Whether you're firing up meat, fish, or vegetables, these brews should be filling the cooler at your next cookout.
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A beer glass rests on a grill
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Pairing barbecue and beer is easy: Remove your meat, fish, or vegetables from the grill or smoker, pop open your favorite can or bottle, and enjoy. (Note: It is my duty to share with you that you should absolutely be smoking some of your produce. Brussels sprouts with a hit of hickory, then finished on the stovetop with a splash of maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and a dash of cayenne, will brighten your summer in unfathomable ways.)

But to really show your food and brews the respect they both deserve, focus on specific pairings. Leverage the citrus and often herbal notes of extra-hoppy IPA to amp up an herb crust on your rack of lamb. Use the chocolate notes of a good imperial stout to make your grilled steak even more lavish. Use the subtle crispness of a great kolsch to frame your fish.

To help you along the way, I've compiled seven popular styles of beer, recommended specific ones to try, and made suggestions of foods to pair with them. 

Kolsch

Originally from in and around Cologne, Germany, there are now a number of American breweries getting into the kolsch game, too. It's a beer that demands attention; the subtleties should not be taken for blandness. Rather, a great kolsch is a study in layering, and the Gaffel Kolsch, with its notes of cereal grain that turn more Grape-Nut-like on the finish, and pulse of bitterness, pairs brilliantly with white, flaky fish straight from the grill.

Pilsner

Pilsner is a classic example of a style of beer that can be enjoyed on its own to slake the thirst of a hot summer day, and also at the table with everything from fresh-cut vegetables and salad with bright vinaigrette to grilled fish and poultry. But honestly, it works just as well with a hot dog, and does particularly interesting things in the presence of sauerkraut and mustard. The Patagonia Provisions and Dogfish Head collaborative Kernza Pils Perennial Grain Beer is well worth looking for, with its savory lemon pith notes pulsed through with a hint of nuttiness.

Lager

For a long time, lagers were largely left out of the craft-beer conversation in favor of focusing on hoppier, more powerful IPAs. But a great lager is a beautiful thing indeed, and the style has seen a renaissance. It works well with burgers — both beef and turkey — as well as more assertively spiced taco preparations. The Kona Brewing Co. Longboard Island Lager is an easy-to-gulp brew, its light texture carrying flavors of gently toasted grains, the suggestion of puffed brown rice, and a touch of nectarines and lemon-blossom honey. The 2SP Delco Lager is a bit more concentrated despite its slightly lower alcohol — a creamy, well-balanced example with notes of toasted nuts and cooked honey that complicate the malty backbone. Both are very well suited to your next cookout.

India Pale Ale

It sometimes seems as if there are as many styles of IPA as there are recipes for barbecue sauce. For a classic West Coast style — meaning very hop-forward — the Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA is a particularly appealing example. Its earthiness and resin notes are joined by lemon oils and, on the finish, a totally unexpected (and not at all sweet) flavor that's reminiscent of Honey Smacks cereal. With anything fried (potato chips, tortilla chips, fish) this will sing. It also promises to pair well with bratwurst, and dishes kissed with cumin.

Sour Ale

On a humid summer day, a good sour ale is like the beer version of jumping into a cool swimming pool. The Neshaminy Creek Summer Dollars Sour Ale with Blood Orange and Sea Salt is thirst-quenching and vivid, and that unmistakable citrus note makes its a great pairing partner for everything from chips and guacamole to grilled swordfish or even mahi-mahi with a tropical-fruit salsa.

Russian Imperial Stout

Sometimes, the perfect cookout means finding the most well-marbled steak at the butcher counter, tossing it on the grill, and pairing it with an equally rich beer. In that case, the North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, with its deep flavors reminiscent of chocolate-coated malt balls, toasted vanilla, and espresso should be just right. It also works well with grilled hamburgers topped with crumbled blue cheese and a good bacon-onion jam, which you should definitely be making for your next gathering around the grill.

Barrel-Aged Stout

We all deserve a good dessert beer, right? Growing up, my family always ended cookouts with German chocolate cake or, even better, my mother's sachertorte. We never paired either with barrel-aged beers, but perhaps we should have. The magnificently named Roak Brewing Co. Bourbon Barrel Aged French Toast Devil Dog Oatmeal Stout, with its sweet maple, warm vanilla, praline, and, yes, French toast-like flavors that linger through the long finish, is a case of truth in advertising. Just be warned: This is most definitely a sweet beer, and could serve as dessert on its own. But it's even better with that chocolate cake. Pecan pie would also be delicious, or even just a bowl of good vanilla ice cream.