For the longest time, barbecue joints almost took a perverse pride in having shitty beer lists. Heck, many of the top spots in the south don’t even serve beer—mainly, because many of these roadside restaurants sell out of meat before it’s even drinkin’ time. While the scant places that do have a few brews, seem care less about quality and more about them being “ice cold.” In other words, cheap corporate crap, meant for nothing more than washing down all that salty, smoky, delectable meat.
We’re in a new era of beer pairings, though, where whether you’re a Michelin-starred French restaurant or a food court taco stand, you best have a few fresh IPAs available. Slowly but surely, barbecue spots are joining the party. They’re finally putting together good beers lists, realizing that ribs and hops need not be enemies.
As barbecue season approaches, here are a few places around the nation also worth a beer drinker’s time.
Arrogant Swine (Brooklyn, NY)
New York might not necessarily best America’s best barbecue city—though it’s way better than you’d think—but it might be the locale with the best barbecue-and-beer restaurants. There are a good half-dozen top-notch spots such as Fette Sau, Dinosaur, Pig Beach, Mighty Quinn’s and John Brown Smokehouse in Queens, which often has Hill Farmstead IPAs on tap—think about that pairing for a second. But, Tyson Ho’s Bushwick joint is the only place that is also a bonafide craft beer hall. Ho’s food is Carolina whole hog-based, but you don’t want to miss his intriguing sides like waffle-pressed mac ‘n’ cheese. Meanwhile, the 44-foot-long bar offers twenty tap lines that skew local, such as Grimm Artisanal Ales, but also feature nationwide rarities like Founders KBS and Firestone Walker’s Anniversary series. The Swine frequently uses its 3,000-square-foot urban beer garden for beer-and-bites festivals like Winter’s Grind.
Ben’s Barbecue (Bensalem, PA)
Pennsylvania is not the first state you think of when it comes to good barbecue. But it is one of the first states you think of when it comes to good beer. Located in a Best Western Plus right off the Pennsylvania Turnpike—seriously—this Philly ’burbs ’cue is both classic and somewhat locally bizarre. So, there’s pulled pork and Carolina chicken, but also cheesesteak pierogies for the Philadelphian in your life who can’t go a single meal without cheesesteak. The beer list is also robust—with seven tap lines and a few dozen bottled offerings. Options include beers local (such as Conshohocken Brewing’s Burn Everything rye porter), cross-country (Port Brewing’s Mongo IPA) and even international (Deux Amis Saison). Traditional macro-brews are listed on the menu under a column reading: “We don't like but carry anyway.”
Lewis Barbecue (Charleston, SC)
If John Lewis doesn’t make the absolute best barbecue in America, then he makes the absolute best in the non-Texas division. Despite just opening a brick-and-mortar last year, Lewis already had a huge rep in Charleston after a previous year spent pop-up smoking at Revelry Brewing. His prime beef brisket is world-class but his so-called Texas “hot guts” sausages are not to be ignored. Surely inspired by his Texas roots, there’s a spicy Michelada beer cocktail on the drinks menu, but also plenty of more sophisticated local ales and lagers. The mostly-lowcountry tap list includes offerings from Holy City, Two Blokes, COAST, Palmetto, Westbrook and many others.
Miller’s Smokehouse (Belton, TX)
One of the few barbecue joints in Texas to actually offer a decent selection of craft beer, is also one of the state’s best (it made Texas Monthly's prestigious Top 50 list). It’s also one of the few acclaimed Texas spots that doesn’t just run out of meat mid-day. You can show up around dinner time and guarantee some brisket and smoked hot links at this restaurant that originally began in the front of Dirk Miller’s meat-processing and taxidermy company. A sturdy supper crowd means libations are a necessity. Of course there’s Lone Star and Shiner—there pretty much has to be—but there’s also a small, well-curated list of Texas offerings on tap, bottled, and canned. Those could include such locals as Barrow Brewing’s Ski Boat, a blonde ale and Deep Ellum’s Dream Crusher, a double IPA.
The Silver Dollar (Louisville, KY)
Surely the barbecue restaurant with the world’s best whiskey list—including tons of rare single-barrel offerings—The Silver Dollar also has a top-notch beer list. While the tap list is a tad boring (Coors Banquet, Shiner Bock), the bottle list truly excels. The lengthy menu goes from crushable to boozy, starting with “working class lager” (Lone Star, High Life) moving onto Belgian-style beers (Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam) then onto the hoppy stuff (Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’) and even stouts (Thirsty Dog Siberian Night). The barbecue is 1950s SoCal honky tonk inspired, seen in dishes like fried chicken livers, breaded catfis, and hickory-smoked brisket. There’s even a beer can chicken, a roasted game hen served standing up with a pounder of Old Milwaukee shoved up its ass.
Breweries with ’Cue
There are, not surprisingly, a few spots that are the best of both worlds—they brew their own beer and smoke their owns meats. Here are three of those.
Against the Grain (Louisville, KY)
Another Louisville spot worth seeking out is this brewpub actually located in the city’s minor league baseball stadium, Louisville Slugger Field. The gorgeous three-story “showpiece” brewhouse sits behind glass, viewable from the bar, where you can order a large variety of ATG’s avant-garde offerings. Beers like Kentucky Ryed Chiquen, an amber ale brewed with rye malt and aged in rye barrels, seem preternaturally-designed to pair with the meats smoked on-site. Sometimes, the brewery smokes it beer grains as well. Dishes include the house beef jerky, pork belly on a stick and dry-rubbed chopped pork. Get too drunk on meat and beer and you might accidentally stumble into a ballgame.
Magnolia Brewing Co. (San Francisco, CA)
A staple on the Bay Area beer scene since 1997, in 2014 the brewery opened an intriguing new brewpub in the Dogpatch neighborhood. Dubbed “Smokestack,” the historical space was built in 1915 and once was the factory of American Can Company—makers of the world’s first beer can. The restored space is full of fixtures and furnishings meant to resemble a previous era, while the food is completely wood-fired, drawing from all the U.S. regional barbecue styles, as well as other smoked meat delicacies from around the world, notably pastrami. The Seagreen Pearl quartzite slab bar serves exclusively Magnolia Brewing beers—as well as cocktails and American whiskey— including Blue Bell Bitter and Kalifornia Kolsch. In-process barrel-aging projects adorn the space.
Warpigs (Copenhagen, Denmark)
The only international spot on our list is impossible to ignore. A powerhouse collaboration between Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeller and acclaimed Americans 3 Floyds, Warpigs is a massive beer hall in the city’s Meatpacking District. Texas barbecue is served cafeteria style and, though, the brisket is solid, it’s the Szechuan “foo-king hot” wings that are the real stars of the show. Twenty rotating taps exclusively serve house-brewed beers, which are mainly of the hazy/juicy IPA variety. New England-ish beers and Texas-ish barbecue in Copenhagen—a perfect combo.