Best of Washington: Brews for Summer Food
Cookouts with burgers and steaks, Old Bay–spiced crab feasts, steamed lobsters with a bit of drawn butter. To drink? Nothing’s more refreshing than a cold beer.
We asked two local beer gurus—Greg Engert of Alexandria’s Rustico and Bill Catron of downtown DC’s Brasserie Beck—to share their choice of beer to go with summer foods. Each offered a favorite, then an alternative that’s more widely available.
At Beck, Catron presides over one of the top Belgian beer collections outside of Belgium. Engert’s beer list at Rustico offers 300 craft brews—and counting.
With Crabs: Cool It Off
Engert: Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning, a pilsner from Baltimore. “The rounded, rich, malty center contrasts with—and cools—the spice of the Old Bay seasoning, while the snappy, floral hop finish balances the sweetness of the crab.” Alternate: Pilsner Urquell. “This lighter, classic Czech pilsner’s malt will help cool the Old Bay slightly.”
Catron: Pilsners such as Eggenberg from Austria. “This lighter style of beer has a slight hop bite at the finish to cut through the spice of the Old Bay.” Alternate: Carlsberg Pils from Copenhagen. A similarly light pilsner from the world’s fifth-largest brewer.
With Burgers: Going Light
Engert: Firestone Double Barrel Ale, an amber from California: “It has all of the fruity, caramelized malt to pick up on the charred burger.” If you pile your patty with cheese and bacon, this beer is an even better match. Alternate: Smithwick’s. “A classic Irish red that will bring caramel malt sweetness and draw out the beef’s flavor.”
Catron: Burgers are filling on their own, so Catron recommends lighter-bodied Belgians like De Koninck: “light in body despite its light brown color, and very refreshing.” Alternate: Hoegaarden, a refreshing and popular Belgian white ale with “hints of coriander and orange peel.”
With Steak: Add to the Flavor
Engert: Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock, a robust-flavored German lager: “Its pronounced carbonation and hop bitterness slice through the fat of the steak, and the juicy malt mingles with the meat’s juicy flavors.” Alternate: Samuel Adams Boston Lager: “more hop punch than your average American macro-lager.”
Catron: An India Pale Ale made with “floral and oily” American hops. A favorite is Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA from Mendocino, California; “you need a medium-bodied beer that can stand up to the steak’s complex flavor.” Alternate: Anchor Steam beer, an “all-time American classic” from San Francisco.
With Lobster: Dance Upon Its Richness
Engert: De Glazen Toren Jan de Lichte, a Belgian witbier that “dances upon the lobster’s richness.” The beer’s “almost buttery” malt “makes the traditional accoutrements of warm butter and lemon wedge extraneous.” Alternate: American-style witbiers such as Allagash White or Blue Moon—“Albeit in a lighter fashion, these provide the citric, spicy, vanilla flavors that make the Jan de Lichte such an amazing match for lobster.”
Catron: Bell’s Oberon, a seasonal beer for summer from Kalamazoo, Michigan: “Hints of citrus and spice would definitely complement the lobster.” Alternate: A Hefeweizen such as Weihenstephaner Hefe-Weissbier, from the world’s oldest brewery (circa 1040) in Freising, Germany: “The light, slightly sweet spices in this beer bring out the lobster’s sweetness.”
Shopping for Good Beer
Whole Foods Markets in DC and Virginia have wide selections of craft beer (Maryland stores do not sell alcohol). In DC, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits (chevychasewine.com) has hundreds of beer selections. Engert also frequents De Vino’s (de-vinos.com), a wine shop north of Dupont Circle with lots of great beers.
Every beer that Engert recommends can be purchased to go at Rustico at competitive retail prices—and you can mix and match your own six-pack. In Virginia, Catron likes Total Wine & More (totalwine.com), whose locations include Alexandria, McLean, Chantilly, and Manassas.
In Maryland, Corridor Wines & Spirits (wineaccess.com/store/corridorwine) in Laurel has hundreds of imported and American microbrews for sale by the bottle, six-pack, or case.