Summit Brewing Company and Smashburger are pairing up to bring beer and burger pairings to the Twin cities. The collaboration could be seen as a partnering of pioneers in a way; Summit an original in Minnesota’s better beer scene and Smashburger the leader in what they call “better burger” restaurants.
Actually the Denver-based burger franchise has introduced some interesting innovations to fast food fare. They use all Angus beef, for one thing. Their menus allow for regional inspiration. While there are some standard sandies across the chain, each location creates special burgers tailored to local foodways, such as the Twin Cities burger with garlic-grilled onions reflecting the regional love-affair with the onion. I didn’t know that we had a love affair with onions, but that’s something I learned during a special media tasting prior to the pairings launch. In terms of the beer and burger program, the company is working with a different brewers in every city to create pairings that are unique to the market.
Smashburger takes its name from their process of smashing the burgers onto the griddle while cooking them. This creates a caramelized crust on one side and seals in the juices, according to founder Tom Ryan. They do make a juicy patty. I’m not sure how innovative the burger smash is. It seems to me Steak & Shake has been smashing since the 1930s. But Smashburger does it with a patent-pending, cookie-cutter-like gizmo as seen in this video of Mr. Ryan making a burger.
Ryan worked with Summit Head Brewer Damian McConn to come up with eight pairings for the Twin Cities stores. How did they do? Well, let’s take a look.
Classic Smashburger & Extra Pale Ale: A pairing of classic with classic. This one didn’t do much for me. Both beer and burger are good. I’m a big fan of EPA and I like a plain ‘ol burger, but together they were just sort of “meh.” I also think that the burger overpowered the beer a little bit and made it seem bitterer than normal. Maybe it was the smash sauce – a combination of mayo, mustard, relish and lemon. I’ll say this though, the burger had ketchup on it. I hate ketchup and always have. It didn’t really taste like ketchup. Nice!
Mushroom Swiss Burger & Great Northern Porter: This was lovely. The combination brought out an earthiness in each part and there was umami on top of umami. Caramel malt spoke to caramelized beef crust. This was probably my second favorite combination. I was happy to learn that the mushrooms are crimini mushrooms, sliced fresh for each order.
BBQ Bacon and Cheddar Burger & Horizon Red Ale: This is the best pairing of the bunch. The caramel and citrus in the beer play very well with the tangy BBQ sauce. The pairing emphasized the hops in the beer, making it seem almost IPA-like. And again there’s that caramel to caramel handshake. And who doesn’t love bacon and beer?
Avocado Club Burger & Pilsner: This was one of two pairings that were described as difficult to deal with. That’s because they really needed Summit Hefeweizen, which has been discontinued. The sliced avocado, smoked bacon, and ranch dressing on the burger would have been splendid with a hef. The pilsner brought out the bacon and cut through the fat, but spicy hops clashed a bit. It was the best pairing with the Summit lineup, but it wasn’t quite wonderful.
Twin Cities Burger & Extra Pale Ale: Between caramelized onion, caramelized meat crust, and loads of cheese, this is one rich burger. The EPA did the job cutting right through it. All that caramelization brought out the maltiness in the beer, giving a more balanced impression than with the Classic burger. This pairing really worked.
Spicy Baja Burger & Saga IPA: Do hops amplify or dampen chili pepper heat? That’s the age old question in the beer-food pairing biz. I happen to think they do both; amplify first and then clear away. This burger is all about peppers. The heat of pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, and raw jalapeno slices gives it a real kick that is tempered a bit by creamy guacamole. Saga IPA was up to the task and the hops did just what they do. The citrusy flavors offered a nice contrast to the savory and spice of the burger. My mouth was left with a nice level of lingering heat.
Cucumber and Goat Cheese Chicken Sandwich & Pilsner: This was the other sandwich that needed the hefeweizen. Let’s face it – chicken, spinach, goat cheese and cucumbers – a hefeweizen would have been great with every element of this sandwich. Pilsner again was the best choice from the Summit lineup, but it just didn’t quite do the trick. This was one of my favorite sandwiches though.
Crispy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich & India Pale Ale: Spicy buffalo sauce and blue cheese paired with a balanced, English-style IPA. The beer is bitter enough to stare down the buffalo, but ample caramel malt keeps the combination from overheating. And blue cheese with English IPA simply can’t be beat. This was my third favorite pairing of the night.