Blame it on the dream of a languid, laugh-filled Sunday, but more often than not, my brunch menus follow the lead of the adult beverage that I want to serve. I don’t think I’m alone here—the key ingredient to any fun and festive midday meal is friends, and an enticing elixir, right? Hence the general thinking that Bloody Marys mean flaky biscuits or Benedict, bubbly says a simple spread with smoked salmon, and Palomas or margaritas are followed by spicy huevos (and perhaps a nap).
Photo by Julia Gartland
So, what happens when you want to begin with beer? A crisp lager or aromatic ale might not be the first thing you think of when planning a stylish brunch, but here’s where you should shed those preconceived notions about everyone’s favorite summer quencher, and think outside the box. A “beer brunch” doesn’t have to mean koozies and hot dogs, after all. As any enthusiastic quaffer knows, the proliferation of craft brews has dramatically elevated options in the beer aisle, with cool cans and lovely bottles of ales and IPAs as nuanced as wine. So naturally, your “beer menu” should follow suit. With a bit of imagination, an inspired ale will act as muse to a stellar brunch. Here, are a few ideas to get your wheels turning:
Photo by Julia Gartland; designed by Tim McSweeney
Start with a bubbly toast.
The catalyst to any party is an effervescent beverage, so seek out a crisp, Belgian-style saison or farmhouse ale with citrusy notes and a creamy, Champagne-like effervescence. Add a splash of freshly-squeezed OJ to make beermosas.
Use beer in the ultimate bratwurst.
Everybody loves brats on the grill, and after they’re poached, they only need a few minutes on the grill to achieve deep, flavorful char marks. Seek out the best fresh sausages you can find (ideally from a market that sources meat from specific farms and ranches), then add another layer of interest by poaching them in an ale flavored with fresh bay leaves, onion, and orange zest. After the brats are charred on the grill, serve them in lightly-toasted pretzel buns with a squiggle of your favorite beer mustard, and a scattering of Sweet and Sour Pickled Radishes for color and crunch. If you want to finish with something fresh and green, top it off with small celery leaves.
Add a couple fresh, no-fuss salads.
I like to pair these hearty sandwiches with a simple shaved vegetable salad made with, say, asparagus and mint, or a mix of zucchini, crookneck squash, and Parmesan, or a mix of firm summer vegetables (using a mandolin to thinly slice assorted varieties of radishes, celery, and carrots) tossed in a bright Dijon vinaigrette and finished with chopped Italian parsley. A simple lentil salad is also classic and delicious alongside savory sausage (and they round out the meal for friends who don’t want buns). For a richer preparation, top the lentils with slices of chevre drizzled with additional olive oil and lightly sprinkled with cumin. Bonus: these salads can be made in advance and improve upon standing.
Round things out with potatoes.
Potatoes: They’re easy allies for sausages. Roasted fingerlings tend to steal the show (toss them with minced garlic and fresh mint after cooking, while they’re still warm). I also love to make salads from Yukon golds that are boiled, peeled, and sliced into thick rounds, and then tossed with your best olive oil, thinly sliced shallots, a favorite herb (like tarragon or parsley), and plenty of salt and better. Or show off your grill chops and finish the sliced potatoes over the grill to give them a crispy edge on each side. (I do this in a hinged grill basket so I can flip the basket and not fret about using the crispy crust.) Just coat the potatoes in olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss them somewhat vigorously to “rough up” the edges (this will help them crisp on the grill) before you place them over the fire.
And now the afternoon has melted into the evening and your happy guests haven’t left. Surprised? Of course not.
The Ultimate Bratwurst
For Sweet and Sour Pickled Radishes:
- 1/2 pound radishes
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon pink peppercorns
For Bratwurst and Assembly:
- 2 12-ounce bottles of Belgian-style saison or lager
- 1/2 medium onion
- 1 large swath orange peel
- 3 fresh bay leaves
- 8 bratwursts (or another fresh sausage)
- 8 pretzel buns
- Beer mustard, for serving
- 1/2 cup Sweet and Sour Pickled Radishes, for serving