J Wells Brewery

Photo by Jackie Collins

What:  Six Best Brews to impress at a Summer BBQ.

When:  July 4th, any time before the cold sets in

Why:  Avoiding bringing duds to the company barbecue or family get-together

Believe it or not, I find it more difficult to decide which beer to bring to a barbecue than to any other function.  It’s difficult to find a refreshing brew with a low enough abv to allow you to have more than two without making a spectacle of yourself.  On top of that, it has to have big enough flavor to compete with the spicy, sweet, and/or smoky fare you will be pairing with your brews.

Barbecues in the Napa Valley of Beer

Before you discount this article with a statement about how the meat is the star of any BBQ, I would argue that a good pairing can bring out the flavor of any dish.  Therefore, picking the right beverage to bring to your summer shindig is just as important as the cut of steak or brand of bratwurst.  Bring the wrong beer, and your family, friends, or co-workers might think you don’t know an IPA from a Stout.

In order to avoid that faux pas, here is a list of Colorado brews  that you can bring to any outdoor function and impress:

Thai Style White IPA, Upslope

While I once described this beer as “not for the faint of heart,” it has grown on me quite a bit since I first tried it, and I think it’s perfect for spicy BBQ.  It has plenty of spice flavor of its own, so it will stand toe-to-toe with anything your grill-master has to offer.  It also brings plenty of hops flavor to cut through sticky sauces or creamy aiolis, and finishes cleanly enough that you’ll be refreshed and ready for more.  If you’re partying with more timid beer drinkers, this may not be for them, but it’s absolutely great if you like a complex beer that’s refreshing and delicious.

Twelve Degree Brewing

Photo provided by Twelve Degree Brewing

Walter’s White, Twelve Degree Brewing

There’s a certain degree of pride in being the guy who arrives at the barbecue with growlers.  This beer, easily my favorite on tap at Twelve Degree, is the universal beverage for any BBQ.  It’s dry and sour enough to be the perfect palate cleanser while mild enough that it won’t scare off those new to the style.  The light fruitiness will compliment most sauces without being overwhelmed, and the aroma is the kind of thing you wish you could find in the cologne section at Macy’s.  An impressive brew that noobs and seasoned drinkers alike can enjoy–just make sure you have cups.

400 Pound Monkey IPA, Left Hand Brewing

To be honest, anything from Left Hand could have been included in this list.  They have the inexplicable ability to make any beer refreshing and tasty.  But if I had to choose one, this would be my go-to.  Its combination of hops and malt combines the bitter and the sweet in perfect harmony without toning down either.  One of the few IPAs you can enjoy without having your tongue kicked out, try and ignore the 6.8% abv and just pace yourself.  It’s one of those rare beers whose flavor changes as it gets warmer, but is not worse warm or cold.

Jamie’s Pale, J Wells Brewery

It might seem like I’ve been flogging J Wells more than the other breweries I’ve visited.  After all, I’ve reviewed the brewery, and I added Hop Haze onto my list of beers for Father’s Day.  But really, I just like talking about great beer, and that’s what they make at J Wells.  It’s the lowest abv on tap there, and its mix of floral and fruity aroma and sweet, bitter flavor makes it a perfect match for big flavor BBQ.  But what makes this beer perfect for a barbecue is how cleanly it leaves your mouth afterwards, making it more refreshing than your average pale.  Keep it on ice or let it get warm–it doesn’t matter.  Jamie’s Pale is great no matter at what temperature you enjoy it.

Mama's Little Yella Pils

Photo provided by Oskar Blues Brewing

Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues

Easily the most refreshing beer of the list, you can’t go wrong with a Czech Pilener that’s made this well.  It’s got a bright yellow color with a good frothy head, but tastes just as good straight out of the can.  It’s got a malty, yeasty flavor and very light hops, but brings a light body that’s perfect for a hot day.  This is my go-to when I come home from a hard day because it’s so refreshing, but it brings big flavor that will match up to spice and smoke and bitter enough to cut through the mayo in potato or pasta salad.  The food at your BBQ will taste better because you’re drinking this beer.

Pineapple Cider, Wild Cider

Say what you will about the gluten-free movement–if you’re throwing a summer office get-together, you should probably provide a GF alternative for some of your coworkers.  You could just ignore them, guaranteeing that they leave after a half hour, or you could introduce them to this brew from the folks at Wild Cider.  It has the look of a beer with the tropical taste that pairs perfectly with Colorado summer sunshine.  It also brings a pretty big flavor for a cider, with enough pineapple sweetness without blowing out your tastebuds.  Just make sure you bring enough, because your non-GF friends will probably want to get in on the action.

Of course, there are dozens of brews that could have made this list in one way or another.  That’s the great thing about living in the Denver/Boulder area–there is no shortage of skilled brewers working their craft within driving (if not walking) distance.  Tweet me your own recommendations for BBQ beers, or of you enjoying some of the choices I’ve made here.  I’m interested to see what Colorado is drinking this summer!