If you’re like most modern beer drinkers, you like to sample the local cuisine when you travel. And thanks to the proliferation of breweries these days, it’s now pretty easy to pair regional specialties with beer produced not too far from the source.
Though not all brewers are thinking of their native terroir when they write recipes, quite a few offer choices that are specifically worth pairing with the most popular local delicacies. Here are nine cities in which the delectable cuisine and the top-notch brews complement one another perfectly.
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Some states have crabs. A few, like Louisiana, Florida, and California, have pretty good crabs. But no one else has Maryland blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, dumped out onto a newspaper-topped table while steaming hot and completely covered in spicy Old Bay seasoning. A few years ago, Flying Dog Brewery released Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale to a lot of fanfare. With bright citrus hops, a low ABV, and Old Bay added to the boil, Dead Rise adds a bite of tart lemon and even more OB to your crab-picking -- which means you’ll have to double dip in melted butter to relieve your burning tongue. For more sensitive palates, the old-school Baltimore lager Natty Bo (National Bohemian) has gone claw-in-claw with crabs since the 1800s. Both breweries have programs that tie these beers into charities that benefit sustainable blue crab harvesting and habitat restoration.
You thought I was going to say clam chowda’, didn’t ya? So did I, until I discovered that the fanciful Fluffernutter hails from Massachusetts. What beats a peanut-butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich? Nothing, unless you enhance it with a Harpoon Boston Irish Stout. Dark, roasty, dry, and creamy -- since the beer is often pouring from a nitro tap -- this Irish stout backs up the peanut’s flavor and allows the marshmallow's sweetness to shine through without disrupting the taste of either ingredient. Wicked pissa, right?
San Francisco, California
If you’re a first-time tourist in San Francisco, you go to Ghirardelli Square because, to quote Geico: “It’s what you do.” Let that chocolate melt in your mouth, and then chase it with a Mendocino Brewing Co. Imperial Barley Wine Ale -- the viscosity, high alcohol, and honey flavor of which make it a sweet pairing buddy for most kinds of chocolate.
New York, New York
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You’re in New York City: you’re going to get a slice of pizza. To fit in with New Yawkers, get whatever topping you want -- as long as it’s pepperoni. To challenge the pizza’s aggressive grease, red sauce, and red pepper, you’ll need a fairly assertive yet sweet beer like Sixpoint Brewery’s Sweet Action. Combining characteristics of a wheat, lager, and pale ale, this yellow, medium-bodied blonde ale packs a gentle hop punch while adding a slightly sweet backdrop to the salty slice.
Vienna Beef Hot Dog
If you have the courage to swallow your standards for hygiene and pop into a grimy hot dog stand (there is no other kind) for a Vienna Beef cylinder, you’ll need to wash it down quickly with a cold beer before you start to regret your decision (or, in some cases, remember it). A classic Chi-dog comes smothered with yellow mustard, chopped onions, tomato, relish, pickled peppers, a dill pickle spear and a sprinkle of celery salt, so you’ll need a strong beer to stand up to that noise. Unfortunately, Chicago Brewing Company brewed its retired Vienna Lager in Las Vegas -- but the name’s double entendre actually suggests a perfect pairing. A Vienna lager (or basically almost anything that’s amber-colored, malty, and mild) pairs deliciously with the meat tube without competing with its condiments. To experiment, fill a mixed-six from Chi-town’s German-style Metropolitan Brewing with Dynamo Copper Lager, Afterburner Oktoberfest, Arc Welder Dunkel Rye, Ironworks Altbier and another copper lager.
Jimmy Carter may have grown peanuts in Georgia, but the Virginia peanut is the granddaddy of all of them. Larger in size than its nutty brethren, this “ballpark peanut” encompasses most nuts roasted and salted in the shell, as well as those shelled and eaten as a plain or salty snack, according to the state’s Whitley’s Peanut Factory. In Richmond, Isley Brewing Co. satisfies choosy drinkers with its peanuty, creamy, and chocolatey Choosy Mother Peanut Butter Porter. You’ll drink a pint in a Jif.
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If you have to ask what’s in scrapple, you don’t want to know. Pennsylvania claims the breakfast of fried pork scraps as its own, but so does Delaware. Because The First State: a) purports to produce the nation’s largest amount of scrapple; b) doesn’t have that much to brag about; and c) once claimed me as a tenant and PA hasn’t...we’re handing this victory to Smelaware, at least for the purposes of this article. So what, then, does one tipple with a plate of smushed-up pig brain? Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Beer For Breakfast, naturally! Released in bottles last November, the stout is brewed with coffee, maple syrup, flaked oats, molasses, and scrapple, of course.
If you order ribs in Memphis, you’ll get a choice of wet or dry-rub, but don’t let anyone hear you order the wet sauce -- no one eats it that way. Instead, lick your fingers free of the paprika, black pepper, and brown sugar-based rub, slurp down a Memphis Made Brewing Co.’s On the Fly Porter, and appreciate how the porter’s hefty mouthfeel and dark malts support the meat and spice without interfering with any of the flavor. Then take a shot of whiskey because, well, that’s all anyone really drinks in Memphis.
Camden, New Jersey
Evidently there’s a YUGE controversy that pits friends against neighbors over whether sliced, sugar-cured smoked pork is called “pork roll” or “Taylor Ham.” Personally, I don’t really care (do you hear the sound of “unfriend” buttons clicking all over the Garden State?), but if you do, here’s the explanation. For its 20th anniversary, Flying Fish Brewing Co. released Exit 7 Pork Roll Porter, which it brewed with peat-smoked barley, spices, and the meat whose name we dare not mention. Because the beer’s not currently available, sub in Iron Hill Brewery’s multi-award-winning Pig Iron Porter for that full-flavored burst of uncomplicated roastiness and caramel essence that’ll have New Jerseyans on both sides of the argument saying, “That’s some pig.”