Summer Pairing 101: The Best Wines, Beers, and Cocktails for the Grill

The top booze for burgers, vino with seafood, brews for chicken, and more.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

Summer grilling season is upon us, and we’re raring to stoke the coals for Father’s Day on Sunday. The big question: What to drink? We asked the beverage gurus at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group to give us their favorite pairings for common backyard barbecue dishes such as burgers, seafood kebabs, veggies, and more.

If you’ve eaten at Birch & Barley/ChurchKey, Iron Gate, Vermilion, or any other of the NRG spots, chances are you’ve ordered wine from Brent Kroll’s list, sipped one of Greg Engert’s beers, or sampled a tasty cocktail from Jeff Faile. Each oversees his area of liquid expertise at the restaurants, and they all have an eye for unusual finds and pairings.

While the suggestions are meant to spice up your grilling with non-generic drinks, all can be found locally. Kroll recommends Planet Wine for his selection; Engert likes Whole Foods (specifically the P Street location) for beers; while Faile is a fan of shopping for spirits at Ace Beverage. You can also search these top-notch stores from our Where Foodies Shop issue. Happy sipping for summer.

Hot dogs and sausages

The Rosa
“The Rosa is an easy drinker,” says Faile, which he makes by pouring Cocchi Americano Rosa (an aperitif wine, available for $18) over ice with a splash of lemon juice and topping it with club soda. “The lemon provides acid to cut through the fat of the dog or sausage, and it’s light enough in alcohol to have more than one.” 

2012 Wiemer, Gewürztraminer, Finger Lakes, New York ($25)
“I generally think that a hot dog should have spicy mustard,” says Kroll. “Gewürztraminer is one of my top picks to offset spice, and this is one of my favorite producers.  The wine is floral, with fruit flavors of white peach and nectarine, and notes of baking spice that add to the complexity. The soft texture is great with pork and hot dogs alike.” Fun fact: The Gewürztraminer vines are the oldest in the Finger Lakes, which share the same latitude as Germany. 

Boulevard Brewing Company’s 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Ale ($9.99 to $11.99 for a six-pack)
“Subtly nuanced and bone-dry with a pinpoint bitterness, this brew livens up any dog,” says Engert. He also likes the lemony, zesty hops in the brew, which pair well with hot dog toppings and seasoned sausages.

Burgers and cheeseburgers

Mezcal margaritas
“This is a nice savory cocktail,” says Faile. “You can play up the smokiness of the cookout with the mezcal, but you can still keep it light with the citrus.” Faile likes El Peloton de la Muerte Joven Mezcal, available for roughly $30.

2006 Martinez Laquesta, Rioja Reserva, Spain ($18)
“The richness of a burger is going to soften the tannin in red wine, making the fruit more apparent,” says Kroll. “This wine has a lot of nice acidity if the burger has a tomato. It also has cool herb and dill components derived from American oak, which makes the pairing more refreshing.” 

Bluejacket’s Nobody’s Darling Black Lager (available exclusive from Bluejacket, $10 for a 750 ml. bottle)
“The brew’s crisp effervescence explodes into the burger, digging into the meat’s richness,” says Engert of the beer, a collaboration with Great Raft Brewing out of Louisiana. “The roasted flavors of the black beer also complement the grilled exterior of the burger.”

Marinated chicken

Dolin Blanc on the rocks ($13)
“Always one of my favorite summertime sips,” says Faile of this vermouth. “It’s floral enough to pair with any hops if you’re making beer-can chicken, and the slight sweetness will match up with the sodium bomb from a soy-sauce marinade.” 

2012 Terre Nere, Etna Rosso, Sicily, Italy ($20)
“I really like Pinot Noir for a marinated chicken dish, and this wine is made from Nerello Mascalese, which is Sicily’s answer to Pinot Noir,” says Kroll. “You get ripe red fruit, prolific acidity, and some French oak influence. It’s a refreshing red, and not overly powerful.”

Andechser Weissbier Dunkel ($4.99 to $5.99 for a 16.9-ounce bottle)
“Grilled, marinated chicken calls for something bold in flavor, yet restrained in body and richness,” says Engert. “This beer has wonderful dark bread and raisin notes.” Another plus: the heady, clove-like smell, which Engert says adds an extra layer of seasoning to the bird.

Seafood kebabs and fish tacos

Classic margarita
“If you’re using a good tequila, which is 100-percent blue agave, you should get enough vegetal notes for dishes like seafood tacos,” says Faile. He also likes margaritas for the lime, which gives the seafood an extra hit of citrus.

2012 Gavalas, Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece ($18)
“Santorini is home to one of Greece’s most prolific white grapes, Assyrtiko,” says Kroll. “The vines face salty breezes from the Aegean Sea, which gives the wines a great savory component with seafood.” The bottle he picks has notes of apple, pear, and pineapple, and pairs well with a variety of seafood dishes.

Troublesome from Off-Color Brewing ($10.99 to $12.99 for a four-pack)
“This beer is dynamite with grilled seafood of any ilk, providing a counterbalancing acidity to the brine of shrimp or fish,” says Engert of the Chicago brewery’s gose-style beer, a blend of wheat beer and a funky, fermented brew. “It’s energizing with light citrus notes, like a squeeze of lemon.”

Grilled veggies, such as mushrooms and eggplant, and vegetarian burgers

The Boulevardier
Faile mixes an ounce and a half of bourbon with an ounce each of Campari and sweet vermouth (such as Dolin) for this robust cocktail. You can drink it straight up or on the rocks. “The Campari and sweet vermouth add a nice herbaceous quality, which brings out the herbs and spices commonly found in veggie burgers.”

2012 Palazzone, Orvieto, Umbria, Italy ($18)
“I pick the Orvietto because I’ve had this pair well with numerous vegetable dishes,” says Kroll. “It’s also one of the rare wines that also won’t fight with green vegetables.”

Foothills Brewing Company’s People’s Porter ($9.99 to $11.99 for a six-pack)
“A well-balanced porter suits the earthy qualities of grilled portobellos and eggplant,” says Engert. “It boasts mildly roasted hints of cocoa and coffee, while the nutty and peppery notes complement the vegetable’s meat-like character.”

Ribeye steaks

The Rob Roy
“For something big and bold, you go big and bold: the Rob Roy, a Scotch version of a Manhattan,” says Faile. The recipe is simple—a two-to-one ratio of Scotch to vermouth, served up or on the rocks—and you can play around with the ingredients. For a sweeter version, Faile recommends a Speyside Scotch. For a smokier and bolder taste, try an Islay single-malt.

2009 Château Pibarnon, Bandol Rouge “Les Restanques de Pibarnon” Provence, France ($27)
“I love Rhone-style wines with rich steak,” says Kroll. “They have ripeness and complexity, and you normally have more going on than just fruit.
“This is a nice change of pace from Rhone Valley reds; a mix of 70-percent Mouvedre and 30-percent Grenache grapes, which each play a part. It has great notes raspberry and blackberry, with bold enough tannins for steak.”  

Jolly Pumpkin’s La Roja ($12.99 to $14.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle)
“This sour red ale is reminiscent of red wine,” says Engert. “It slumbers in oak-barrel cellars and releases waves of red fruit. Tannins and acidity cut into the meat as well, lightening the richness of the cut, softening the intensity of the brew, and leaving the rib eye even juicier than when it was first pulled sizzling from the grill.”

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.