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.