Summer is almost here and the scent of charcoal is in the air.
There is something celebratory about cooking outside on a warm day. It’s a chance to savor the season and share good times and good food with family and friends.
Fire up the grill, mix up the house special sauce and welcome the warm days.
A good party needs a celebratory glass or two of something fun to drink. There’s a wine or beer available that is a perfect complement for just about anything you can throw on the coals. Chill, sip, enjoy. Repeat.
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Beer aficionados are rejoicing over the explosion of interest in craft beers, with a dizzying array of beers to try. Delicious, refreshing beer is also so cost-effective that even the best brews only set you back a couple of bucks. Pretty much every producer turns out some brews especially for summer sipping.
Growlers: A growler is a big glass bottle that looks kind of like a moonshine jug. It holds a half-gallon (64 ounces) of beer. Growlers got their name in the 1800s when people carried beer home from their village brewery in tin pails and the carbon dioxide in the still-fermenting beer made a growling sound. It’s pretty darn cool that you can go to one of Charlotte’s local breweries and fill a growler or two. You reuse the growler, bringing it back for refills. To truly eat and drink local, work in a stop at a local establishment to pick up a fresh growler after your trip to the farmers market to pick up grilling supplies.
Summertime Ales: These seasonal beers typically have a light, refreshing flavor, with a distinct citrusy note. They are terrific with grilled seafood.
Hefeweizen: An unfiltered wheat beer with some spice and fruit aromatics, this is quite tasty with citrus-marinated chicken or chops. Although it sounds like an odd combination, it’s one of my favorites paired with a simple vegetable pizza done on the grill.
Maibock: A seasonal beer style that is a bit lighter in color than most Bocks, Maibock is often released in May to celebrate the advent of summer. What could be more festive?
IPA: An acronym for India Pale Ale, this is a beer for the beer lover. Hoppy, edgy and clean, it’s terrific with food. Try simmering some brats with sliced Vidalia onions and this beer on the back of the stove all day, finish on the grill, and serve with mustard and a good IPA.
With wines, it’s a no-brainer that something chilled, light and white is perfect for a hot day slaving over the coals. A few favorites are listed below, but don’t overlook a great red wine with the right meal, as well.
Prosecco: An affordable (around $15) sparkler from Italy, this crisp, fruity, effervescent wine is great alone while waiting for the grill to heat up. It’s fun with a few fresh berries dropped into the glass, nice with a splash of fruit juice, and tasty paired with oysters or shrimp hot off the grill.
Sauvignon Blanc or Gruner Veldtline (under $20): Both of these aromatic whites have a racy mouthwatering acidity, and many have a citrus and herbal quality. Do try one of these wines with a big salad. Make sure to use some ripe summer tomatoes – the ones you’ve been craving all winter – and top it with grilled chicken or fish. This is the perfect go-to supper on a warm day.
Chardonnay: You haven’t lived until you’ve had a good-quality, buttery California Chardonnay paired with just-picked corn on the cob charred just a bit on the grill and slathered with butter. Apparently it’s also a great pairing with grilled seafood or grilled chicken as well, but who cares? Just pass another piece of corn.
Rhone-style blends: In the Rhone Valley region of France, a blend of the grape varieties Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre is a winner. These grapes play so nicely together that you can find this style of blend (called GSM) from lots of other regions. Rich, fruity and oh-so drinkable, they’re just about perfect with a fat burger with all the trimmings. You can find a nice example for about $15.
Zinfandel: For years I heard that Zinfandel was a great choice with sweet-style barbecue sauce glazed ribs. Urban legend? Last year I assembled a number of different sauces and tried different wines with each. Zinfandel was the clear winner for its affinity with a variety of styles of sauce – especially those with a bit of sweetness from ketchup, honey, molasses or brown sugar. Just, yum.