Thursday 25 February 2010

FABPOW! Beer and Burgers

My California trip was pretty much fuelled by burgers and hops. I felt that I had already gained a good understanding of a successful burger (and of course the accompanying chips, for a burger without chips is like a Corona without the lime) but now I know its fundamental importance.

The first clue was being asked how you want your meat cooked, which aside from a terrible euphemism, is a great question of a burger; the day McDonalds ask that question to me is the day I’ll pass under the Golden Arches for anything more than a McFlurry. The standard is medium-rare which is perfect for me; charred on the outside and blush in the middle. The bread ranged from cake-sweet and heavy to the freshest seed-topped bun going. Accompaniments always included lettuce (essential), tomato (essential) and gherkins (essential) and ketchup, mustards and mayonnaise are on the side. Cheese was almost always present, but that’s because I ordered it to be there. Any number of extras can be added from the menu (bacon, Cajun, mushrooms, blue cheese – the burger lists are as long as the beer lists). Chips, an art in themselves, ranged from thin fries to proper unpeeled fat little fingers.

These burgers always came with a beer, or beers. There was: an Alesmith IPA (picture directly above); a Lagunitas IPA; a Russian River Supplication (because I was feeling particularly lavish); a kegged Spud Boy’s IPA (in Magnolia, pictured at the very top - that was a particularly good one); a flight of Marin beers; and a flight of Bear Republic beers (plus a pint of Racer 5). The wonderful beauty of the burger is that it will work with any beer, and by this I literally mean any beer. The bread, the meat, the cheese, the sweet-sour-hot sauces, the chips; together they create a mouthful of flavour which compliment whatever beer you have. Big hops, imperial stouts, sours, delicate milds, golden ales, anything you like. Having a couple of flights of beers proved this. But if I had to choose just one beer, or just one style, then it’s going to be the American IPA. We’re talking something 7-8%, dosed with a decent level of caramel sweetness and packed with fruity, citrusy hops (not tongue-splitting bitter, though). The malt matches the meat, cheese and bread, the hops balance the cheese and provide a fruitiness to mirror the sauces and the salad and the cool fizz washes it all away. For me, Alesmith IPA and Racer 5 were the best pairings – the beers are delicate while still packing a significant punch of flavour (and they happen to be two of the best IPAs out there). In the UK, where the beers asren’t available, I’d go with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale or Dogfish Head 60 or 90 Minute.

I really want a burger now; a big, fat, juicy, finger-licking stack of meat, bread and cheese. I’d take one of those beers on the side too. A glorious FABPOW.


  1. Bloody hell that makes me feel hungry!

    Toppings are interesting. I didn't realise until I went there that you get a lot of regional differences between burgers in the USA. They really take it serious and it can be quite different from one place to the next.

    Quick search threw this up:

    It's even more true with hot dogs.

  2. I love a burger and chips with my ale! there aren't enough good burger places over here!

    we bought a deep fat fryer from argos last year in the sale, it doesn't get used regularly but it does allow me to make amazing chips to go with my now rather legendary burgers.

    i know its early but i really could murder a burger with blue cheese, smokey bacon and beer battered onion rings on and a huge plate of chips with some chilli sauce.

  3. Jalapenos and or some salsa are a must in my recent American burger experience although admittedly where I was has a big mexican influence going on.

  4. They look lovely. I like a good burger.

    But... asking punters how they want their meat cooked is a sign that they don't really understanding cooking. The outside of a steak is where the bugs live. Cook a steak, however rare, and you kill them. Mince the steak up and you mash the bugs into the meat. Leave one of the former surface bits uncooked and you may have an urgent incoming call on the great white telephone.

  5. Reminds me of the old Hula burger and Maui brewing Big Swell IPA pairing, that was damb good.

  6. Chunk, that's cool! I'm a traditional burger man myself though, the most extravagant I got was adding mushrooms and onions in one place and that was a nightmare to eat (still wonderful though!).

    Andy, that sounds like a great burger, I want some of that! I do all my chips in the oven - I don't trust myself with a deep fat fryer (more worried I'll burn the flat down than anything else!).

    mbt, salsa is great with those IPAs and stuff that in a burger and it's a big win!

    Beer Nut, interesting, I didn't know that... Isn't medium rare enough heat to kill off any bad guys in the middle?

    Cooking, bitchin' indeed, though more 'ooh, you bitch' in a gay kind of way. For FABPOW is the call of the gay superhero!

    Rob, I saw that beer but didn't buy it. I got the coconut porter though (in the can) which I'm very excited about. I want to go to Hawaii now, just to drink the beer, of course!

  7. If you're still upright, yes, probably. My point is that the only sensible response to "How would you liked your burger cooked?" is "So that it doesn't make me ill, thanks".

  8. As I understand it, the pathogens on meat come from faecal matter in the abattoir. The speed of the kill line largely determines the amount of faecal matter on meat as that determines whether the intestines are removed without faecal matter spraying the meat. America has quicker kill lines than Europe and I suspect if unsure of the meats origin you would want an american burger cooked through. Whilst Europe has slower kill lines, regulation has shut down smaller abattoirs in favour of large efficient ones so faecal contamination is impossible to avoid. Therefore you would not eat raw meat. You would seal a steak and cook through a burger. However if you are sure of the origins of the meat, from its farming to killing, there is no danger in a rare hamburger or eating raw steak so long as its clean.

    When unsure you are playing a game of statistics with hamburger. A small butchers shop will make hamburger meat from one or two cows. A large plant may put meat from hundreds of cows in one hamburger. So statistically you are less likely to eat a badly killed cow from a locally sourced burger.

    I read Fast Food Nation, it’s an interesting book.

  9. As an aside, why not do a fabpow with Steak Tartare, for a real raw meat experience?

  10. As a third aside, if you do make sure you use steak and marinate it. That's what kills the surface pathogens making the raw chopped meat safe. Don't want the life of young Dredgie on my conscience.

  11. CL, the glass on a butcher's counter does not create a sterile environment: there are usually plenty of opportunities for meat to pick up pathogens after the slaughterhouse, though obviously the conditions in there are a massive issue, as you say. You're never going to be sure of the origins of meat you get in a restaurant, so I reiterate that my issue is not with eating burgers rare, it's with a restaurant that thinks punters can choose a level of cook├ędness like with a steak. Burgers don't work that way. Restaurants should know this.

    And yes, Fast Food Nation is a wonderful book.

  12. I would concur, Nutty, but thought it worth pointing out that raw meat per say isn't unsafe in certain circumstances. A restaurant not being one of them, of course. Mankind ate raw meat for millennia before the discovery of how to make fire. As for faecal matter being somehow disgusting, it’s a choice we all make as to whether we wish to be carnivores. Some like that Whittingstall fella argue meat ought to be an expensive luxury ate occasionally. Modern farming and production has produced a safe and wholesome product if processed correctly, and forms part of the regular diet of most of the west.

  13. Killer brah!!

  14. Interesting stuff, Mr Lager. I will think twice before going with a medium-rare burger in the future! I've seen not read Fast Food Nation but it sounds like an interesting read.

  15. A vegetarian diet doesn't guarantee freedome from faecal contamination as birds will crap on crops in the fields and rats and mice will crap away as they eat grain in silos.

  16. As an American, it was really interesting to read of your burger experience stateside. I've never been across the pond myself, so I had no idea that burgers such as ours were so rare over that way.

    Now you've made me hungry, of course. You have no idea of the glutinous toppings we Americans will throw on a piece of meat. Ever heard of the Luther? Doughnuts are used in place of buns.