We've partnered with Breckenridge Brewery to highlight delicious summer dishes from coast to coast. Do you have any favorites that represent summer in your city, state, or region? Let us know about them in the comments!
For some people, the season is defined by activities like biking, hiking, fishing, or lounging on the beach. For others (myself included!), summer just doesn’t feel like summer without indulging in certain dishes.
Of course, the ideal meal changes based on where you’re from. I have some friends who insist a crawfish boil is the true start of the season; others can’t wait to tuck into key lime pie or fish tacos on the beach as soon as the days start to get long. For me, it’s not really summer until I’ve eaten two things: a Hanover tomato sandwich with a thick smear of Duke’s mayo, and a plate of oysters, consumed within a few yards of the Chesapeake Bay (preferably at sunset).
Beer is my go-to drink for the season, for a variety of reasons: there are tons of styles to choose from, nearly all of which go well with some kind of summer food; they’re refreshing in the heat; they’re generally low in alcohol, so you can have a few over the course of an afternoon without getting blitzed; and, in cans at least, they’re easy to sneak onto the beach (not that I’d condone any rule breaking).
So, with that in mind, we rounded up some of our favorite regional American treats that are essential eating for the season, and paired them with beers from Breckenridge Brewery. Whether you’re spending your summer in Florida or Maine or Washington, here are nine dishes you need to try at least once before September.
Maine is famous for its wild blueberries, which grow small and sweet on low bushes and peak in August. They’re prized by cooks and bakers around the country for their flavor, which is more complex and intense than other types of blueberries.
Maine blueberries shine in desserts like pies, buckles, and just about any other berry dish you can dream up. But blueberry crumble—usually blueberries sprinkled with a little sugar, topped with a combination of flour, butter, sugar, and sometimes oats or nuts, and baked until bubbly—are abundant in the state when the fruit is in season.
This smooth, dark Vanilla Porter makes an excellent accompaniment to desserts of all stripes; the complex sweetness and aromas of vanilla and toasted malt are especially good with cinnamon-spiced blueberry desserts topped with vanilla ice cream. (For an extra-indulgent pairing, you could try scooping a little vanilla ice cream straight into your glass for a porter float.)
Cincinnati’s most prized export might be its chili, which is a meaty, heavily spiced sauce adapted from Greek Bolognese that’s usually served over spaghetti. It’s occupied a special place in the hearts of those who hail from Ohio—and has inspired plenty of arguments with other chili-loving states, like Texas, since it was created in the early 1920s.
In the summer, the best way to eat it is the Cheese Coney: Cincinnati chili piled atop a hot dog, and topped with a massive mound of shredded cheddar.
This heavy dish comes with a complex layer of spices: chili powder, cinnamon, and allspice are common inclusions. It tastes great with a crisp, clean beer that cuts right through all that fat and spice. Breckenridge’s Summer Pils, which features earthy, floral notes thanks to Noble Saaz hops, fits the bill perfectly.
The tradition of cooking meat and seafood atop planks of cedar has its roots in the Native American cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, where western red cedar is plentiful. Fresh wild salmon is best in the summer, so now is definitely the best time to buy and grill it.
Here's how it's done: Salmon is tacked or placed atop to a water (or beer!) soaked board and grilled indirectly, picking up sweet, spicy, herbal, and smoky flavors from the wood. If you try the dish out yourself, just make sure you use untreated cedar.
Stout, with fish, in the summer? Absolutely: A relatively light body and a dry finish on this style means it won’t feel too heavy or overpower the salmon with sweetness. And the notes of toasted grain that come through make it a lovely match for anything smoked; it will pick up similar flavors the salmon has absorbed from its slow smoke on the cedar.
A pile of freshly steamed blue crabs is at the heart of any Maryland summertime feast. The state’s famous crustaceans, pulled from the Chesapeake Bay from late spring through fall, are smaller than other species like Dungeness crab, but richer in flavor. The meat is known for its delicate, buttery sweetness, thanks to the way the crabs store up fat for hibernation. The preferred way to eat them? Steamed, covered in Old Bay, spread across some newspaper on a picnic table, and picked apart with your hands.
A classic IPA, with its spicy, herbal, hoppy flavors, makes a nice pairing here; the citrusy notes of Simcoe and Citra dry hops in Breckenridge’s Hop Peak is a perfect foil for rich, sweet crabmeat and accentuates the heat of the spicy Old Bay coating. The beer’s crisp finish, with a hint of bitterness, cleanses your palate for the next bite.
Missouri is one of the big hubs of American barbecue; Kansas City barbecue is a major regional style, characterized by a thick, sweet-spicy tomato-based sauce—what most of us think of when we think “barbecue sauce.” In KC, they don’t stay particularly loyal to one specific cut of meat (although we do have Kansas City to thank for burnt ends), but in St. Louis, barbecue most often means ribs: specifically, pork ribs that have been squared by removing the tips. They’re usually grilled and sauced with KC-style sauce, of course.
Classic and well-rounded, the hint of sweetness from the malt in an amber ale fits well with smoky meat and that sweet KC-style barbecue sauce. Breckenridge's Avalanche Amber Ale in particular has enough of a backbone that it won’t be overpowered by the ribs, but the relatively mild flavor, strong caramel notes, and crisp finish is a nice counterpoint to fatty smoked meat. (And this kind of amber ale is an American-born beer style—just like KC barbecue.)
As lobster rolls are to the northeast, grouper sandwiches are to Florida: it’s impossible to imagine a summer without indulging in at least a few of these, eaten by the beach. A classic grouper sandwich consists of a thick cut of flaky fish, grilled, fried, or rubbed with spices and blackened, then served on a bun with simple accoutrements: lettuce; tomato; mayo or tartar sauce. Like most uncomplicated dishes, the quality of the ingredients will make or break it.
A classic grouper sandwich consists of a thick cut of flaky fish—grilled, fried, or rubbed with spices and blackened—then served on a bun with simple accoutrements: lettuce; tomato; mayo or tartar sauce. Like most uncomplicated dishes, the quality of the ingredients will make or break it.
It’s hard to go wrong with wheat beer in the summer; it’s a light style that works well with a wide variety of warm-weather foods. This canned refresher has a citrusy aroma and a delicate, fleeting sweetness that makes a nice complement to grouper’s mild flavor, and it’s light, bubbly, and crisp enough for Florida beach weather.
Colorado is justifiably proud of its peaches: the fruit grown in Palisade is especially sweet and fragrant thanks to the unusually temperate local microclimate in the area (sometimes called the “banana belt”).
Coloradans go crazy for them when they come into season in late summer, even hosting a festival in honor of them in late August. There’s no better way to enjoy them than in a peach pie. (Might we suggest this time-tested recipe.)
Orange zest added during the fermentation of unusual this summer beer gives it a fragrant, fruity aroma that pairs perfectly with the juicy fruit and buttery crust of a summer peach pie. Mandarina Bavaria hops adds additional notes of tangerine. Nitrogen added to the carbonation means smaller bubbles and a very creamy, silky mouthfeel—like peaches and cream, upgraded. It's also worth mentioning that since Breckenridge brews are widely available in Colorado, you might want to experiment here and find the pairing that really speaks to you.
The fish taco as we know it—battered white fish topped with shredded cabbage, crema, pico de gallo and served on a corn tortilla—was popularized by surfers, who fell in love with them on trips to Baja California in the 60s.
Now, it’s a quintessential Southern California beach snack, best enjoyed with wet hair and toes in the sand.
There’s a reason you see fish (including fish tacos) paired with mango salsa all over the place: The fruity sweetness is a great accompaniment to many types of seafood.
This crisp Mango Mosaic Pale Ale features fruity Mosaic hops and a healthy dose of mango puree for a subtle tropical sweetness which (surprise!) is a winner with fish tacos.
It’s impossible to talk about Texas summers without talking barbecue, and it’s impossible to talk Texas barbecue without talking about brisket.
Whereas barbecue farther east tends to be focused on the hog, in Texas it’s all about the beef—and plenty of Texans have devoted their livelihoods to learning how to smoke it perfectly, until it’s supple and tender and topped with a crunchy layer of bark.
Smoked meat goes great with stouts, whose toasty, dark, roasted, and sometimes smoky flavors go well with the similar notes in the barbecue. Breckenridge’s Oatmeal Stout is a smooth example with hints of chocolate and coffee and a dry finish.
This list is by no means a definitive guide. We want to hear about the dishes that say summer in your neck of the woods. Be sure to tell us about them in the comments below!
In partnership with Breckenridge Brewery, Colorado-based makers of quality craft beers, we're thrilled to share locally approved bites from coast to coast. To find the perfect pairing close to home, you can use the brewery's handy beer locator, which lets you search for specific varieties at stores and restaurants near you.