, while the hoppiness cleanses the palate. The spicy liveliness of the ginger blends well with the savory caramelized onions, with the honey adding a touch of sweetness. It’s such a satisfying combination of flavors, magnified with the crown of bacon on top!" —Eric Loring, beverage director, The Seaport Hotel

Ezra Star"I love pairing a daiquiri with a burger. Citrus and salt are a match made in heaven. I also love to have cider with my burger. The acid from the apples really cuts through the fat of the meat and clears the way for another bite. [With a burger, any drink needs to be] something refreshing that counterbalances flavors in the meat and bun but also resets your palate for the next bite." —Ezra Star, general manager & head bartender, Drink

Hugh Fiore"Pairing a burger can be really hard. Some people like it with mustard. Some people like a lot of ketchup, or a ton of pickles. You don’t know what flavor profile that burger will have when they finally eat it. Beer is a classic pairing with a burger; it just has to be. It’s crisp, it’s light, it cleanses your palate. It’s a beautiful combination with that salty, sweet, charred on the outside.

Currently, I would probably drink a cider. I think ciders are going to explode this year. They’re just delicious. I like the sweetness. I have a giant sweet tooth, and ciders are a bit more sweet. The kind of burnt edges you get on a burger, the dark, bold flavors, work well with the sweetness of a cider. They balance each other really well. The sweetness also balances the saltiness of the fries, the cheese, the bacon, whatever it is that’s adding umami notes to your burger. It’s just a great way to wash it down. They’re also not as heavy: A burger can be heavy, and you don’t necessarily want a heavy pairing. I kind of want something that’s a little different. The other thing I would drink would be American bourbon. It’s also a little bit sweet. It’s just an easy go-to." —Hugh Fiore, bartender, Eastern Standard

Jacob Kress"The most classic pairing for a burger is beer, but it has to be the right type of beer. On our draught line we carry Cape Ann’s IPA, and although our local IPA champion Harpoon dominates sales, the Cape Ann [Brewing Company's Fisherman] IPA does fare well for itself against bigger brands. What separates it from other IPAs are the hops that they use. They give more earth-tone flavors, strong green notes of pine, and light malt flavor.

If I were to have an actual cocktail, there needs to be some type of carbonation involved. I would choose a strong bourbon, or a smoky single malt, and make the modified version of an Old Fashioned by adding club soda. An Old Fashioned is great to have, but there need to be some bubbles that cut through the fat of the burger, so take that Old Fashioned and top it off with a splash of club soda." —Jacob Kress, bar/floor manager, Grill 23 & Bar

Kai Gagnon"When it comes down to burgers, I want something that’s refreshing. Beer works. Sometimes sparkling wine works the same way. As far as wine goes, it’s gotta be refreshing, so I usually go for light, fruity, high-acid reds. It goes well with beef, and it’s refreshing. [Acid] does a few things: It’s the same reason you’re drinking lemonade if you’re not drinking alcohol. Lemonade has a lot of acids, and therefore, it’s refreshing. It’s almost more refreshing than water because of that acidity.

One of my favorite red wines is cheverny, typically a blend of pinot noir and gamay grapes from the Loire Valley. It has all of the qualities that make it really good with both beef and cheese: The fruit in it really amplifies the flavor of beef, and it’s got plenty of acidity. That’s one kind of sad thing about beer: For the most part, beer lacks acid, unless it’s a more sour style from Belgium or Germany. I think that’s one thing that wine has over beer that I appreciate. It’s like squeezing a lemon on something: That interaction makes all the flavors you’re eating more alive.

[But] I had a Guinness at [R.F.] O’Sullivan’s the other day with my burger, and I really like it because it’s dry. That’s what I tend to go for, something more dry than sweet in that situation. The burger’s already so rich. Another thing I go for is low alcohol. It keeps it refreshing." —Kai Gagnon, beverage director, Bergamot, BISq

Mark Grande"If I was going out with three of my friends at Bondir and we’re getting burgers [Bondir Cambridge does not currently offer a burger, but Bondir Concord does at lunch and on Monday nights], it’s not the corner bar. I want that experience. I want to go big. [A 1995 Chianti classico from Fattoria di Felsina Berardenga] is a high-end wine. Just to plug Bondir a little, this is an absolute steal. It’s [on our list] in the $125 range. This is a 20-year-old wine. Some people hear 'chianti' and think chianti’s kind of shit, which is predominantly true, but chianti classico are all very good. What I love about it is sangiovese [grapes], which are known for having bright acidity, fresh acidity. With a lot of age, it’s going to soften a little, but it’s still there. It’s the perfect pairing. Why does ketchup complement a burger? Tomatoes, acidity, vegetal qualities. This wine is the same way. I get a lot of dried herbs from this — dried rosemary, parsley, oregano. You also get a little tomatoey, leafy greens. You could put this on the meat, you know? [laughs]

If any of your readers are looking for something that is not that expensive, go with any sangiovese from Italy. I bought [a 2011 sangiovese from the Emilia-Romagno region in Italy] at the store just to prove you can get it; it was in the $15 range. This is going to be a lot brighter, more fruit. You’ll taste a lot of tart cherry. The fruit’s going to be very young, whereas [the flavors in the first wine] are much more developed. Those tertiary flavors really come out in the bottle over the age. This one has a lot more fruit presence, but still the same things: A lot of dried herbs in there, a lot of acid in there. It’s a very similar expression.

What I love about syrahs, especially from the Rhone [Valley in France], is they actually have a mineral-y, meaty quality to it. Black pepper is definitely on this [2009 syrah, Pierre Gaillard, "Les Pierres", Saint-Joseph], and it does have meatiness. That’s a good pairing with the burger. It has a little less acid, but it’s also more heavy: That dryness, those tannins, that astringency in your palate is present. When you’re eating meat, that’s nice. It gives back. It’s a great compliment.

If you just want a nice wine you can enjoy with food, Cotes du Rhone is it for a lot of reasons. You can find it everywhere. This [2013 Domaine D’Ouréa] is a granache syrah blend. I think this one has more grenache [grapes] than syrah in it, but you get those same kind of qualities. It's a very similar expression, but you can get it everywhere." —Mark Grande, general manager, Bondir Cambridge

Megan Parker-Gray"I have a great love for really aromatic, soft style of IPA, the kinds of IPAs [Fort Point's own] Trillium will brew, or [Everett-based] Enlightenment Ales. In Vermont, Hill Farmstead's [type of IPA]. Those are the kinds of beers that make people who think they don’t like IPAs say, "I LOVE THIS!" It’s not over-the-top like a big, West Coast style; it’s a totally different spectrum. Talking about burgers, those style of beers are my favorite to pair with. Burgers are hard to pair with, I think. But the weight of that [style of IPA], the texture of that beer is refreshing and still complex, and it’s just a really nice marriage between the two. For Trillium, the Fort Point, that’s one of my favorites. That with the burger would be awesome. That’s one of those soft IPAs. Melcher Street from them is a favorite of mine. This one has got this awesome, clean finish. It’s a little bit lighter-bodied than the Fort Point. The Illumination [farmhouse IPA from Enlightenment] is another one that would be on that list for me." —Megan Parker-Gray, beer director, Row 34

Meredith Gallagher"When I think about pairing wine with a carnal and umami-rich burger such as the one that [chef] Matt [Jennings] has created for Townsman, I crave something that is just a bit savage with some leather and earth, but plenty of acidity and balance to add length and clarity of taste after each bite. I'm immediately drawn to great winemakers from the south of France, and most notably the 2010 Bandol from Chateau de Pibarnon. It's a stunning, mouth-watering expression of Mourvèdre that's beautiful all on its own, but when paired with a well-crafted burger, the layers of complexity and depth of flavor really shine through." —Meredith Gallagher, wine director, Townsman

Mike Wyatt"An ice cold Coca Cola or a can of beer. No reason to get fancy here. Of course you can enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine alongside a burger, but who's doing that at a burger joint or a cookout?" —Michael Wyatt, bar manager, Ward 8

Sean Frederick"My latest beer obsession is a Rothaus Pils Tannenzäpfle, German for 'tiny pinecone.' This pilsener [from German brewery Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus] is like Bud from the Black Forest: crisp and crystal-clear, with a perfect hint of maltiness that makes it run circles around its Clydesdale-driven American cousins. If you're not looking for a beer, it’s always fun to pair a buttoned-up martini with a killer burger, letting the former loosen its tie. Our Dry Plymouth Martini Service at Townsman comes with a lemon twist, Castelvetrano olive, and our house-made cocktail onion that's been pickled with sherry vinegar, juniper, and Szechuan pepper. It'a a great high-low pairing." —Sean Frederick, bar director, Townsman

Steve GilardeSteve Gilarde's go-to burger pairing is a young, red wine made exclusively for The Butcher Shop, Heinrich RedCat. "It's got enough structure to stand up to a burger and enough brightness to keep you coming back for a taste in between bites." Any beverage he has alongside a burger needs "tannin that marries well with the beef fat, and a nice, bright acidity that refreshes your palate while enjoying such a rich meal." —Steve Gilarde, bartender, The Butcher Shop

Thea Engst"Depending on the burger, you can pair a variety of drinks with it. I usually like a sour beer, and of course, a whiskey never hurt any burger. My go-tos are St. Louis Gueuze [Fond Tradition, from Belgian brewery Brouwerij van Honsebrouck N.V.] and pretty much anything by [Michigan-based] Jolly Pumpkin. Whiskey depends on my mood; I love Buffalo Trace Bourbon and High West Campfire if I'm looking for a little smoke.

I think it's safe to recommend an IPA with any burger. West Coast IPAs are always my favorite because I love bitter and hoppy. Green Flash West Coast IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5, and Ballast Point Sculpin are my top three. Lagers and pilsners go with anything, and if you're in the mood for a cocktail, I'd go strong and stirred. But something tiki at a barbecue is pretty awesome, too!" —Thea Engst, bar manager, River Bar

Todd Lipman"I love and often crave a good burger. A well-seasoned, well-dressed burger deserves an equally intense beverage partner. The notion of intensity here is not necessarily reduced to sheer flavor, but to one of many possible taste-oriented sensations. Lightly sweet with mildly bitter (Aperol and ginger ale with a splash of Orange Juice); intensely acidic (Boon Geuze lambic Ale); mildly fruity with prominent acidity (Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile riesling); deeply fruity and of varying degrees of astringency (cru Beaujolais, Pineau d'Aunis, pinot noir, cabernet, syrah ... have some fun). A balance of intensity in some variation is the key.

For beer, if the burger is simple, go with a simple can or bottle of American IPA or German pilsner; bacon and mushrooms deserve a porter or stout." —Todd Lipman, head sommelier, Bistro du Midi

All photos courtesy of the restaurants. Megan Parker-Gray by Morgan Ione Photography.

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