Summer Suds: How to Make Perfect Pizza-and-Beer Pairings

Pair these on-trend seasonal beer styles with pizzas to increase your pizzeria's sales in the summertime.

When temperatures rise, customers typically ditch heavier winter beers (think porters and stouts) and reach for a lighter option to cool off. Of course, beer and pizza are a natural match, so when summer hits, you’ll want to rotate your beer styles to those refreshing varieties—and pair them smartly with seasonal and year-round menu items alike. Here, experts dish on the most popular styles to help operators cash in on summertime suds.

Pale Ale

When Pitfire Pizza, with eight locations in California, partnered with Anderson Valley Brewing Company, one standout was the Brightlighter Pale Ale, a refreshing, citrus-forward, slightly tropical pale ale with mild hops that pairs perfectly with pizza. “Pale ale is a style that you can drink year-round, but there’s something about summertime that draws me to this beer,” says Jamie Boalbey, director of operations for Pitfire. “I find that more breweries are leaning toward a lighter, more food-friendly version of this classic.” The pale ale pairs with many spring veggies on Pitfire’s seasonal menu (from grilled asparagus to burrata toast with peas and pea shoots), and with its Burrata or Honey Bear pizzas. “The slight bitterness plays well with rich cheeses, while the citrus and tropical notes are complimentary to bright spring flavors,” Boalbey says.

Blonde/Golden Ale

Tom Ayers, head brewer at Ill Mannered Brewing Co. in Powell, Ohio, describes blonde and golden styles as light, crisp and drinkable—perfect for summertime pizza pairing. They may also have unique flavor profiles: Philadelphia Brewing Company recently released an unfiltered golden, the Fleur de Lehigh, for summer sipping, brewed with ginger, lemongrass and herbs. A refreshing, low-alcohol brew with a vibrant floral character pairs well with pizzas sprinkled with basil, spinach and oregano or with spicy pies topped with soppressata or hot peppers.

Lager

Warm temps south of the border make Mexican lagers light and refreshing by necessity—and they’re usually low-alcohol for anytime imbibing. Denver-based Parry’s Pizza stocks the Ska Mexican Logger, a crisp brew that pairs with anything from salads to spicy Buffalo chicken. West Coast brewery Calidad offers a Mexican-style lager that’s bright and light-bodied, finishing with crisp notes of sweet corn and citrus; pair with saltier cheese or a Margherita pizza to complement sweet summer tomatoes. “We’re seeing a return of the lager, as craft brewers are exploring more traditional styles to combat IPA market saturation in new ways, and these lighter beers are great for hot summer weather,” notes Tim Powell, VP and senior analyst for Q1 Consulting. “Mexican-style lagers are particularly hot, even with large brewers. A lager is very light and less malty, so it shouldn’t be overpowered with very sharp cheese—try a combination of cotija cheese, fresh tomatoes and cilantro.”

Meanwhile, Grant Fox, culinary manager at Athens, Georgia-based Your Pie, is partial to Peroni. “This Italian pale lager has been the perfect complement to the country’s most famous food for almost two centuries,” Fox says. “And Founders Solid Gold is my favorite lager. With an ABV of 4.4%, it’s perfect for sharing a few pitchers and pies among friends.”

Wheat

Meats like pork pair splendidly with Hefeweizens, a bready, spiced wheat ale with a perceived sweetness. Frank Barickman, partner/head brewer at Restoration Brew Worx in Delaware, Ohio, crafted the Flip-Flop, a German Hefeweizen that’s light, refreshing and “fluffy on the palate,” with clove phenols and banana esters that balance the malt and wheat graininess. Try this style with a Margherita pizza, he recommends. “The basil, sweet tomato and fresh mozzarella interplay with the clove phenols and refreshing finish of the hefe, making you want more!”

Meanwhile, Jade Waterman, director of marketing at Woodstock’s Pizza in San Diego, touts Avery White Rascal Witbier, a lightly hazed golden wheat with a frothy head and flavor accents of citrus and spice. “Light-bodied and refreshing, it pairs with rich, garlicky pies such as our Garlic Bird pizza,” Waterman explains. “The hearty, robust flavors of the creamy garlic sauce and Roma tomatoes complement the light, citrusy notes of the beer without distracting from the brew’s flavor.”

Gose

Powell notes that Gose, a salty sour, is the fastest-growing sour by far in an already trending category. “Its crispness would pair well with a white pizza with grilled shrimp, since the sourness complements the shrimp as a citrus would,” he says. “Green Zebra by Founders is a great choice and available only in summer months.”

Meanwhile, Fox stocks Terrapin Watermelon Gose, a tart and refreshing watermelon-flavored gose, which pairs well with a cheese pizza or caprese salad for an ideal alfresco summertime lunch. “Gose is finally taking hold and finding its place in the American beer world—and it couldn’t be more perfect for summer,” Boalbey agrees. “Pleasantly sour and a little funky, gose is traditionally brewed with small amounts of salt and coriander.”

IPAs

Though polarizing, IPAs remain perennially popular—and summertime is no exception. Powell recommends lower-alcohol options paired with bitter, leafy veggies and root veggies—think sweet potato pizza with goat cheese crumbles and toasted pine nuts. Pitfire Pizza pairs Karl Strauss Brewing Company Boat Shoes Hazy IPA (with flavors of citrus and sweet fruit) with spicier slices, like the Kickin’ Carnitas pizza. “The slow heat of the chipotle sauce and cilantro balances the sweet citrus notes of the IPA, with just enough hoppy bitterness to add a pop of flavor to your bite,” Boalbey says.

Saison

This one’s a great match for pepperoni pizza, according to Donald Staas, owner/brewer at Staas Brewing Company in Delaware, Ohio. “Saisons are bright, acidic and slightly bitter,” he says. “A dry, slightly acidic and fruity saison, like the Saison DuPont Vieille Provision or our Wildcat Sally Saison, offers sourness and bitterness to play off pizza’s flavors.” 

Alternatives

It’s hard to believe, but not everyone is a beer fan. For these customers, offer alternatives like ciders, shrubs, and spiked sparkling or still waters. Powell loves pairing a dry, crisp cider with an apple and Gouda pizza, while Boalbey matches Golden State Mighty Dry Cider with a Margherita. Meanwhile, a new category, Quaker City Shrubs (low-calorie beverages crafted with apple cider vinegar), offers an alternative to both beer and cider in fruity flavors. And a wide variety of alcoholic waters have hit shelves in recent years for a bubbly, boozy beer alternative with a light finish.  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.