15 Absolute Best Beers To Pair With Burgers

Hamburgers are arguably one of the United States' best food "inventions." While the origins of the beef patty served inside a bun aren't entirely clear, the concept took off in the early 1900s when White Castle's founders began hawking the tasty sandwiches. From there, an industry was born. What started as a simple beef-lettuce-tomato-bun pairing soon morphed into giant, gourmet delights stacked high with every kind of meat, cheese, vegetable, or sauce known to man. And with the fanciful approach to hamburger gastronomy, new doors opened up to specifically pair beer with the meaty meal. 

If there's anything that goes great with a burger, it's a beer. But you shouldn't necessarily grab your go-to Bud Light if you're going to be chowing down on a gourmet burger stuffed with brie and figs. And when you think about it, shouldn't a south-of-the-border quesadilla burger be accompanied by a south-of-the-border Mexican beer? That said, if the wide world of beer pairings is a little outside your expertise, don't worry — there's an industry for that. Cicerones are specifically trained to expertly match the right beer with the right cuisine, and we spoke with Andrea Coan, certified cicerone and corporate trainer for all Flying Saucer locations, to offer her suggestions for choosing the perfect beer for practically any burger.

Backyard burger

What could be more classically American than a standard juicy cheeseburger straight off the grill in your own backyard? These homemade classics are typically straightforward — a roughly quarter-pound patty, basic grocery store buns (extra points if they get a slight char on the grill, too), slices of American cheese (or cheddar, if you're lucky), and a lineup of "build your own burger" toppings including pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and of course, ketchup and yellow mustard. It's the type of burger that makes Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Memorial Day memories special. 

And those perfect American memories with your perfect American burger? They deserve the perfect American beer. "An all-American burger calls for an American pale ale with lots of pungent American hops and a nice caramel backbone that adds balance and complements the char from an outdoor grill," Coan suggests. Check the local section of your grocery store's beer aisle to see what's available — chances are there's a brewery near you with the perfect pale ale. Supporting a local business makes this all-American pairing even better.

Fast food burger

Not that many fast food restaurants serve alcohol, but if you're grabbing a bag of burgers before meeting a couple of friends for a low-key night in, you're going to want to grab a six-pack or two, too. Shoot, you don't even need to be meeting friends. If you're craving a simple McDonald's burger, or if you want to pay tribute to White Castle's original fast-food burgers, you shouldn't be shy about grabbing a couple of beers to complement the meal. 

And here's the beautiful thing: fast food burgers, with their inexpensive (but clearly delicious) ingredients and sides, are deserving of a similar beer match. "A no-frills burger pairs perfectly with a classic American lager like a Miller High Life or Coors Original," Coan says. So skip the up-sized Diet Coke when you hit the drive-through and simply stop at the convenience store next door to grab a cheap six-pack to down alongside your Big Mac.

Fish burger

Admittedly, "fish burger" is a bit of a broad category, as it encompasses burgers made from everything from fresh salmon to cod to tuna to catfish. Believe it or not, fish burgers can even be made from canned tuna. These burgers can also be grilled, baked, or breaded and fried, so the end results are often quite varied. That said, one thing that differentiates fish burgers from those made with beef is the delicacy of the protein. Just as fish tends to pair well with light and fresh sides, like coleslaw, veggies, fruits, and a drizzle of lemon or lime, fish burgers pair well with beers that offer a light effervescence.

"Bavarian hefeweizen with spicy clove and a hint of light fruit would be perfection with the delicate flavors of a fish burger," Coan suggests. If you're unfamiliar with the Bavarian hefeweizen, it's a traditional German brew that's known for being light and wheaty, and particularly popular during the summer. So if you're planning a summer fishing trip with friends, go ahead and pick up a few hefs from the local brewery. They'll pair as well with your day spent fishing as they do your night grilling up your catch and chowing down on your fish burgers. 

Chicken burger

A chicken burger is another slightly more delicate-flavored sandwich that can be prepared in a variety of ways — grilled, baked, or deep-fried. Unlike a fish burger, which is often paired with different toppings than a beef burger (fresh slaws or slices of pineapple, for instance), a chicken burger frequently mimics everything about a standard burger, other than the protein itself. This means it's usually served with the standard toppings — lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, and mustard. 

This positions it as a burger that can handle a slightly hoppier, more bitter beer, but one that should still be lighter overall. "The aromas of a German pilsner — spicy, perfumey, and herbal — would enhance the subtle flavors of a chicken burger, especially with the addition of fresh herbs in the ground meat," Coan suggests. So to that end, consider making homemade chicken burgers and adding extra herbs to really make the most of this burger-and-beer pairing.

Impossible Burger

Plant-based "meats" and vegan-friendly meals continue to grow in popularity and are forecasted to gain increasing market share through at least 2027, per Markets and Markets. This means that non-meat "meats" like Impossible Burger are here to stay for the foreseeable future, and are likely to end as an option to satisfy differing dietary protocols at family barbecues and company cookouts. 

Even if you're a proud beef lover, like many people, you may decide to reach for Impossible meats for health reasons, allowing you to reduce your red meat intake without missing out on your burger consumption. So if you think you'll be testing out an Impossible Burger soon, don't short yourself on the experience — pick up the right beer to elevate the experience. "The slight charbroiled flavors in this one could best be enhanced by a robust porter that is roasty enough to stand up to it, but light enough in body to not overwhelm," Coan says. 

Veggie burger

Veggie burgers are another vegetarian or vegan-friendly option but with a distinctly non-meaty flavor. While they're typically heavy on rice, quinoa, or beans as the base, they're also known for including exactly what they say they include — veggies. That means it's not unusual to have a veggie burger with a slightly sweet or bitter undertone, thanks to ingredients like sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, and corn. 

Not to mention, veggie burgers tend to rely heavily on herbs and seasonings to enhance their flavor as they typically lack the natural umami found in meats and cheeses. The right beer pairing needs to be able to stand up to these added seasonings while complementing the natural flavors of the veggies found within. "A veggie burger with plenty of herbs and savory beans would be a great match with an American Blonde Ale that carries aromas of heavy grass, sweet hay, herbs, and white bread," Coan explains. 

Portobello mushroom burger

Portobello mushroom burgers aren't just a good choice for vegans or vegetarians — anyone who loves the earthy, umami flavor of the large fungus is bound to love a good portobello burger. Plus, they're incredibly quick and easy to make at home. The "patty" is just the mushroom top, after all ... no making or seasoning patties is required. So when you want to spend just a few minutes cooking up dinner before kicking back with your "burger" and beer? It's hard to beat the efficiency of the humble portobello mushroom burger.

But while the mushroom offers an umami flavor and a texture not all that different from a burger patty, it's still a mushroom and not meat. That means it has a distinct flavor that deserves a distinct beer pairing. "The earthy, savory, and almost barnyard qualities of a saison would pair well with the earthiness and umami of the mushroom, especially with a nice char from the grill," Coan says. While saisons may not get the press that some other beers get (like IPAs, for instance), these Belgian beers are widely available — just check your local breweries to see which ones specialize in farmhouse brews.

Spicy burger

Spicy burgers could be one of the most popular burger options around. Practically every menu for burger-serving restaurants features at least one jalapeno-laden beef patty and many of these recipes layer on the heat in a variety of ways. In addition to grilled or pickled jalapenos, they often feature a spicy sauce, pepper jack cheese, and a beef patty mixed with chilies. Grilled, sauteed, or fried onions are also frequent additions that offer a slightly sweet and spicy layer. The thing about spicy burgers is you need to pair them with a drink that won't completely cut the heat (you like that kick, after all), but that also won't leave you with your tongue on fire if the heat is a little more than you bargained for. 

The beer for the job? Coan says it's an Imperial IPA: "To intensify the heat from the jalapeno but also provide some reprieve from the heat with its caramel backbone, an Imperial IPA with pungent hops and a balanced sweetness would do the job best." Just keep in mind that this style of IPA tends to include more alcohol by volume — often as much as 8-10%. So if you plan on ordering a couple with your meal at your favorite restaurant, be ready to call an Uber, just in case.

Gourmet burgers

Walk into practically any restaurant and they're bound to offer a "gourmet burger" of some sort. While the meats and toppings vary extensively, they're usually defined by high-end cuts of beef and cheeses that are aged, offering more bite, tang, or "funk" to the sandwich. This means that the right beer to pair with your gourmet burger can vary extensively. As such, Coan chose a few select cheeses — sharp cheddar, which is a little more common, and Stilton, a strong blue cheese — to base her suggestions on. 

If you're choosing (or making) a gourmet burger with sharp cheddar, Coan suggests picking up a Belgian dubbel, which is a malty, dark beer. "The richness of Wagyu beef and the sharp, tanginess of the cheddar match the burnt caramel flavors of the dubbel while the effervescence and delicate herbal finish cut through the fat to clean your palate," she says. 

And if you're opting for the "funk" of Stilton's blue cheese? The copper-ish colored American barleywine with bitter and often fruit-forward notes is the way to go. "Strong, slightly funky cheese, and rich, fatty meat would meet their match with a boozy, rich American barleywine with plenty of American hops to cut through some of the fat," suggests Coan. 

Bison burger

If you like red meat but you're looking to switch things up from a regular beef patty, bison is an excellent burger substitute. For one thing, it's a naturally leaner cut of meat with fewer calories, fats, and saturated fats than its cow-derived cousin. It's also higher in vitamins and minerals and even delivers a decent amount of omega-3 fatty acids. While you may notice a slightly "gamey" flavor when comparing bison meat to beef, it's not very strong, and in the context of a hamburger piled high with toppings? It's hardly noticeable. 

"Bison, with minimal fat and sweet, mineral notes, would be best paired with extra special bitter (ESB) and its slight caramel, cedar, and earthy flavors," says Coan. "Herbal and grassy notes on the finish would add some depth of flavor to the dish." If you're unfamiliar with ESB, it's the English-style pale ale with a low to moderate level of bitterness and a moderate level of alcohol by volume.

Chili burger

If you happen to be living in a southern state (or you're just a little southern at heart), you know that as soon as the temperatures dip lower than, say, 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it's time to whip up a batch of your favorite chili and keep it simmering, ready to ladle on top of everything from nachos to baked potatoes to yep, hamburgers. The combination of beans, beef, tomatoes, and spices couldn't be more perfect for creating a savory, down-home burger that will really fill you up. 

And when you're looking to enjoy the perfect, hearty comfort burger, you want to pair it with a hearty beer, too. "Slow-cooked meat with lots of spice calls for a creamy, mild oatmeal stout that will pull flavors of chili pepper, charred vegetables, and browned beef from the burger," Coan explains. These dark beers are surprisingly smooth, which will make them go down easily alongside your burger. Even better? They're relatively low in alcohol, so pouring back one or two is unlikely to leave you buzzing. You may even discover you want to add the beer to your chili recipe for a double-duty beer-burger pairing.

California burger

California burgers aren't required to conform to a specific recipe, but rather, they tend to include specific toppings — lettuce, tomatoes, and most importantly, avocado. Sometimes they also include bacon or slices of cheese, although it almost certainly won't be American cheese. You can think of a Cali burger as a kind of "step up" from a basic backyard burger, with the avocado or guacamole advertising its somewhat more "high-brow" existence. 

Really, the burger itself has a fresh and flavorful taste and should be paired with an equally fresh and flavorful beer. "A Cali burger needs a Cali beer like a West Coast IPA filled with intense hop flavors like sticky pine resin and grapefruit which would be tampered by the creamy, cooling fresh avocado," Coan advises. Just keep in mind that these hoppy beers are known for their bitterness and sometimes are brewed with higher alcohol content. So keep an eye on the percentage (and your sobriety) if you choose to drink more than just one.

Falafel burger

If you're a sucker for Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean flavors and plant-based dinners, it's time to hop on the falafel burger bandwagon. Falafel is made of chickpeas, and when formed into patties (instead of balls), they make the perfect vegetarian option to layer between hamburger buns. But just as falafel burgers typically feature different toppings than your standard beef burger — cucumbers, spinach, cilantro, dill-flavored yogurt sauces, and pickled onions are all favorites — the beer pairing should be different, too. 

"Herbal and tangy lemon combine in a Belgian witbier and make a perfect enhancement to the herbal and slight citrus notes of the falafel. The creamy mouthfeel of the beer pairs nicely with the creaminess of the chickpeas," Coan says. You may not be familiar with these beers, but look for those labeled "wits" or "wittes" by many breweries. The pale color and low level of bitterness just might make them a new favorite.

Teriyaki burger

It doesn't get much more "Asian fusion" than a teriyaki burger — the perfect East-meets-West combination of salty soy sauce, spicy ginger, sweet brown sugar, and a beef or chicken patty sandwiched between a hamburger bun. If you're playing into the tropical side of teriyaki, it doesn't hurt to add a slice of fresh pineapple to the burger, too. So maybe it will (or won't) come as a surprise that the perfect beer pairing is also a bit "fusion-y," with roots that are decidedly European.

"Sweet caramel, deep soy sauce, and earthy richness in the teriyaki sauce would match well with those same notes of an English brown ale with added sweetness from mild dark fruit flavors," Coan says. There are a few varieties of English brown ales, so you may want to test a few to see which one you personally like best — some are sweeter, while others are more dry. Either way, a teriyaki burger night seems like a great time to put a few different options to the test.

Donut burger

A donut burger may not be your go-to dinner choice, but it's certainly a combination that's worth trying at least once. This sweet-and-savory pairing is exactly what it sounds like — a burger patty, and possibly cheese, a fried egg, or other fillings, sandwiched between two halves of a glazed donut ... or if you're feeling particularly indulgent, sandwiched between two whole donuts. Clearly, it's not going to make any "top foods" list written by your cardiologist, but as long as it's not a staple in your weekly diet, you can file this one under "special treats" and leave it at that. 

But, while you're at it, you might as well indulge in a decadent beer, too. "The sweetness from the donut and char on the burger are a match made in heaven for an imperial stout pairing with its flavors of burnt grains, espresso, bitter chocolate, and often intense lactose sweetness," Coan says. Just keep in mind that this extra dark beer is also known for its "extra" level of alcohol. You might want to save this indulgent pairing for a night when you can sleep in the next day.