Beer and barbecue pairings

Jason Rees, Pork Ninjas

A couple of weeks back, The Grid had to cut my Hopped Up column, well, pretty brutally. I was writing about how to pair beer with barbecue, so I spoke to two men that love both things deeply: Ryan Donovan, the butcher at Marben, and Jason Rees, pitmaster of barbecue team, Pork Ninjas.

Sadly Rees was cut from the story (I’m sorry Jason!), he spends a lot of time smoking meat, and drinking craft beer, and I wanted to share his expertise here. I also gave both Donovan and Rees the challenge of pairing beers you can buy or drink in Toronto with their favourite BBQ — and I asked them to comment on one another’s suggestions — most of these were cut too.

So I’m pasting the entire article here for your barbecue-and-beer-pairing pleasure:

Ryan Donovan has the ultimate man cave: a brand-new walk-in keg fridge, its walls lined with barrels of craft brews like Muskoka, Beau’s and F&M. And in the centre, hanging from the ceiling, there’s usually one huge cut of meat or another—loin, ribs, flank. King West restaurant Marben (488 Wellington Street West) is known for its monthly pig roasts conducted under resident butcher Donovan’s watch, and he says the merger is fitting—any carnivore knows that ale and barbecue is a natural pairing.

Donovan, who ran the Healthy Butcher and worked at Cowbell before moving to Marben, learned what beers to match with barbecue from practice, and by talking to the brewers who supply his restaurant.

Donovan reccomends Muskoka’s Mad Tom IPA to cut through the rich, pink meat of a roasted pig. For lighter fare, like grilled fish or chicken, Donovan likes Muskoka’s Weissbier for its sweet banana character, or Duggan’s zingy, No. 5 Sorachi Lager. “When it’s hot outside it’s tough to drink a lot of beer,” he says, “so a lighter, effervescent lager is best.”

Some beers are better than others to drink with barbecue. And while there are some rules of thumb: go for brews that compliment, contrast or cut your food; a sweet taste should be paired with even sweeter beers, tart with tart — brewers, butchers and beer nerds don’t always play by them.

Jason Rees, for example, never serves lager with barbecue. The pitmaster for Pork Ninjas, a Toronto-based competitive barbecue team, Rees spends upwards of 16 hours over a cooker. And that’s when he relies on lager. “I love my double IPAs and imperial stouts but if I was to drink those for 12 to 16 hours, my palate would be completely polluted, and I wouldn’t be able to tell if my spicing was correct.” His go to? Anything by Muskoka, preferably in a can, or Yuengling Lager, which he picks up at Walmart in the States.

Like Donovan, Rees likes the IPA’s ability to cut through sweet, rich barbecue. But he also likes the complimentary pairing of a sweeter brown ale, like Neustadt 10W40, with spicy ribs smothered in brown sugar. What to serve to your Coors Light loving Dad? Try Black Oak Pale Ale, says Rees, “it doesn’t offend anyone.”

At your next dinner party, Rees advises, choosing six kinds of Ontario beer, giving everyone a small glass, and trying different beers throughout the meal, starting with lightest and moving to the heavier, more alcoholic beers.

“Beer is so much easier to pair with barbecue than wine, because when you serve the real spicy stuff, some wines can taste like vinegar. But even a poor beer pairing is still going to be drinkable,” he says.

Jason Rees’s beer and barbecue pairings, Ryan Donovan weighs in

Denison’s Weissbier with burger with goat cheese
Donovan: “I would pair this as well, but only if I could have two beers.”

Sweet and tangy baby back pork ribs with Muskoka Cream Ale
Donovan: “Mmmmmm tangy”

Smoked sausages with Kozliks German Style mustard with Church Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale
Donovan: “Church Key is one of my favourite breweries, great choice.”

 Jerk Chicken with Muskoka Mad Tom IPA
Donovan: “British + India + Jamaica = Bracebridge.  A classic pairing.”

Grilled chocolate pound cake with scoop of chocolate ice cream & hot cherry sauce with Black Oak Double Chocolate Cherry Stout
Donovan: “I’ll bring the beer if you take care of cooking this.”

 Rib-eye steak rubbed with coffee, salt and pepper with Muskoka Dark Ale or Wellington County Dark Ale
Donovan: “Wellington County Dark is one the best beers I’ve ever had.”

Orange marmalade glazed duck breast cooked over Basques Charcoal, (made from sugar maple) with Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze
Donovan: “Orange?????Duck Breast???????? can I have a beer now?”

Note: Most of these recipes are Rees’s and are on his website at

Ryan Donovan’s Beer & Barbecue Pairings, Jason Rees weighs in

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA with Patio Pig Roast
Rees:I absolutely love the Muskoka IPA, but I think it lends itself better to spicy food, and a whole hog has a lot of different delicate flavours. I’d rather see that paired with a pilsner.”

Muskoka Dark with fermented Thuringer
Rees: “The marjoram spice in this sausage would be very tasty with the Muskoka Dark Ale.”

Anchor Steam with BBQ Brisket from West Side Beef
Rees: “I think I would enjoy Anchor Steam with a brisket, but I usually pair it with raw oysters.”

Creemore with anything BBQ’d outside at The New Farm
Rees: “My theory that you need something easy drinking while bbq’ing seems evident from his pick of Creemore. I’ve done the same thing when I can’t find cans of Muskoka, I enjoy Creemore’s Kellerbeir more than their lager.”

Tsing Tao with #76 at Pho Phuong
Rees:I can barely get my nose into a Tsing Tao beer, so it must stay in the bottle and be served extra, extra cold so I can barely smell it. It’s just another large batch adjunct beer that I wouldn’t normally consume… but I will admit to consuming it as a last resort beer on many occasions in the many amazing Asian restaurants in the city.”

Beau’s Lug Tread Ale with a porchetta roast from The Healthy Butcher
Rees: “I have not tried the Healthy Butcher’s porchetta as I make my own, and mine has lots and lots of fennel seeds in it, is cooked over apple wood, and injected with apple juice brine. It would marry well with the Beau’s Lug Tread, but I have a serious love of pork and apple, so I usually drink my porchetta with Wapoos Cider from the County Cider Company.

Rogue Dead Guy IPA with Pulled Pork
Rees: “The Dead Guy IPA is a very well-balanced beer, and I’ve enjoyed it with pulled pork on several occasions.”


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Filed under beer, cheap fun, Toronto

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