The Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock because they simply didn't have enough of a beer supply to forge farther south. Okay, that might be more local folklore than fact, but there's no denying that New Englanders have always loved their beer. I wouldn't ask any native New Englander to choose between suds and seafood, and luckily they don't have to. Both are staples of any New England diet, and in fact they go together quite perfectly when you plan out your beer and food pairing.
In his book "The American Craft Beer Cookbook," John Holl writes: "I firmly believe that beer pairs better with food than wine." He cites the diversity of beers worldwide and the many flavorful options in defense of his claim. Holl has visited more than 900 breweries and contributed beer-related content to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He is the editor of All About Beer Magazine.
We scoured the region, from Boston to Maine, to find out how the professional beer crafters pair their beers with the local catch. Whether your roots are crusted with New England salt or you're visiting for the first time, make sure the next time you enjoy the flavors of the region, you do it with a passion, purpose and understanding. The following ten fish and beer combinations are recommendations from as many beer enthusiasts as we could find. You don't even have to credit us when you're impressing your friends.
SHRIMP AND GRITS
Trust us, those strange looks you're getting from across the diner are looks of envy. Dean Martin once said: 'I feel sorry for people who don't drink. They wake up in the morning, and that's the best they're going to feel all day. ' Ernest Hemingway had a rule: he never drank before noon. He didn't always use the hour of the time zone he was in, though. Those guys did all right for themselves, so in their honor, start the day off right.
Shrimp (and grits). This bayou tradition makes for a great light meal to begin the day.
Harpoon Summer Beer
Shrimp and Grits Image via Flickr
HARPOON SUMMER BEER
THE REASON: Harpoon's Summer Beer is modeled on German Kolsch-style ale. It has a crisp, lemon-like taste that will wake you up in the morning and complement the bold flavors of shrimp and grits.
Harpoon Beer Company, Boston, Mass
THE SEASON: Summer. On a warm day in New England, you'll feel like you're in the bayou while savoring the flavors of this dish.
WEBSITE: Harpoon Summer Beer
OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL
These lighter entrees will make for a great pick-me-up in the middle of the day. The beer pairings will make the remainder of the workday go by faster and your boss seem more tolerable.
THE CATCH: Oysters on the half shell, raw
THE BEER: Samuel Adams Cream Stout
SAMUAL ADAMS CREAM STOUT
Oysters, with their cold and salty taste, are a New England favorite. There are as many varieties as there are towns from Maine to Connecticut, and all of them have a unique flavor. Places like Wellfleet on Cape Cod are world-famous for their delicious oysters. To complement their salty taste, a rich roasted beer with plenty of character is called for. According to Brendan O'Toole at Sam Adams Brewery, the rich overtones of this beer go perfectly with a dozen freshly shucked oysters.
The Brewer: Samuel Adams Brewery, Jamaica Plain, Boston, Mass
Fall. There's a saying that oysters are always available in months ending in an 'R'. September through November is prime time to get out the shucking knife and savor a stout.
WEBSITE: Samual Adams Brewery
THE CATCH: Mussels. In Boston's sister city across the sea, Dublin, there is an iconic statue of Molly Malone. There's also a song that, if you grew up in an Irish household, you likely know by heart. The statue features Molly pushing her cart of mussels and legend has it she was a fishmonger by day and when the sun set, a lady of the night. The Irish brought their songs, heritage, and love of this shellfish to Boston, where they're as popular as ever.
THE BEER: Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA. This beer can be used both as a complementary beverage along with the dish and a means of preparing them. Often mussels are cooked in wine, but the flavor of beer complements them just as nicely.
SAMUAL ADAMS LATITUDE 48 IPA
According to O'Toole at Sam Adams, the citrus notes in their Latitude 48 IPA give added flavor to the shellfish. The hops are grown in countries along the 48th latitudinal line, hence the name.
Samuel Adams Brewery
Winter. The quality of freshly harvested mussels is best in the winter, according to Maine's official website on mussel farming. The aroma of boiling mussels and beer will warm up even the coldest New England night.
Mussels Image via Flickr
THE REASON: According to Eric McGowan at Harpoon's brewery, this crisp, clean beer is very versatile and goes with a variety of different foods. Because it is relatively light with a fruity taste, it goes down easy. That means you can have two or three while you keep the little clams coming.
THE BREWERY: Harpoon Brewery, Boston
THE SEASON: Summer. A bowl of fresh littlenecks and IPA on tap at an outdoor clam shack is all you need for a perfect summer day.
THE CATCH: Littlenecks. These small, sweet clams are a New England favorite for their flavor and texture. They are the second-smallest clams available for harvest. Some of these creatures might even pre-date European settlement. One clam found in Iceland was determined to be 405 years old.
THE BEER: Harpoon IPA
Since Europeans first settled in New England, the thought of a plate of fresh fish and a glass of cold beer kept them working through the day. Then they finally came home to relax with a hearty meal and a beer. These substantial meals are local favorites, and we've got the perfect beer to pair with them.
THE CATCH: Lobster. In the earliest days of the region's history it was considered inhumane (and subsequently illegal) to feed prisoners more than one lobster per day for fear the 'bugs ' were too appalling for even prisoners to eat several of them. Times have changed and the crustacean is a beloved staple of any New England diet.
THE BEER: Maine Beer Company's Mo Pale Ale
MAINE BEER COMPANY'S MO PALE ALE
No one knows more about lobsters than people in Maine. According to Jeremie Buck, a Beer expert that opened Maine Brewing Company in Freeport, Maine this past year, their Mo Pale Ale is a perfect match for lobster. He says that the zesty, citrus flavor of this American Pale Ale is a perfect fit for the sweet, light flavor of a lobster.
Maine Beer Company, Freeport, Maine
Summer. Nothing says summer in New England like a dish of melted butter, a bib, the necessary utensils and a freshly steamed lobster.
WEBSITE: Maine Beer Company
FISH N' CHIPS
THE CATCH: Fish n' Chips. Friday-night fish fries are a staple of many New Englander's diets throughout the years.
THE BEER: Gritty McDuff's Best Bitter
GRITTY MCDUFF'S BEST BITTER
When Gritty McDuff's, a small brewery in Freeport, started their company in 1988 in Portland this was the first beer they brewed. According to the guys and gals at Gritty's, the strong English bitter goes perfectly with the heavy flavor of a fried fillet of haddock. 'Bitters, ' as they're known to brewers, are strongly flavored with hops to give them a more intense taste. Best Bitters typically range from 4.2 to 4.7 percent alcohol by volume, putting them on the weaker end of the Bitter range.
Gritty McDuff's Brewing Company, Freeport, Maine
Winter. Fish fries are popular all year round, but for Boston's Irish Catholics, they're a necessity during Lent.
THE CATCH: Striped bass. Few fish are more beloved by anglers and eaters than the striped bass. Their spring and fall migrations to the region bring excitement and fresh plates of this delicious fish. Their rich, flaky white flesh is second to none for the dinner table.
THE BEER: Maine Beer Company's Peeper
MAINE BEER COMPANY'S PEEPER
THE REASON: According to Buck, a relatively light, flaky fish like striped bass requires a beer that won't dominate its flavor. Their Peeper beer is a hoppy American ale that's pale in flavor with a crisp finish. He described the beer as well balanced.
THE BREWERY: Maine Beer Company, Freeport
THE SEASON: Summer. Striped bass are much like Floridian retirees that visit New England's gorgeous shores. They come for the warmest months of the year, enjoy the sweet summer, and then head south when the snow flies. Enjoy the freshest fish before they turn tail for warmer waters.
THE CATCH: Bluefin tuna. There is a reason this migratory fish demands such a high price on international markets: they're delicious. Thick tuna steaks blackened and seared are to New Englanders what a delicious porterhouse is to the residents of the western states.
THE BEER: Samual Adams Oktoberfest
SAMUAL ADAMS OCTOBERFEST
According to O'Toole, the thicker, more intense flavor of tuna can stand up to a stronger beer. Sam Adams' Oktoberfest has a rich, hearty flavor that goes well with a steak of fresh bluefin.
Samuel Adams, Boston
Autumn! The fall provides commercial tuna fishermen some of the best shots at these fish as they migrate from the Canadian coast all the way to South America. This is when both the tuna, and Sam's regional beer, will be the freshest.
Bluefin dish Image via Flickr
Octoberfest Image via Flickr
THE CATCH: Steamers (soft-shell clams). The only thing more rewarding than dragging a full bucket of fresh steamers off the Cape Cod tidal flats after raking them at low tide is eating them that night. The soft-shell clams that bury themselves on the beaches off the region's coast have been a local favorite for centuries. Take note: they're 'steamahs! ' when you're in Boston.
THE BEER: Harpoon UFO White
HARPOON UFO WHITE
Eric McGowan at Harpoon says the citrus notes in this beer, brewed with orange peel and coriander, are subtle enough so that they don't overpower the delicate flavor of fresh clams. The crisp finish of the beer should go perfectly with a bucket of steamers.
Harpoon Brewery, Boston
Summer is the best time to rake fresh clams along New England's tidal flats. Open the windows to allow the aroma of the steamers to escape into the neighborhood and you'll have friends on your back porch in no time.
Steamers Image via Flickr
Enough reading, New Englanders! Wipe the saliva off the keyboard, stock the fridge with a variety of cold beers, call some friends and get some seafood sizzling.
FRIED CALAMARI RINGS
THE CATCH: Fresh fried calamari is and always will be a staple of the New England seafood diet. The golden, crispy rings heaped tall in a cardboard basket and set upon an outdoor picnic table bring back memories for any New Englander that enjoyed summers by the sea.
THE BEER: Samuel Adams Boston Lager
SAMUAL ADAMS BOSTON LAGER
O'Toole says that the rich carmelization of the lager is a good complement to the delicious golden-fried rings of calamari.
Samual Adams, Boston
Spring. When water temperatures warm up in May and June, squid move inshore, flooding the bays and harbors. This is the best time to catch and enjoy them.
Calamari Image via Flickr
Want to cook up some yummy fish of your own? Check out our fish recipes on Game & Fish!