What pairs better with a crisp pilsner or lager than a rack of ribs slathered with vinegar sauce at a cookout? Or matches the collaborative fireworks of spicily sauced dishes and IPAs?
Brewers with marketing savvy (and, frequently, culinary sides to their businesses) are capitalizing on those gustatory harmonies by bringing them down a degree of separation. Now available is a smattering of brewery-branded sauces, though the beer presence in them is probably subtler than one would think.
Jason Rogers, the chef for Oskar Blues Brewery, says beer makes up about a 20th of the volume of each entry in Oskar Blues’ lineup of sauces. The idea started in Oskar Blues’ restaurant, where, Rogers says, he would add beer to the restaurant’s wing sauce, “just so I had beer on the line to drink while I was cooking.”
Customers loved the idea of beer-infused sauce, and so Oskar Blues partnered with Paul DiBello (aka Captain Spongefoot, a hot sauce maker whom Rogers describes as a “kind of a Captain Ahab”) and began packaging the brewery’s current lineup of condiments, which includes Dale’s Pale Ale Original Wing Sauce, Mama’s Little Yella Pils Saaz Hoppin’ Honey Sriracha Sauce and Hops & Heifers Ten FIDY Steak Sauce.
“He’s crazy enough and loves spicy food enough where the two of us got along and gave this a shot,” says Rogers.
Sprecher Brewing Co. in Milwaukee also makes its own beer condiments—including barbecue sauces, steak sauce and mustards—on top of beer-infused food products like praline-coated nuts, brittle and truffles. Like Rogers and Oskar Blues, Sprecher president Jeff Hamilton believes that natural pairings of beer profiles and product profiles make for the best beer-infused culinary goods, even if the volume of beer in them is slight.
“The hops and the malts could definitely have an effect on the overall flavor,” says Hamilton. “What you don’t want to happen is that there’s another ingredient in there that doesn’t go well with the hop or malt profile.”
Many of these pairings are intuitive. Hamilton and Rogers say that recipes for more robust, rich sauces—such as steak sauces, barbecue sauces and hot sauces that tend toward the sweeter and smokier sides—naturally work best with sweeter, richer beers. Oskar Blues, for instance, puts its Old Chub Scotch ale in its 3 Chili Chipotle Sauce, while Sprecher puts its Black Bavarian schwarzbier in its steak sauce. Conversely, hops and spice (as well as higher acidities) pair extremely well
“The spicier sauces, as you get up the Scoville units, that hoppy thing, that connection has become synonymous,” says Rogers.
His point comes with history: Just as hops were used to preserve beer crossing from Britain to India, spices were used to preserve food. That connection is part of why Oskar Blues puts its highly hopped Deviant Dale’s in its Mega Hot Meleguta Sauce—though, again, flavor compatibility reigns.
“I think sometimes the acidity of hops almost cuts open your taste buds, so it’s not just heat,” Rogers says.
Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland followed a similar pairing method in creating its own line of barbecue sauces. Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald Porter barbecue sauce contains roasted peppers for a hint of sweet, robust heat, and its Dortmunder Gold Lager barbecue sauce has hints of hickory smoke and tomato to complement the lager’s crisp acidity.
“The Edmund Fitzgerald [barbecue sauce] we’ve had at the brewpub for many, many years,” says Marissa DeSantis, a spokesperson for Great Lakes. “It’s something that’s been on the menu for a long time, and people have been asking if they could take it home for years.”
As DeSantis acknowledges, products like sauces aren’t something integral to breweries so much as they are a way to advance a brand and further connect to customers. Sprecher has more than 60,000 tourists visit its brewery each year, and Hamilton says many enjoy picking up goods to take with them when they leave. Oskar Blues, which is working on a way to can its sauces and expand the lineup, also sees its sauces as functional novelties.
“It’s more of a marketing thing. … We’re not going to be the Heinz family any time soon,” says Rogers.
Oskar Blues, Sprecher and Great Lakes aren’t the only breweries making sauce. Here are a few others worth a try.
Odell Brewing Co.
Odell offers three sauces made from its beers: Easy Street Heat (a peach hot sauce made with Easy Street wheat beer), Hop Sauce (a hot sauce made with its IPA) and 90 Shilling Grilling Steak Sauce.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Sierra Nevada makes two barbecue sauces: one with its Hop Hunter IPA and one with its original stout. It also makes a honey spice mustard with its flagship pale ale and a Torpedo hot sauce.
Stone offers quite the assortment of beer condiments, including a Smoked Porter barbecue sauce, a mustard grill sauce made with Ruination and a series of mustards made with its Pale Ale, IPA and Cali-Belgique IPA.
Straub makes habanero ketchup, jalapeño ketchup, sweet hot mustard, habanero hot sauce, wing sauce and apple barbecue sauce with its beers.
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Made in collaboration with Boys Grow, Boulevard BBQ sauce uses 80 Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer in conjunction with jalapeño peppers to make a grill-worthy sauce with a kick. Boulevard also makes a pale ale mustard.
Bo McMillan is an editorial assistant at All About Beer Magazine.